Tis the season. Like millions of other bargain hunters, I was up early on Dec. 26 to catch the Boxing Day sales frenzy. I had already purchased some items online the day before through the large electronic specialty stores, so as to avoid the crush on Boxing Day. I had perused the flyers on www.flyerland.com so I knew where I was going, exactly what I needed and what times the various stores opened. I had a plan of attack to get me in and out of the retail outlets as quickly as possible. I only wish that the retail outlets had planned as meticulously as I had.
Boxing Day is the single largest day for sales revenue in the year, and those stores that choose to open can expect massive crowds, lineups at the cash registers and an occasional customer with a short fuse. Given the previous facts about Boxing Day, one would anticipate the stores would be fully staffed and well prepared to deal with the onslaught. I guess I give too much credit to some retail organizations. My experience began at 6 a.m. when our local retail giant opened its doors, followed by a short drive to a “super” grocery store, then a pit stop for coffee. Once the java had re-invigorated me, it was off to a business specialty store, the local aquarium outlet and finally to a “giant” Canadian retail store.
I did come home with several bargains, some items I hadn’t planned on buying but impulse got the better of me, and a list of ways that some stores should be better prepared in order to avoid my wrath.
The first store broke the cardinal rule of sales. They were 15 minutes late in opening their doors while a lineup of about 100 people stood waiting in the cold rain. Starting off with peeved customers doesn’t bode well. Large skids clogged the aisles; flyer items were not marked as such and sales assistance was nowhere to be found. As the crush of shoppers entered the store, the 3 cashiers on duty stood silently.
At the next store, a line got quite unruly, as the doors at the other end of the store were opened first and the 20 or so people standing there were allowed in before the cold, wet patient shoppers, who had stood in line for ½ hour at the designated doors. The loss leader products were not out on the floor – they were only available at the Customer service area where a large crowd gathered, pushing and shoving, waving their arms. It looked like the floor of a stock exchange. Products were being handed to people and as they tried to leave others were grabbing at the products in their arms. I did manage to get a couple of items, which were reduced 50%, and lined up at the cashier for 20 minutes, only to find that none of the marked down items were entered in the computer.
Surprisingly, the smaller aquarium store and the Canadian retailer were both overstaffed, all registers open with happy smiling cashiers and the advertised products were in plain sight and well-marked. Both these stores were crowded, but there was minimal wait time and happy customers. Why the difference? It seems that some retailers understand and appreciate customer responses to stress, and are prepared to make the shopping experience, no matter how hectic, a good experience. Their plan succeeded, where the larger retailers failed miserably.
Here are some key areas to address for Boxing Day or any other large sale.
- Open when you advertise that you will open
- Ensure that there are more than enough cashiers and floor assistants
- Clearly mark all advertised sale items
- Update the computers to reflect all sale items and discounts to avoid long lineups waiting for price checks and adjustments
- Have an entitlement system in place for those who have made the effort to lineup prior to opening. A store employee giving out coupons or even wrist bands with the special the customer is waiting for, which must be handed to a sales clerk for the advertised special, ensures their wait is rewarded.
- If the store will only allow so many people at a time in to shop, let the others in line know that. Make it clear in advertisements that you may wait in line for a period of time, even before you enter the store.
- Make the store presentable and accessible to everyone with a cart, a carriage or even wheel chairs, shoppers create a large enough barrier without adding boxes and skids to it.
Retailers who have been so complacent in recent years need to re-evaluate how they view customers with an eye more focused on what they as a retailer can offer, rather than how much money they can entice the consumer to spend. Price is only a part of the shopping experience!