In need of a holiday from holiday shopping

Jacqueline Renfrow

I must say, I'm glad all of the Black Friday and Cyber Monday promotions have come to an end. It's not that I don't appreciate the deals, but I'm glad to have my husband back. He walked around like a zombie for days after many long nights of researching what to buy and where to buy it. He prioritized discounts over sleep and sanity.

My husband was in full male hunting mode—scanning the websites, reading the reviews, waiting for email alerts on his phone.

But when it came down to the actual purchase, he, like many other consumers, wanted to do the final product inspection and transaction in a physical store, also known as webrooming. Webrooming seems to be growing in popularity, so much so that even digital-savvy millennials prefer webrooming to showrooming by 5 percent.

Plus, we were under the impression that the best deals would be in-store as retailers needed to compete for more foot traffic on the big weekend. In a recent survey, BDO found that 67 percent of retailers were planning to use exclusive in-store deals and discounts including doorbusters, promotions and limited-time offers over the course of the weekend. In addition, 17 percent of CMOs surveyed said they would also focus on in-store events as a top tactic for Black Friday traffic.

The goal: Buy tablets for the kids. The next step was to head to the early retail openings on Thanksgiving evening. After dinner, we loaded up the minivan with two toddlers and a preschooler for their first Black Friday experience. The plan was to hit two stores to test out tablets: Toys R Us and Walmart, conveniently located right next door to one another.

When we pulled into the parking lot I was in shock. I knew the stores would be crowded, but now, one hour after its scheduled opening, the line for Walmart wrapped around the building. Why a line at one retailer over the other? I would later learn that the big-box chain had a record-breaking day, all around. Thanksgiving was the second biggest day in Walmart history for online sales.

Not to mention that more than 25 million shoppers downloaded Walmart's Black Friday app, and 20 million customers used their local store maps on Walmart.com.

So we walked into Toys R Us and as we tested various merchandise, I heard one customer ask a question about hours and the sales assistant answered, "Oh we're not closing tonight, we're open all the way through."

Though we eventually left with no tablet, we did have in hand three pillow chairs, two boxes of diapers and one singing Elmo. I'm thinking Toys R Us always wins on the upsell if they can get a shopper's kids in the store.

Sometime around 4 a.m. my husband announced he had made his final decision. But the price on the tablet he wanted was only available in-store at Walmart (or so he thought). He did not seem concerned that it would not be in stock when he arrived, although I was (this is when technology linking the number of items in-store to my app would have come in handy). So he'd made his decision, he'd go Friday night, after the kids were in bed.

At 9:45 p.m. my husband headed out to Walmart, not even bothering to check the store hours. We were both under the assumption that most retailers would be open until at least midnight on Black Friday. But lo and behold, Walmart was closed. In disbelief (as were the dozen or so people who also tried the doors), he set off to try the next closest Walmart. I'd like to believe he didn't try three locations before he gave up, but I can't be sure. So why had Walmart chosen to run with normal store hours on Black Friday? Was it about creating a buzz, or maybe keeping employees happy by not forcing them to work all weekend?

When asked about the store hours, Sarah McKinney, a spokesperson for Walmart, told me that special, in-store savings and events occured on Thanksgiving evening between the hours of 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. in stores, and then resumed again at 6 a.m. on Black Friday. This also being the times in which traffic peaked in Walmart stores, there did not seem to be a reason to keep the doors open later than usual.

Whatever the reason, after grumbling about it for the next several hours, my husband returned the next morning when the store had opened. And of course, the product was out of stock. Disgruntled, he ended up purchasing the tablet online at Best Buy.

This experience proved three things to me. One, all the deals and promotions in the world won't make any difference if you can't get to the store during designated business hours or if the store doesn't have the product in stock when you want it. Two, it doesn't take much frustration to deter a so-called loyal customer from going to another retailer. And three, retailers need to create a Reboot Day following the new Black Friday to give consumers a chance to rest, unplug their computers and power down their mobile devices before once again jumping into the void of omnichannel holiday shopping. -Jacqueline

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