In a story this week about Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) purchasing a location vendor to help sharpen its maps app, the vendor used crowdsourcing to keep its database accurate, to keep on top of stores that have changed their hours or their location. The service is a good service and a very necessary service, but the reason it's necessary speaks to a fundamental retail failing.
Why in the world would a retailer not want to scream from the highest mountain any change in its regular hours? Even more critically, how about a change in its non-regular hours? In a snowstorm or power outage or any other unusual occurrence where a store decides to close early, why not have some manager update the site with that information? Why alienate—OK, thoroughly infuriate—customers by having them battle the elements to get to your store before your 9 PM closing, only to discover that you chose today to close at 8 PM?
If the store has posted hours of 9 PM, why should they phone ahead? Here's the mobile touch. Before heading out, many shoppers will now hit the store's Web site or mobile site to verify hours. What a perfect place to declare an early closing.
Last week, I ran into a situation with Best Buy (NYSE:BBY) where they had to close the store due to a power outage, which lasted the bulk of the day. Neither the site nor the mobile site noted this and a call to the call center continued to have associates swearing that the store was open. How hard would it have been to use a mobile phone to call a regional manager and alert the call center to the situation so customers could be alerted? Or the Web site updated?
There's a good reason why it wasn't. First, few major retail sites today (Web or mobile and certainly mobile apps) have any mechanism allowing for easy and quick updates of temporary store closings. It's not expensive to do, assuming it's integrated into normal processes.
Secondly, store managers are not told of the need to keep that information current. Doesn't it strike you as sad that the only way for an app to know when a store is closed or has moved is to ask a lot of customers? It just so happens to be the best way today, but that's still very sad.