What Will Drive Black Friday Sales This Year?

Since Black Friday became an official “thing”, I try my best to avoid the hustle and bustle associated with it.  I don’t like crowds, lines, the cold, and people shopping tend to annoy more so than otherwise.  All of that makes my home the best place for me.

But, I’m not going to lie, I still like looking at the deals.  It’s always fun to see what the stuff is that people are going to wait in line for.  Honestly, I haven’t looked at too many ads but the typical stuff that seems to draw people in just doesn’t seem like it would have appeal.  Let’s take a look at some of the most common Black Friday have-to-haves:

  • Flat screen TVs – Everybody loves a great deal on a flat screen TV and for many years, the allure of getting a big flat screen set kept people waiting in line for hours, sometimes even days.  Still, it seems to me that most people have now converted to flat screen TVs.  Yes, you can always get a bigger one or get one with more features or that can connect to more things, but it seems the buzz has really died down.
  • Tablets – Again, so many people have tablets now, it seems that while you can always get the bigger one or the fastest one, the allure of getting that first tablet that probably drove many into lines probably has leveled off.
  • Smartphones – It seems like the lines form for smartphones the day that they come out.  Does anyone wait in Black Friday to get a new phone anymore?
  • Computers – Do enough people buy computers anymore to make them something that would lure people?  I have thrown around the idea of a new laptop (or even a desktop), and most people look at me like it’s silly.
  • Video game systems – It seems like video game sales are still strong but have leveled off.  Are there still waits to get a particular type of console or the must have game on Black Friday?
  • Toys – The hot kids toys of the year always seem to cause a clamor.  My kids are getting close, but so far haven’t fallen in line with having to have that one item that will surely be gone from all shelves by 7am.

The common theme is that most of the items above are electronics.  I know that people buy lots of other things other than electronics, but the market on electronics certainly seemed to have driven Black Friday in the past.  While I know that electronics will continue to be a hot item, I’m sure, I wonder if the deals will have to be better or if you’ll have more people sleeping in rather than hitting the stores on the items above.

If so, what will be the hot items that will make it worthwhile to get out of bed and get shopping this year?

Readers, do you have any plans for Black Friday (or before)?  What are the hot items that will make it worth standing in line this year, and how does it compare to years past?

Copyright 2014 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

Our Health Insurance Will Be Changing Again Next Year

The past few years have seen a different assortment of health care options for our family:

  • 2012 – We were covered under a PPO
  • 2013 – We converted to a High Deductible Plan with a Health Savings Account Option.
  • 2014 – We had an HMO

Now that 2015 open enrollment is here, it looks as if we will be converting back to a High Deductible Plan with a Health Savings Account.

Talk about back and forth.

The reason we’re doing so much switching has largely to do with our employer.  Prior to 2014, our company out-sourced all IT services, so we technically worked for a different company, and so we had to use their insurance options.

Starting January 1, 2014, we were brought in as direct employees, so we now had the options available to our ‘new’ company.  In 2014, the only real affordable option was an HMO.  But, starting next year, they are also offering a High Deductible Plan, and the cost savings look like they’ll be something we want to take advantage of.

Comparisons:

HMO:

Payroll deduction (2014): $170
Payroll deduction (2015): $175
Preventative Care: Covered 100% – deductible does not apply
Family Deductible on Other Services: $500
Co-Pay (Regular Doctor): $20
Co-Pay (Specialist): $40
Co-Pay (Urgent Care): $50
Co-Pay (ER): $150

High Deductible Plan:

Payroll deduction (2014): Not Available
Payroll deduction (2015): $65
Preventative Care: Covered 100% – deductible does not apply
Family Deductible on Other Services: $1,600 after employer HSA Contribution
Co-Pays all stay the same following the deductible being met.

The Nitty Gritty

The high deductible plan actually has a deductible of $2,600, meaning that outside of preventative care, we’d pay this out of pocket before the insurance company started paying.  However, our employer is contributing $1,000 to our HSA account this year if the option is chosen, so the effective total cost is $1,600.

