I cut my teeth in retailing back in the 1970s. I literally grew up in a retail environment. I have memories of spending nights in the store on an office floor in a sleeping bag while my parents worked the sales floor to get it ready for the next day. These were years when product was stacked deep, prices were cheap and crowds were big.
It was long before the Internet or shopping on phones.
I went on to a long career that I continue in retail. It’s in my blood. But I did not shop in stores this Christmas and I’ll tell you why: I cannot stand stores of today.
The reasons have everything to do with me as a consumer and as a man.
You would think stores would like to cater to people like me. I’m a grandfather. I have more money now than when I was raising my seven children. With the grand kids I have more to shop for now than I did earlier in life. You would think I’d run to the stores to get it done.
But this year I bought it most of it online. In fact, I purposely avoided all stores until I absolutely had to do something on Christmas Eve. The reasons are simple enough:
1. I could find what I wanted online. Cheaper. This is not hard to understand. If one can pay a lower price he will, even if he has money.
2. The shopping experience has become horrible. I’d rather process my own transaction online and wait for a delivery driver to bring me my purchase than to endure the cashiers/service people of today. Not all of them are bad but honestly most of them are. It isn’t a generational thing — it is a management thing. They don’t invest in these people and they don’t train them. My few experiences with store personnel this year resulted in one thing: arguments. I’m a customer. I don’t argue. I just go away.
3. I want choices. Store have become more about profit margin than variety.
4. The stores don’t set themselves apart. All stores have the same stuff. Walmart=Target=Shopko=Costco. Same stuff, slightly different package and wildly different prices.
5. They don’t build displays any more. They just throw it out there like feed to the pigs. I want to be dazzled. I want a product to stand out. They don’t any more.
On Christmas Eve, after a phone call from my wife with a list of necessary last minute items, I reluctantly and under protest went into a Walmart — the worst of the worst in retailing.
Christmas Eve shoppers are different from most. They want what they want. And that was me on Christmas Eve.
We needed 7-Up. I didn’t want Walmart private label lemon soda. I wanted name brand, whatever-the-price stuff. We don’t drink the stuff normally but it is in a few Christmas recipes and we have it every year. Guess who didn’t have any?
They had a 3-foot hole where about 12 facings 6-deep used to be but it was long empty by the time I got there on Christmas Eve morning. There was no end cap. There was no display of any kind for this holiday staple. Just a cavity on the shelf and about three-times as many facings of the stuff nobody — including me — wanted to buy.
I can hear the voices in the meetings now at Walmart if they’re reading this post. “Well, that’s what he gets for coming in on Christmas Eve.” No, guys. The failure is yours. Your job is to produce what the customer wants and needs when the customer wants and needs it. Back in the day we stocked 7-Up and it was never out on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve when sales were the greatest. It wasn’t a sales issue — it was a service issue. We looked at it as if customer depended on us.
What else couldn’t I find on Christmas Eve in Walmart? Would you believe M&Ms? And Tylenol?
I wasn’t looking for the last minute meaningless gift of make-up in cheap plastic cases. They had plenty of those. I was looking for things I needed when I needed them.
I did find things to buy. Toilet paper. Really ugly plastic plates. And plenty of gift wrap on clearance already because someone was too busy on Christmas Eve putting out Valentine’s stuff. (I’m not even kidding).
Best Buy didn’t fare any better.
I’ve got teenagers. I was buying televisions, cells phones, camcorders and digital cameras. I had money in my pocket and I was motivated to spend.
Guess who blew it? I stopped by the cell phone section, knowing already what I wanted. I was approached by an eager, bright-eyed young lady who appear anxious to help me. She asked if she could assist me. I told her exactly what I wanted.
In the old days that was called a hanging curve. When a customer is so golden that they only ask if you have an item in stock you get it for them and ring it up. But no. I was instead drilled for “what did I want that Verizon phone when the Virgin phone was so much better?” Uh…excuse me? I want what I want. I don’t want to talk about it. I don’t want to be upsold. I don’t want to argue. Just get me the stupid thing and ring it up.
I left, gave my money to Amazon and had it brought to my door.
This was a epic season for rotten retailing. You’re going to hear all kinds of tales about how the economy is bad, how healthcare costs killed Christmas and all that.
But Christmas is Christmas and I wanted to buy. I think many people did. And couldn’t because the love has gone out of retailing. The originality of what it once was is dead – replaced by systems, schematics, cookie-cutter layouts and inventory practices that don’t work.
We have so few original retailers left available to us. We cannot find the customized store of the past so we have to invent it for ourselves online.
And next Christmas will be worse. My goal isn’t even to drive by a store next year.