Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Black Friday Starts on Thanksgiving Day for Kmart Employees

In an effort to grab the customers early, major retailers have kept lowering the bar on “open” hours around Thanksgiving. 

Until recently, “Black Friday” – the day after Thanksgiving – had not only been the biggest shopping day of the year, but an “event” that seemed to fuel customer interest in starting their shopping on that day.  But in the past couple of years, big-box retailers have begun inching into what had been “forbidden” territory – the secularly-sacred family day of Thanksgiving (the day before Thanksgiving is the biggest travel day of the year).

This year, Kmart has gone a major step further – they will open at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving day and remain open for 42 hours, covering 18 hours of Thanksgiving and all 24 hours of “Black Friday.”  And they have done so with no concern for their employees, or for the PR backlash.

As a marketer, I can understand why Kmart wants to grab those “first fruits" dollars of holiday shopping.  The dollars you don’t capture up front will be spent somewhere else.  Which is why some retailers are hosting a Black-Friday-on-Wednesday sale (the window for “first day” keeps getting pushed back – in five years, expect to see the Christmas shopping season start on January 2nd).  Already, Amazon declared the entire week a "Black Friday," jumping the gun on both Black Friday and Cyber-Monday.  And they are far from alone - my email inbox is bulging with pre-Black Friday sales, all from retailers and e-tailers trying to grab those first fruits before they're spent elsewhere.

Who actually plans to go shopping on Thanksgiving (other than women who don’t like football, who decide – after dinner – that Extreme Shopping is more fun than schlepping beer and Doritos for the menfolk who can’t bother themselves to get out of their seats) remains a mystery to me.  Not sure who Kmart and the others plan to grab as first-minute shoppers, but I’m assuming this is more a defensive strategy (fearing Walmart and Target will do this whether Kmart does it or not).

But as a PR guy, I can see what this is doing to employees, what this “tells” people who still take Thanksgiving-at-home-with-the-family as a God-given right (actually, as a Federal holiday, it’s Congressionally-given right, but let’s not quibble).  The media has been quick to pick up on this, for example, this story from Fox News - and no media I’ve found has been swift to defend Kmart.  This will, I think, result in a consumer backlash as well – Kmart doesn’t have a “lock” on gift-goodies (they’re pretty generic), and that makes it easier for sympathetic consumers (like me) to show their pique by shopping elsewhere.

For instance …

As one of those who doesn’t work retail, I not only resent those companies which force employees to work on the most family-oriented (and, let’s admit it, football-oriented) holiday of the year.  Having worked in retail in my early jobs, my resentment for what Kmart is doing is going to transform itself into a boycott – this holiday season, I’ll preferentially shop at stores who don’t impose 18-hour Thanksgiving work-days on their employees.

But what should employees do?  They could speak out, at risk of their jobs – but if they do, their employer will suffer financially, which could lead to store closings and smaller work-forces.

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. 

Friday, November 14, 2014

Tilting at Windmills - Fighting the Rising Tide of Add-on Charges for Using Plastic Money

The problem can be small - KFC, for instance, now charges $0.39 per transaction if you use a credit card or debit card.  Or it can be big.  Wo Fat, an otherwise great neighborhood Chinese restaurant in Las Vegas, now refuses to accept plastic money for charges under $10.  That new rule nearly turned into an embarrassment for me last night, as I generally don't carry cash.

But whatever the reason, too many retail businesses have forgotten that the banking fees for taking credit cards or debit cards has always been part of the cost of doing business - and frankly, on a per-transaction basis, not a very big cost of doing business.  Now, they are starting to charge clients for using plastic money, or they're putting floors on chargeable transactions.

What they don't realize is that consumers may not like this - in fact, a growing number of consumers really object to this practice. I'm one of them.

It's really not about the money - hey, it's only $0.39 per transaction.  No, it's about respect. This fee makes me feel like either a "second class customer" - not as good or worthy as cash customers; or it makes me feel like a dupe - an idiot willing to pay a surcharge for a common transaction most retailers ignore by absorbing the cost.

Just because it's legal for a company to do this doesn't make it a smart move.  In the case of KFC, I'm now preferentially buying "family meals" at A&W/Long John Silver, right across the street from my local KFC.  A&W doesn't charge me a fee, and their food is excellent (for drive-through) and comparably priced.

As far as Wo Fat is concerned, I've been a regular customer for 23 years - they serve the best egg fu yong in town.  But their lunch is $5.50 and their dinner is $7.75, so either way, I'll have to pay cash or go somewhere else.  Since I don't routinely carry cash (because everybody now takes debit cards), I'll have to find another good Chinese restaurant. In Las Vegas, that won't be hard.

A word to the wise retailer.  Do not risk pissing off loyal customers over anti-consumer policies that at best pay you a marginal fee ($0.39 for a $25 meal at KFC) or help you avoid fees for smaller transactions. 

And to KFC - it will take 65 meals to make up, at $0.39 each - just one weekly transaction you're losing when I take my business across the street.  And since I was buying the $25 family meal each week, you need a LOT of new customers to make up for the one you've just pissed off.