I quit being a mainstream news reporter years ago but news reporting never left me and I found that the oft-reported Christmas Eve shopping rush is a news myth.
This year, I decided to find out first-hand from stores if what I had been thinking for a decade was true or not. I kept reading, seeing and hearing in news stories year after year about the annual dreaded Christmas Eve shopping rush. But continuing to be observant and inquisitive, I wasn’t seeing the panic on December 24. I’d go out for some last minute items and I’d get home in about the same time as I would on a weekend shopping journey.
Let’s face it, we’re now overwhelmed each Thanksgiving about Black Friday to the point that it’s now a contest who will open earlier on Thanksgiving Day. We now have the ease of online shopping at home but top-of-mind awareness the past couple of years has been taken to a new level by Amazon, Chewy, and other online retailers.
Nevertheless, push came to shove this year. I purposely waited to shop for needed things until the day before Christmas because I really wanted to find out if my observations were still keen or if I was a Christmas stocking full of coal.
I had 4 stores on my list; Target, Ross for Less, Best Buy and a Vons grocery store. I asked the manager in each store, “Is today as chaotic as news stories say it will be the day before Christmas or is it like any other shopping day?
The Target manager said their head count after being open 5 hours today was half of an average weekend count. The Vons grocery store manager said the computer staffing was too much so he sent three people home before noon, and to show he wasn’t the Grinch that Stole Christmas for them, he guaranteed they still would get paid. The Ross for Less Manager said business was normal, no unusual spike in customer traffic. The Best Buy manager said after being open 2 hours, traffic was lighter and said it was that way because shoppers knew they were lacking a lot of inventory after a very busy weekend.
I asked each manager about how many years they had been a manager. The Best Buy manager had the least seniority, just 2 years, but said she had worked there for 6 years so had some track record for comparison. The other managers had at least 4 years experience and three of them had worked in retail for at least 10 years.
However, I did have a hunch that grocery shopping would be a madhouse after 1:00 p.m. so I went back to my Vons grocery store at 2:00 p.m. Sure enough, the store was as busy as the many weekends I’ve experienced there the past 2 years. There were no shopping carts to be found (many are stolen over time by the homeless and that will be another story for another day).
But I immediately determined there wasn’t an onslaught of shoppers. They had a Jimmy Dean 12 ounce bacon package sale for 99 cents, limit of 4 per customer. I really thought I’d be shut out of this great deal on an item that normally would cost $17.96 (advertised at $4.49 each regularly priced). Not only were they fully stocked, but I had a choice of either Applewood or Hickory smoked, and I didn’t have to wait behind people at the cooling bin where bacon was displayed.
Then it dawned on me: Grocery stores here in Las Vegas really have been pushing home delivery hard, in response to Amazon’s lead with Whole Foods. People don’t need to go to the store as much and that means staff doesn’t have to panic restocking items.
I don’t know if it was CNBC or the Fox Business Channel where I heard this retail assessment, but a keen analyst I like said the main factor for business to make sales with customers wasn’t price wars, but with “delivery of goods and services.”
And because of delivery, that last-day mad rush to the big and small box stores we see, read, and hear about really is a myth. News organizations are starting to get it a little bit. The Las Vegas Review-Journal published a story last week where you can buy at a big or small box retail store and still have items shipped to our homes.
Soon, electronic media, particularly television, will copy and repeat it. They always do.
My gift to you this 2019 holiday. Free too, so no arguments about pricing value, but you can argue with me if you wish in the comment section below.