This week I attended the most bizarre pre-Christmas sales meeting of my 35+ year retail career. The hot topic? Christmas and Ebola.
I kid you not.
Tis the season, you see, for sales projections, big plans and visions of crowded aisles filled with shoppers looking to stuff stockings. Over the years I’ve been through it a bazillion times.
The worries and potential situations that get discussed have some times bordered on the extreme. I can recall after 9/11 the talk was about terrorists and bombs in the store and what to do when people panic.
There was the year we talked about school shooters and the fact that one day a troubled kid will want to create a disaster at a mall (and when one did in a movie theater my boss gave us all a big “I told you so”).
So the big hazard and potential threat this year is Ebola — the possibility that our customers secreting body fluids while Christmas shopping and infecting us and each other with the ever oh-so-present seasonal coughs and sneezes.
Lovely. Cheery thoughts for a brilliant October afternoon.
It must have been an effective meeting because I couldn’t help but thinking about it all day. Can you imagine? You’re in a store and just feet away you see a person suddenly vomiting. Security approaches the individual and asks, “You didn’t recently travel to Africa, did you?”
I mulled this over lunch when I read the news via my phone of a flight that landed in Vegas in lock down mode, met by dozens of ambulances merely because a passenger “thought to have recently traveled to Africa” used the paper baggie in his seat back pocket. You know darn well what everyone on that plane was thinking.
Put that situation into a store and it could start a riot.
Worse yet, imagine a scene where shoppers in a metropolitan shopping location — say, Macy’s on 34th Street in New York City — mysteriously come down with some dreaded disease. The common thread wasn’t obvious exposure to a singular infectious individual. The common thread was their presence in that particular place — Christmas shopping. Could you imagine what that would do to the Christmas shopping season?
It could make online Christmas shoppers of us all.
The retail landscape has changed a lot over the years. It isn’t like it used to be. Shoppers have options like never before when it comes to separating them from their money and one manager in our meeting even went so far as to suggest that some of the big online retailers might just plant a virus in a live store environment to create exactly the kind of scenario mentioned above — the ultimate in corporate competition and commercial sabotage. (Queue the Fox News War on Christmas machine now…)
Well, it’s all absurd.
I have worked retail all these years because I love the energy of people and, believe it or not, the sometimes craziness of seasonal sales. It is in my blood. I grew up with it. I’ll probably die with a name tag on.
So infectious diseases are going to happen. It certainly isn’t a “new” thing as some in retail are presenting it. We’ve actually dealt with such for a long time — just not the deadly, bleed-out-your-eyes kind of diseases we hear about today.
That still won’t stop someone from getting that hot price on a new TV.