Archive for the ‘Retail’ Category

Service of Planning Way Ahead

Thursday, September 30th, 2021

Does everyone plan way ahead these days?

As early as August people had rented homes and hotel rooms to gather with family members for out of town Thanksgiving celebrations.

Daily we’re warned to buy Christmas gifts now. Wait and we will be unable to purchase the ones we want.

Michelle Fox at cnbc.com reported that a creditcards.com survey forecasted that 27 percent of holiday shoppers plan to start before the end of September and 13 percent started in August. In addition to bargain shopping and threats of rising prices that inspire early purchases, supply chain clogs and shortages of computer chips and other key components inspire shopping now.

Toys are particularly at risk. Fox wrote: “Some Lego advent calendars are already selling out, Ellsworth noted. Other hot items include Squishmallows and a plush toy of the Morris character from the Marvel movie ‘Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings.’” Kate Ellsworth is the executive editor of commerce content at Reviewed.

Lisa Baertlein, Reuters, reported in mid-September that “A record 60 container vessels are at anchor or adrift in the San Pedro Bay, waiting to be unloaded at the Port of Los Angeles/Long Beach seaports and another 20 are due to arrive in coming days.”

An article on thedeepdive.ca reported; “According to data from the Bank of America cited by CNBC, overseas shipping container costs have significantly ballooned since the beginning of the pandemic.” The article: “Costco Warns of Higher Inflation Ahead of Holiday Season, Dismantling ‘Transitory’ Narrative.” Reporter Hermina Paull continued “A 40-foot container shipped from Shanghai to New York was priced at approximately $2,000 just over one year ago; now, that price tag has soared to around $16,000.” She predicted that with upcoming holidays consumers should expect to cover such increased costs.

Have you noticed that people are making plans unusually early this year whether holiday related or otherwise? Are “buy early” warnings real or an attempt to stimulate or increase sales?  Are you shopping early or resorting to gift cards? Is this a one-off due to the pandemic or may we expect it for years?


Image by Sabrina Ripke from Pixabay

Service of Installment Plans: Another 2008 or Am I Being Elitist?

Thursday, September 23rd, 2021


Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay

I wonder if we are facing another potential financial debacle brought on by the kind of spending without ability to pay that caused the 2008 mortgage catastrophe. The red flag I’ve identified is small potatoes compared to mortgage debt, but in the aggregate could be significant if the bottom falls out. The buck stops somewhere.

According to AnnaMaria Andriotis installment shopping is back and going strong. The Wall Street Journal reporter wrote the article: “Amazon Is Doing It. So Is Walmart. Why Retail Loves ‘Buy Now, Pay Later.’ Retailers big and small are using installment plans to wring more sales out of shoppers who can’t get credit cards.”

Andriotis reported: “Buy-now-pay-later companies say they rely less on—and in some cases bypass altogether—traditional credit scores and reports. Doing so allows them to approve more consumers. Shoppers gain the ability to buy things even without cash on hand—translating to higher sales for retailers.”

Bypassing traditional credit scores and reports so as to approve more consumers are danger signals if history shares a clue. We’re talking about sales increases due to installment shopping of $8.2 billion this year.

“Shoppers spend more at Macy’s when they use installment plans offered through Klarna Bank AB, Macy’s CEO Jeff Gennette said on a recent earnings call,” wrote Andriotis. “Klarna also is helping the retailer attract younger customers, he said.”

She reported: “Interest rates and other terms vary by payment-plan provider. Affirm interest rates range from 0% to 30%, with some 43% of its transactions during its last fiscal year not charging interest at all. The company doesn’t charge late fees. Afterpay doesn’t charge interest but does collect late fees.”



Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Andriotis wrote: “Merchants take no credit risk with these plans, but the fees they incur can be higher than on credit-card purchases—often between 3% and 5% of the purchase price, according to people familiar with the matter.”

I’ve always questioned the “buy now and pay for your sofa in two years,” concept. After all that time who wants to pay for something that may already be marked by coffee stains?

