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.

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.

Was Buying Our Halloween Candy At Costco A Good Deal?

We realized last year that we need quite a bit of Halloween candy.  Fall camping at many campgrounds in Michigan means that they set things up for Halloween, with campers decorating their RVs and campsites.  There are Halloween based activities for the kids, and of course trick or treating.

Least year was our first time at the nearby park, and we realized quickly how big this was.  We took about 9 bags of candy and it was gone in a flash.  Our kids came back with an enormous haul, which let us pretty much have enough to hand back out on the actual Halloween back at our house.

This past weekend was our planned trip, and this time we decided to be more prepared.  We doubled our purchase of candy, getting the equivalent of 18 bags.  I say equivalent because we bought it from Costco, where the bag sizes (like everything else) is bigger.  Much bigger.  We purchased two bags, each roughly 90 ounces.  One bag had candy based around chocolate, and the other was more the sugary sweet candy.

I decided to take a look to see if we got a deal or not.

Most bags of candy sold for the purposes of Halloween giveaway is around 10 ounces, so that was my assumption.

At Costco, we purchased two bags, each around 90 oz. each.  That gave us 180 oz. of candy, or approximately 18 bags.

Costco:
Total Price: $28.58 ($14.99 and $13.59)
Ounces of candy: 182 ounces
Cost equivalent per 10 ounce bag: $1.57

Random check of other prices:

Not on sale bag at Meijer: $3.39
On sale at Walgreens: $1.99
On sale at Kroger: $1.50
Amazon (equivalent pricing): $3.24

So, with doing a random check, Costco came in 2nd, a few pennies more expensive than the sale price available at Kroger.

However, if given the choice I would still pick Costco.  Here’s why:

  • No quantity requirements (except for it being Costco) – For the Kroger deal, you had to buy the candy in multiples of four.  Meaning, if we were hard and fast to our 18 bags of candy, we would either have to get two bags less (16) or two extra bags (20). If you’re buying that many bags, chances are you can be flexible here, but there’s always…
  • Availability – This is probably the key one for me.  I was basing the price comparisons by what Kroger advertised in their circular.  But, I’ve seen deals like this before and more times than not, when I go to the store to grab the candy, there’s an empty spot on the shelf where the candy was that other lucky buyers already purchased (or three bags, just enough to where you can’t get the deal).  You can go track someone down to ask if there’s more in the back, but if anybody has ever gotten anything other than a shake of the head, you’ve been luckier than me.   You could try a rain check, but who wants to chance them not getting more, and then having to rush out last minute, and settle for being the house that gives out the little wrapped pieces of gum that lose their flavor after 3.7 seconds.

Purchasing candy at Halloween isn’t for everybody. If you need less than the equivalent of nine bags, chances are it’s not the place for you.  But, if you do need Halloween candy in bulk, I would recommend Costco without giving it a second thought.

Readers, where do you purchase your Halloween candy?  How do you sniff out deals?

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.

Sticker Shock At The Drugstore

This past weekend, my wife and I did something that we’ve talked about doing for years: taking what ended up being a 26 mile bike ride.  We have a good trail system around, and the end of one of the trails takes you all the way up to a nearby city.  We’ve taken the trail a number of times, but have always turned around.  We thought we’d finally give it a shot, so off we went.

It’s a pretty easy ride in terms of being on flat ground that’s covered in gravel (it’s a converted railroad bed), but it still felt good when we pulled into town.  I’m not normally one to undo the benefits of exercise with treats, but given that it was our first time, we thought we might wander into a nearby CVS and get a small treat.

We both love ice cream so we first wandered over to the freezers to look at their single serve ice cream treats.  I thought I was reading things incorrectly when an ice cream sandwich was $3.29.

Nope.  It was right.

A frozen Twix?  $2.99 as were most items.  The cheapest item, an ice cream sandwich type thing was $1.99.  Yikes.

No ice cream.

I started looking around the store, and I was unable to believe my eyes at the prices of things.

I don’t do much shopping in drugstores, but the everyday price of just about…everything…was crazy.

9 volt batteries for over $2.

Individual candy bars for $1.25.

A ten ounce bag of potato chips for $4.

At this point, I wasn’t looking to actually buy, I just wanted to see the prices.

The calamine lotion test

I decided to check things out from another recent experience that kind of acted as a trigger.  A few weeks ago, my son got bit up really bad by mosquitoes.  They like me, but they love him.  He probably had 50-60 bites on his legs and was complaining about itching.

Given that it was around bedtime, my wife ran out to the nearest store, which happened to be a Walgreens, and brought back a bottle (6 ounces) for $5.69.  I thought that seemed high, but whatever.

My wife mentioned it to her sister, who said that she had also gotten some that week, but had purchased hers at WalMart…and it was $2.19.

Astounding difference

So, while my wife and I were walking around CVS, I figured I’d see what their price was, if they were also 250% or so higher.

As it turns out, they weren’t.  They were over 300% higher.

Their price was $6.99.

My jaw just about hit the floor.

We ended up escaping with what I think was the cheapest items sold in the store, a couple of bags of generic gummy bears/worms.

On my way out, I noticed the area behind the counter that used to house cigarettes, which they just discontinued selling last week.  One of the things always mentioned since CVS announced this decision to stop selling smokes, is that they made over $1 billion in profit from them.

I commented to my wife that they must have decided to look to make up the lost profits by jacking up the prices of everything else.

I suppose there probably are deals to be found in drugstores, but my guess is that you have to take advantage of sales and coupons to actually walk away with any type of savings.  But if you pay full price at the drugstore, prepare to be gouged.

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.