In order to fully fund the maximum out of pocket, I’d have to contribute roughly $62 per paycheck.  Right now I contribute about $16 per paycheck toward an FSA.  So the net effect (less taxes) is that I’d have to contribute $46 more than today….but the cost of the plan is $105 less per pay period, so I’d actually have $59 less coming out of my paycheck than today.

Setting Expectations

Insurance is all about guessing and estimating.  This plan, of course, only saves us money if we stay relatively healthy and don’t use all of our insurance.  If one of us had a bad illness, a long hospital stay, an accident, or something else, we would likely have to pay the full $2,600 plus co-pays and percentage contributions.

But, we’re relatively healthy and looking at our past few years of insurance needs, the odds say that we should go for the savings.

The nice thing about it is that if we don’t use up the money that we contribute toward our HSA, it rolls over and can be used in the future.  In fact, I think I still have an active HSA from 2013 with about $1,000 in it, so actually we’re more than covered.  The idea is that if you participate in this type of plan for a few years,  you build a cushion to cover in the event that one year sees unusually high medical expenses.

One thing that also makes me more comfortable is that when we participated in such a plan back in 2013, that plan had a much higher deductible ($4,500, I believe) and that employer contributed $0 toward our HSA.  So, we made it through that one just fine and this plan seems to provide a softer landing in the event of any major event.

What We Give Up By Switching To A High Deductible Plan

There are a few things that we give up.  My wife and I will both have to find new primary care doctors.  We currently pay a little more to qualify for a broader group of doctor’s in the area, but the new plan makes us take a step down.  The good thing for us is that our primary care doctor’s are the ones we use the least and are the most replaceable.  Our kids pediatrician’s office and my wife’s OB/GYN are in the new tier, which are the higher ranking ones that we’ve had longer relationships with.

Overview

The switch to the high deductible plan looks like it has a high probability of saving us money.  It looks like a solid plan, and since I’ve had experience with one before, I’m pretty comfortable making the switch.

Readers, how many of you are using a High Deductible Plan?  What’s your experience or feelings?  Do you think we’re making the right call?

 

Copyright 2014 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

An Open Letter To JC Penney

Dear JC Penney Leadership,

I am writing this on the day following your most recent earnings announcement.  By the current look at your stock price (down 8% today, and roughly 30% since September 30th), clearly Wall Street investors are not impressed with your current performance and future prospects.

I’m here to write this letter to give you a potential glimpse as to what might be the problems that could aid in your continued turnaround activities.

You’ve made tremendous strides in undoing some of the wrongs that have plagued you over the past few years.  You reversed the ‘no coupons or discount’ strategy, the one that took away just about any chance of competing in today’s marketplace.  You revised your web sales strategy and streamlined your site to bring you into the current century in terms of an online sales model.  You accelerated renovations and updates to many stores, making them a more welcome place to shop.

Those are all great, but take a step back and look at the focus.  Pricing.  Online.  Appearance.

All great things that need attention and are required for your company to have any chance of success, but isn’t there one missing?

Customer.

What are you doing to help your customers want to shop at JC Penney?  From a recent shopping experience that I will share with you, it seems there are still significant deficiencies that need to be addressed.

My wife provided me the details behind this.  She is too nice to complain to me, but I am passing along her experience, not as a means to be negative, but in hopes that you address the situation directly, as well as look at how this might represent problems with your overall customer service strategy.  Problems that you can hopefully fix.

My wife visited a Michigan store recently in hopes of buying things from your home department.  We recently repainted several rooms, and needed updated window treatments, towels, and rugs to put the finishing touches on the room.  She went out of her way to go the store, and was hopeful that JC Penney would be the first and last stop in seeking out these items.

The search started in the window treatment area.  Our needs were simple, as we needed a decorative valance to go over our window that matched our new decor.  My wife found a couple of items and was walking towards an associate to ask a couple of questions, when the associate turned and walked to a back room.  Looking around, there were no other associates on the floor.  My wife waited a couple of minutes, but nobody returned.  The associate was not working with another customer at the time.  She just…left.