I’ve increasingly noticed websites that offer the option of paying for an item in four parcels even if it costs $20 or less. Only if you are desperate for diapers, detergent or TP and have maxed out your credit card can I understand welcoming the opportunity for small amounts. Naturally these customers have a credit card to buy online but the enticing installment model is similar.

When will we learn? Haven’t we seen before what happens when customers can’t pay for the purchases they incur while benefiting, in this case retailers, who pass the debt on to another company–with low standards–that takes the financial risk? What will the tipping point be?

Am I being elitist by suggesting that if ineligible for a credit card you shouldn’t put nonessential goods on an installment plan but should wait to buy them when you have the cash? Do you also predict potential trouble ahead brought on by a buying frenzy based on another opportunity to push payments ahead or am I seeing canaries that are only snoozing in a coalmine and are not yet dead?



Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Service of a Summer Saturday in New York

Monday, August 23rd, 2021

This door was open at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Saturday
Cosmetic Market wasn’t open even though the sign says it should be

On a short walk this Saturday I found one door open–that hasn’t always been lately–and one closed, that shouldn’t have been; an empty space where there had been a building last I looked; a Swiss chocolatier with enormous slabs of candy and an outdoor restaurant that looked like it had been transplanted to Manhattan from Europe decades ago.

I don’t blame Cosmetic Market, [photo top left], for being closed until noon on a summer Saturday. Who is in the city anyway? However it might have noted the revised schedule on the website.

I’ve tried to drop in to St. Patrick’s Cathedral in the afternoon during the week and its doors have been locked. As with Cosmetic Market, there is no information on the website or posted outside the cathedral about the hours it is open. However I could enter when I passed by two days ago and a security guard told me it shuts weekdays around 1:40 pm but should increase hours after Labor Day.

Läderach chocolatier

There’s a huge amount of construction going on in the city yet it’s always a surprise to come upon a cavernous hole on a major artery, this time on Fifth Avenue and 46th Street [photo bottom, left].

I’ve passed branches of Läderach chocolatier before. The slabs of sweets always catch my eye. I wonder if anyone buys an entire block, how it would be packaged and if they’d ever finish it.

I love walking past Avra Estiatorio restaurant on East 48th Street. The lush landscaping on both the restaurant and curb sides make it one of the most appealing sidewalk eateries I’ve seen. Management pays equal attention to the trees and flowers next to the street in view of diners as they do to the immediate surround. The sidewalk in between is immaculate.

In August folks expect to see photos of ocean, lake, or mountain views–all wonderful. My city escapades are fun too.

What has caught your eye this summer as you took a stroll or a ride either near home or on vacation?

Avra Estiatorio restaurant
Fifth Avenue and 46th Street where a building used to be

Service of Sisterhood: Does it Exist?

Thursday, July 22nd, 2021

Image by Jacquelynne Kosmicki from Pixabay

Drives me nuts when women don’t treat women as well as they do men. Fortunately I don’t notice it that often in restaurants and stores. I last wrote about a particularly irritating instance in 2015 in “Service of Sales Promotions: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” In my example of “ugly” a young woman attended to a man when a woman was next in line.

I write today about one of my favorite places, Trader Joe’s Manhattan wine store. I’ve consistently been nicely treated there which may be why this occurrence annoyed–and disappointed–me.

Here’s what happened.

The scene: An employee is posted at the exit. His/her job is to take from customers the empty little red TJ marketing carts.

Last Saturday the middle aged woman at this post left it and raced, all smiles and hearty greeting, past several cash registers to the farthest cashier from the door to relieve a handsome white haired man of his store cart. He was also encumbered with a personal shopping cart. I was at the register nearest her and had the same two carts to juggle. She didn’t budge to take mine from me and she hissed, “thank you misssss,” when I handed it to her. [I haven’t been called miss for decades and haven’t heard anyone use the term either.]

After a dozen years at an all-girls school and at least the same number at a woman’s industry association I have no rose colored glasses where women treating women respectfully or helpfully is concerned: Some do; many don’t. In my experience the sisterhood word is a figment of a creative or wishful marketing person’s imagination.

