Category Archives: Retailing

Black Friday Starts Thursday

Black-FridayIt will be interesting to see how Black Friday shapes up this year.  That’s because for many retailers, Friday starts on Thursday.  More stores are opening on Thanksgiving Day, and according to, 38 percent of us will start our holiday shopping then.   Some analysts have even coined a moniker for what’s happening:  Gray Thursday.

One of the reason for the push this year is that Thanksgiving falls at the very end of the month.  In fact, November 28 is the latest date the holiday can ever fall – it’s always the 4th Thursday in November.  It would be mathematically impossible for it to occur any later.

So by that measure, assuming the shopping season really does kick off with Thanksgiving weekend, there are indeed fewer shopping than usual before Christmas this year.  Of course retailers are concerned.

But 135 million Americans are poised to shop this weekend (before Cyber Monday next week), and that figure likely won’t change just because stores open a day earlier than usual.  In other words, the rush will simply be spread over four days instead of the usual three.  So the push to open on Thanksgiving may not net more total sales.

Except for this:  Stores not open on Thursday may lose customers to those that are.  Will people who might normally shop at Dillard’s – which is closed this Thanksgiving – shop at Macy’s instead, which is?  That’s the big question.

And in an interesting twist, some stores that aren’t open on Thursday are promoting that as a point of difference.  Nordstrom’s and Costco, for example, tout that employees deserve that time off to spend with their families.  The implied message:  They care about the true meaning of the holiday more than those other greedy retailers.

Then there is the confusion of when the deals really start.  Walmart – which is open all the time in most locations anyway – kicks off the Black Friday discounts at 6 p.m. Thursday.  Then more deals start at 8 p.m., then others start on Friday itself.  (And the Walmart website has already been promoting “Black Friday Week” with deals that are “ready now.”)  It feels a little complicated; the messages may become lost in the clutter of trying to figure out when to buy.

Of course, with on-line shopping, the whole concept of “store hours” seems almost antiquated anyway.


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Filed under Customers, Retailing

The Last Three Feet

McDonalds-LogoI had the great pleasure of visiting with Dick Starmann last week.  He’s an Ole Miss graduate, served in Vietnam, then joined McDonald’s where over nearly three decades he rose from adverting manager to senior vice president of global communications before retiring.

He traveled to more than 100 countries for McDonald’s to promote the company, better understand customers, deal with crises and other things, and became close personal friends of Ray and Joan Kroc.  After Ray died, he helped Joan with her investments (for example, the San Diego Padres), and managed her estate after she passed away.

He’s a big deal, but a very down to earth guy.  I always enjoy our conversations.  He not only shares insights into the triumphs and challenges of the world’s largest fast food restaurant, but talks about his dinners with Pierre Salinger, visits with Richard Nixon in George Steinbrenner’s box at Yankee Stadium, conversations with Margaret Thatcher….

And each time we talk, there’s something that sticks in my mind.  This time, it was:

The last three feet.

You see, for all the billions of dollars McDonald’s spends on building their brand (which was just ranked #7 in terms of global brand equity; estimates are the company spends about $2 billion annually on advertising)….for all the focus on product innovation and quality….for all the work that is going in to their recent restaurant redesign and other things….the customer experience comes down to…

The last three feet.

That’s the space it takes for a customer to step up to the counter (or lean through their window at the drive thru) to place an order.  And that is where the McDonald’s brand is really delivered.

If something goes wrong in that last three feet – if the employees aren’t engaged, if the transaction isn’t smooth, if the order isn’t correct, if the atmosphere isn’t pleasing, if the counter isn’t clean – then all of the other marketing efforts are for naught.

I continually remind my students – and tell anyone else who will listen – that Integrated Marketing Communications isn’t just about good advertising or public relations.  It is the sum of each and every customer touch, be it a sign, a building, an employee, a scent, a sound, a survey, a website, an app, a phone call.  It is the little things, it is all things, it is everything.

I learned this back in my days in the financial services industry, where we realized our brand was just as much about the monthly statements and payment envelopes our company sent as it was the beautiful ads and promotions we created.

And it makes sense that for fast food restaurants, if you mess up the last three feet, you mess up the brand.  That’s so very powerful.

This is a crazy thing to be passionate about, but I just am.  And I it love it when others, such as Dick Starman, talk about it too.

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Filed under Branding, Integrated Marketing Communications, Retailing, Sweat the Small Stuff

Emotional Attachments to Packaging

Something old (top) and something new (bottom).

Something old (top) and something new.

I went to Walgreens recently for a package of Wal-Phed – a Sudafed knock off – to help with some sinus congestion.  Although it is sold behind the counter, I had trouble explaining to the pharmacist which product I wanted because I couldn’t see it on the shelf behind her.  I’m used to just pointing.

I was looking for the familiar red and white package, which low and behold is now just a red package.  I’m not sure why they changed it, but companies need to be careful when doing this because consumers are creatures of habit.  We often look for brands not by name, but by the colors, pictures, fonts and other things on the package itself.

PepsiCo’s Tropicana brand learned this the hard way a few years ago when they unveiled a new package design.  Some consumers didn’t like it, but even more problematic was they couldn’t find it on grocery shelves.  Even though it was there, in plain sight, they thought the product was out of stock or had been discontinued because the long-familiar design was absent.  Needless to say, this didn’t please the grocery stores either.  Within weeks, Tropicana reverted back to the old packaging.

TropicanaNeil Campbell, president of Tropicana North America at the time, said it wasn’t the volume of complaints but that the complaints were coming from the most loyal customers.  ““We underestimated the deep emotional bond” they had with the original packaging, he added. “Those consumers are very important to us, so we responded.”  Read more about this story in the New York TimesClick Here

To be sure, marketers who fiddle with package design need to better think through the customer benefits of doing so.  Sometimes, that can get lost in the desire to spiff up a brand.

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Filed under Branding, Integrated Marketing Communications, Retailing

Same Day Delivery Ups Ante for Retailers

same_day_delivery‘Tis the season for shopping.  But while the malls are bustling, not all those people are buying – at least not in the store.  The bane of traditional retailers is a trend called showrooming.  It means customers see and touch the item they want, scan the barcode with their phone, then order it elsewhere – and often cheaper – on-line.

It’s a huge problem.  A recent Harris Interactive survey found that 43 percent of U.S. adults have “showroomed,” and a study from research firm ClickIQ showed half the shoppers who buy on-line checked the merchandise in a store first.  To be sure, it results in significant losses for brick and mortar stores.

Traditional retailers are fighting back, of course.  Big ones, such as Target and Best Buy, offer more proprietary products.  Where else, after all, will you buy an Insignia (Best Buy brand) TV?  Some stores have taken more extreme measures, such as covering product barcodes, but that rarely works, and reiterates to customers that there may be better deals elsewhere.  Price matching can also level the playing field, though that makes a lot of store owners see red (as in ink).

A Walmart manager recently spoke to my class.  He said his company actually embraces showrooming for two reasons.  First, Walmart competes well on price – a high percentage of those customers will come back to buy the product.  And second, when they do, it’s another trip to the store – and another chance for the shopper to buy even more.

But retailers in some markets now have another trick up their sleeve:  Same day delivery.  Walmart, Target, Office Depot, Best Buy and others are realizing something they can offer that Amazon, E-Bay and others can’t is the promise to put the product into customers’ hands within hours.   This can only happen in select areas, but nearly instant gratification may prove an effective weapon in the war between traditional and on-line merchants.

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Filed under Integrated Marketing Communications, Retailing, Strategy