Disappointed, my wife  moved on to the bath area and started looking around at the items we needed.  She found everything and was very satisfied with the looks and found that the pricing was fantastic.  She gathered her items and went to the nearest register, where there was a long line of people waiting to be checked out.

Lines and such are not an issue.  However, when one of the two clerks working finished up with a customer and announced that she was leaving her register to go work on catalog stock, that was the last straw.  While her job may have been to work on catalog stock, to simply leave knowing that there was a long line of customers, announce that she was leaving, and to do so when there was clearly nobody else coming to step in for her was unacceptable.  This was a slap in the face to every customer who was waiting in line, who would now have to wait twice as long as the checkout capacity was reduced by 50%.

My wife put her items back and left the store.  She went to Kohl’s, where she purchased similar items, and ended up paying 20% more.  But, she got her questions answered, and was checked out quickly.  In fact, while she was waiting in line, another register was opened to deal with the line, a very welcome contrast to the experience at JC Penney.

As we are frugal in such purchases, she asked my opinion on whether paying more was the right way to go or if she should have stuck it out to get the better deal.  I didn’t even hesitate in my answer.

Leaving JC Penney and taking her business elsewhere was, without a doubt, the right way to go.

Lower prices are great but with poor customer service backing it up, the low prices as well as any other improvements that I’ve mentioned (or haven’t) are meaningless  Customer service has to be first and foremost the key to your business, otherwise nothing else matters.

I urge you to work on improving your customer service.  Now, it could be easily speculated that the experience I outlined above was a one time thing, that it’s not your business practice, and maybe was just something that happened.  But, in looking at stories around the web.  In looking at flattening sales while your competitors improved, in looking at the movement on your stock, I don’t think my wife and I are alone in our assessment.

Keep doing everything else you’re doing, but I implore you, provide your customers the service that they have come to expect.  If you don’t give it to them, there are other stores who would be more than happy to provide that service.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Disappointed In Michigan

Copyright 2014 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

Forcing Your Good Ideas On Others Despite Good Intentions

I got a little annoyed about a somewhat uncomfortable situation that came about at work.

Here in America, Tuesday was Veteran’s Day.  I have family members and friends who have served in the military, and I respect the courage of every person who has ever put forward their time and bravery for our country.

Our CIO put out a message to the entire IT staff thanking those on staff who have served, as well as providing a general thank you to all military members.  Someone replied personally to her asking if she would support an idea where people could contribute money that would then be used to support a family or two of veteran’s who needed assistance in terms of clothing, food, etc.

The CIO supported it and even offered to contribute a little extra herself, as well as sending out the idea to the entire staff.

The next day, the person who had the idea came around and started asking everybody for their contribution.  Not asking if they were going to contribute, but “You haven’t paid your $5 yet, so do you have it?”

I was a little taken aback and a quite a bit uncomfortable.

Here’s the thing:  I think it’s a great idea.  It’s certainly worthwhile.  But, there are many ideas and causes that are great ideas and worthwhile, but I can’t support every one of them.  My wife and I set aside money throughout the year for giving, and we work together to identify organizations and causes which we’d like to give, and budget accordingly.

While the amount ($5) was not a budget breaker, I thought that trying to make it forced giving was very off-putting and completely went against the positive spirit by which it had been initially suggested.

The method by which she collected it seemed designed to pretty much force everybody to give.  After all, if you say ‘no’ after having it presented that way, you come across as being the person that doesn’t support or honor veteran’s who are in need.

Which is not the case at all!

I just think that this should have been handled with a little more tact and understanding.  For the record, I did talk to some other people who found it equally off-putting, and as it turns out, the person who came up with the idea was asked to present her collection in such a way that it would be optional.

Readers, what do you think about this?  Should my co-worker have approached this differently or should I have just thrown in the $5 since she meant well?

Copyright 2014 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.