That said, I’ve always been blessed with a wonderful number of supportive, dear, beautiful women friends–men friends too. I enjoyed mentoring both men and women and representing men and women in business.

Have you noticed when women end up on the cutting room floor in retail or restaurant situations that another woman is wielding the scissors or is my experience/observation a one-off? When organizations of women refer to “sisterhood,” or sisterly relationships among their constituents, is there something to it or is it fiction?

Service of Worker Shortage

Thursday, July 15th, 2021

Have you been impacted by worker shortage? The answer would be “yes” if you were trying to renew your passport. Debra Kamin reported in The New York Times that it could take 18 weeks to renew by mail vs. six to eight before the pandemic. Appointments at one of the 26 official passport centers around the country–if you hope to fast track a renewal–are almost as hard to come by as winning lottery tickets.

A shortage of Transportation Security Agency (TSA) workers has created inordinately long Airport lines.

Photo: Hudson Garden Grill

Yet service was perfect at the Hudson Garden Grill located in the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx last Sunday. One of my friends asked the waiter if they were serving monkey bread and he explained that the restaurant is short-staffed and not fully back to where it was before the pandemic, so not yet, but soon. [I’d never eaten, seen or heard of this bread. Next time.]

I was happy to find an item that was out of stock at the three CVS stores within walking distance of my apartment when I happened to be on East 72nd Street. The store was clearly short staffed as it took too many minutes to get someone to free the item from behind locked doors. And then there was trouble with an express checkout machine and only one cashier. A valiant very young man was trying to answer questions, assist at checkout and open locked items.

CVS usually sends a “how did we do?” query after I buy something and I gave my experience an 8–because I was so happy to see the hard-to-find item. There’s space to explain your score. I was blown away when the store manager wrote the day after my response. Here’s an excerpt of his email: “As the Store Manager, I deeply regret that we were not able to meet your expectations regarding the items you wanted being locked up and your checkout experience.

“Good news or bad, feedback from our customers helps us understand the experience for all, and when necessary, make improvements to meet your expectations. We will continue to get better at unlocking items. I truly apologize for the inconvenience. In terms of your checkout, we do have some new hires that we are training and it takes some time to get them up to speed. They will get better as well. I hope next time your experience is a 10!

“I would like to personally invite you to let me know how we are doing. Please respond directly to this email with the best date, time, and phone number to reach you.”

Now that’s customer service!

Has the worker shortage affected you? Have the businesses and services you frequent been able to work around it?

Service of Unorthodox Market Research

Monday, June 21st, 2021

I drop in to a few mega drugstores in my peregrinations around Manhattan. In the CVS branch on 42nd Street and Third Avenue more and more seemingly innocuous and arbitrary items are under lock and key giving the floorwalker something else to do in addition to answering questions and watching for shoplifters. I think that the choices of petty thieves might be interpreted as products most coveted in a market research kind of way–something for marketers to brag about if only silently.

Here are just a few of the protected items that we can assume are most popular to steal.

Tide has been behind bars for months if not years, though I wonder how anyone can tiptoe out of a store undetected with a cumbersome, heavy bottle of detergent.

In one aisle fish oil. cinnamon and calcium from Nature’s Bounty appear free for the taking while CoQ-10 is behind locked doors.

Honored by isolation are a range of Mucinex products–DayQuill and NyQuill too–but not all Coricidin varieties are or Delson Cough. So is ice cream, specifically Häagen-Dazs and Ben & Jerry’s even though you couldn’t get far with an intact frozen container of ice cream under your shirt on a 90 degree day before you have pudding on your hands.

Do you think that manufacturers should interpret the selection of an item for confinement–safe from shoplifters–as proof of successful product marketing? Are any of the items in the stores you visit on similar lock down or is it just a Manhattan kind of thing?

