Holiday Shopping Madness - What Was I Thinking?
By Bob Johns, associate editor
With sales up so far, this looks to be a great season for retailers. However, retailers need to do more to keep customers like me.
Well, it looks like the holiday shopping season is off to a stellar beginning. The National Retail Federation (NRF) has reported that 35 million Americans shopped online or in-store on Thanksgiving Day, up roughly 6 million. So, it does not look like “Thanksgiving Creep” is going away anytime soon. In fact, I would be willing to bet that more retailers will be open on Thanksgiving next year, and other retailers will move their opening times even earlier than they did this year. Over the entire holiday weekend, 247 million shoppers spent roughly $59.1 billion trying to get the best deals of the season.
I was one of the crazies out there this year. In my younger days, before we had an entire brood to buy for, I used to love going out at 4 a.m. on Black Friday to stand in line, hang out with all of the other crazy people, and get 75% of my shopping done in one day. I have not done this in several years, mainly due to how insane, and sometimes violent, the customers have become. But, I decided to brave the crowds and head out at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. The first mistake I made was allowing my 13-year-old son, four of his teenage cousins, and three of their friends to come along. Anyone that has been trapped in a van with eight teenagers (seven boys) can feel (and smell) my pain.
We started out by heading to Sears at a local mall. The crowds were large, but they were not overbearing. People, both associates and customers, seemed to be in a generally good mood, and the holiday music was playing. It was immediately decided that the kids and I needed to distance ourselves, so I headed to electronics, and the kids headed to who knows where. Luckily this is the connected generation, so we were able to keep in constant contact. I was a little disappointed by the fact that the two electronic items I came in for were already gone, in fact, the store only got 8 and 12 of each to sell. But, Sears did have plenty of some of the other items on my list in stock. The sales people on the floor were extremely busy, but they did a good job of trying to help as many people as possible.
Once I was able to make my way through the lengthy, but steadily moving, checkout line. We were ready to head out to Walmart. On our way, we passed a Best Buy preparing to open at midnight, which was still 3 hours away. The place was packed beyond belief. I have been to Best Buy during some crazy openings, like when the xBox first came out and when the Wii was new, but this was amazing. The line of customers circled the entire parking lot and back beyond my view. I spoke with several people later that weekend, and they were surprised by how well Best Buy handled the crowd. They had plenty of staff on hand, and best of all, it seemed that there was plenty of stock on hand. The staff was also able to help people order out of stock products from the Best Buy site in order to still get the best deals. This is in stark contrast to the PR nightmare Best Buy faced last year with a lack of stock and overcommitting to delivering product.
Mobile POS — A Missed Opportunity
Ok, back to Walmart. This is where the real craziness started. The entire place was wall-to-wall people. There was product everywhere, and associates were sprinting all over the store. The rudeness factor of the customer was much higher, though. And I am not just talking about customer to customer, because there was plenty of that (on a side note, some of these people really pushed the limits of a teenager being required to be polite to adults), but the customers that were just flat-out rude or mean to employees was unreal. Even with employees supplying maps and directing customers to product locations, I saw several people yelling at employees because the item was sold out or was on the other side of the store, neither of which is able to be controlled by an associate. To their credit, the associates all treated everyone with respect and were able to take the brunt of the assault in stride.
Overall, Walmart seemed to have a decent supply of many items, obviously some of the great deals were snapped up quickly, but it was not like they only had a few of each item, there was usually at least 100 of each item. The iPad we wanted was snapped up right away, but we were able to get a voucher for one online due to the in-stock guarantee. We will be picking it up in the store in a few more days. This guarantee also helped drive traffic to Walmart’s site, since it is where you enter the voucher information. We ended up ordering a few other sale items at that time also, which I am sure is part of the in-stock guarantee strategy.
The kids had enough of the crowd in about 20 minutes and went to wait in the van. I was able to find everything I wanted in about 40 minutes and went to check out. Now this is where the real nightmare began. First of all, understanding which line goes where is a study in futility. The lines converge and diverge through multiple aisles and displays, with most lines feeding from several directions, with customers arguing about who should go next in each one. So, I decided to check out in electronics. Two hours later, I made it to the front of the line. Luckily, I had great people in front of and behind me in line, so I had some interesting conversations. For one person, this was their first Thanksgiving/Black Friday outing, and they loved it. For another, this was a family tradition going back many years, with family from out of town participating. For others, the wait was too much. Many people were just dumping their items and walking out, rather than waiting in the extremely long, and slow-moving, lines. This would have been a great opportunity to use mobile POS to line-bust and get people through the line quickly. There were already associates checking receipts at the door, so the risk of theft would have been no greater. Hundreds of people were buying large electronic items that could have been checked out in seconds with mobile POS.
After waiting in line for so long, I did not go anywhere else after Walmart, so I do not know if anyone was using the mobile solution to line-bust, but there is an excellent opportunity to offer great customer service and maximize sales there. I, for one, would have shopped longer if I did not have to get in line ASAP. There were other people who told me the same thing, so the lost sales are real. With competition being so high, any lost sale puts the retailer at a disadvantage. Retailers must embrace mobile technologies, especially during a time of year that can account for up to 40% of total revenue, to create the optimal customer experience and keep the customer coming back. As for me, as I exhaustedly drove the entire bunch back to our house for a sleepover, my only thought was, “What was I thinking?”