Service of I Can Get It for You At Full Price

Monday, May 10th, 2021

Line at the Gucci shop-in-a-shop at Macy’s

Last fall Meghan McCarty Carino reported in marketplace.org  that according to a McKinsey & Co./LeanIn.org survey, one in four women were considering leaving the workforce. Working women juggling children and jobs have been severely impacted by the pandemic.

I wondered: Are children sure their mom wanted something extravagant this year? A hug, surprise visit or day off from daily chores would seem to be the most precious gifts. Yet on Mother’s Day eve there was a line outside the Gucci shop-in-shop at Macy’s at Herald Square. There were thousands of gifts to buy in that oversized emporium. The iconic Gucci brand isn’t known for bargains. Crucial sectors of the economy are still in upheaval in this neck of the woods.

New store on Second Avenue and 47th Street

To illustrate, pedestrians can’t miss a recent gut wrenching epidemic of small retail closings in downtown Manhattan as workers don’t seem to be returning to offices anytime soon. My heart leapt with happiness when I saw a handsome new store, Stellar Hardware and Bath, open at 900 Second Avenue in the 40s. Someone sees promise in the city!

We hear about available jobs–seasonal businesses in southern N.J., gearing up for summer, are short on employees. Some reporters use the crisis word to describe the scarcity. But salaries connected with these positions don’t allow for luxury gifts.

“Both the unemployment rate, at 6.1 percent, and the number of unemployed persons, at 9.8 million, were little changed in April,” according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics on May 7. “Notable job gains in leisure and hospitality, other services, and local government education were partially offset by employment declines in temporary help services and in couriers and messengers.”

Topsy Turvey–right? Clearly there’s a hunger for expensive things. Kanye West’s Nike sneakers recently sold at Sotheby’s for $1.8 million and a computer file with a digital creation by Beeple sold for $69 million two months ago.

Beeple, Mike Winkelmann, is a Charleston, S.C.-based graphic designer whose costly digital creation is a nofungible token–NFT-based art. Digital art is a hot trend in the art world. In a New York Times guest essay Albert-Laszlo Barabasi wrote that NFTs “use blockchain technology to certify authenticity and proof of ownership. (Beeple’s piece was a collage of images that he had posted online every day since 2007.)”  Techterms.com describes a blockchain as “a digital record of transactions. The name comes from its structure, in which individual records, called blocks, are linked together in single list, called a chain. Blockchains are used for recording transactions made with cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin, and have many other applications.”

Do you give, receive or expect extravagant gifts these days? Do you see value in digital art, uber luxury goods or in anyone’s sneakers?

Atlantic City in southern New Jersey. Photo: acchamber.com

Service of Patience Rewarded

Thursday, April 29th, 2021

Photo: wayneelsey.com

My husband used to tell me to slow down. I’ve only now begun to heed his advice on occasion. It paid off this time.

I scratched my eyeglasses badly, right in the middle of the lens. Reading through the smudge was driving me nuts. I finally reached out, on the Internet, to the company that had my recent prescription to order another pair and immediately heard back. I sent the invoice number, [proud that I knew just where to find it from a while ago], and subsequently heard nothing. I figured they couldn’t do it.

I described my experience in a follow-up customer service survey and forgot about it. Maybe I was getting used to reading through the distortion. Truth is, I dreaded having to go to an eyeglass store in person. I’m still Covid-cautious.

On Sunday I received an email from Jessica who said she was the supervisor on the Customer Experience team. She wrote: “I feel awful that your experience wasn’t up to snuff—that’s not the kind of Warby Parker customer experience we pride ourselves on, and I see where we fell short in our previous email thread about re-ordering some reading glasses. If you’re still interested, I’d love to offer my personal assistance with ordering a new pair of Yardley in Blue Marbled Tortoise with your reading prescription.​”

We spoke the next day and I asked if I’d be paying the same as for the first pair. She said that because I’d had to wait too long to reorder she’d given me a $30 discount. Nice surprise!

Are you usually impatient? Have you found that patience, especially during the pandemic, can have its rewards? When you order from a vendor do you always demand to get service yesterday even if you don’t need it that fast? Have we changed the kind of oil to apply to the squeaky wheel?

Photo: inc.com

Service of Returns

Thursday, April 22nd, 2021

Photo: thekrazycouponlady.com

People expect to be able to return items whether pricey or not.

A friend told me she felt lukewarm about a mattress she’d just bought and mentioned that she had three months to return it.

Trader Joe’s, as I’ve previously written, is customer friendly in this regard. I returned beer introduced for St. Patrick’s Day that tasted medicinal. The store took back the remaining three cans no questions asked.

I’ve written before about a colleague from long ago who switched his very old neckties for new ones at Brooks Brothers. The store had an over-generous return policy in the day. He claimed the tie had worn out.

Photo: businessinsider.com

AVG sells antivirus software and it consistently offers free trials to test expanded coverage. Similarly newspapers, magazines and video streaming platforms give folks an opportunity to try them out. A cancellation at the end of a trial period is a virtual return.

Pets can be returned to shelters.

Some of the reasons for returns at Costco that clark.com posted are as nervy as they are amusing:

  • The store got back an empty wine bottle because the customer got a headache from its contents.
  • Two months after he’d bought a laptop a customer returned an eight year old one–even the manufacturers were different. He stuck the sticker with serial number from the new computer on the oldie.
  • A woman threatened to call headquarters when the local store refused to accept a 13 year old frozen fish.
  • A pressure washer had stopped working so back it went. It was15 years old.

What does a retailer do with an almost new mattress? I wonder how many people take advantage of free week or month offers by streaming video services just to watch a show or some programs. I don’t think that those cancellations should count as returns because the buyer intended to give up the service from the start–do you? What was the nuttiest return you’ve tried or heard about?

Brooks Brothers neckties Photo: magazine.brooksbrothers.com

Service of Discounts III

Thursday, March 18th, 2021

Photo: hisugarplum.com

It’s just been two months since I wrote about discounts from legitimate businesses that edged towards scam. I recently came across two instances involving price cuts that I thought illustrated clumsy marketing or poor communications more than attempts at fleecing.

Don’t misread the customer’s willingness to overpay for postage

Photo: shop.nypl.org

The NY Public Library gift store promoted a discounted price if you bought two tote bags. The sayings printed on a few were perfect for friends. In the last window of the ordering process they charged me $8.95 for postage/handling. There was no curbside pickup option. The feather-light textiles could be stuffed into poly mailers in seconds, no other packing necessary.

In addition, during the ordering process, I gave them my email address and mobile number to enrich their database so they could send me store updates. For this I was to get a 10% discount [which would have covered the tax]. The 10 percent code was refused. The bounce back message said I had already received a discount and was ineligible for a second.

That did it. I cancelled the order. With the extra $12 the new total came to more than I wanted to pay for tote bags.

The retail department at the library may need to rethink its strategy. Overcharging on postage is not a good way to make more money if it causes you to lose sales. Offering a discount without a warning that it might not apply does not inspire customer confidence. The operation is sophisticated enough that twice I was reminded I hadn’t completed my order. [Missing was my credit card information.]

Greetings from dotted i’s and crossed t’s

Photo: heb.com

In a second instance a text from a favorite greeting card company announced a sale: $3 instead of $4.50/card. When I linked from the text in my phone all the prices were $4.50. I thought maybe there were only a few of the cards on sale and tried to find them. No-go.

I sent an email to customer service. I learned 1) the discount would appear during checkout and 2) all cards were subject to the discount. There was no mention of either in the text or on the individual online sale sheets. After I heard from customer service I placed an order from my laptop. There, on the home page, was a notice that the sale price would appear at checkout.

Just a few more words of clarification in the text would have solved misunderstandings and confusion and saved time. I wonder if the company lost sales from others who didn’t take time to clarify the sales information.

Have you been misled or confused by online or traditional purchases involving sales? Have you cancelled an order because of exorbitant postage/handling charges?

Photo: id.pinterest.com

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