The 1st of December 2018 was a Saturday.
Prior to this, the last time a Saturday fell on December 1 was six years ago, and the next is in 2029.
So what? Well, for physical retail stores in Australia, it’s a huge day.
Although we’ve recently adopted the US Thanksgiving holiday weekend on the last Saturday in November as our ‘Black Saturday’, our antipodean body clocks go: ‘December 1, woohoo it’s summer!’ Then our mind goes: ‘I’ve only got three more Saturdays until Christmas and this may be the last quiet one without the kids off school.’
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So we jump in our cars and drive to malls. All over the country. And when we get to those malls we find lots of other Australians are also in their cars in the carpark. That is, unless you shop at Chadstone in Melbourne, where you often meet your fellow shoppers queuing on the Monash freeway off ramps.
In this way, the Australian mall sector is still way healthier than it is in the US. While 12 months old, this quote says it all. “Despite the merry [American] holiday season for retailers, foot traffic continues to slump. One study found foot traffic in US retail stores fell 7.5% in November and December 2017, continuing the longer-term trend toward e-commerce and away from traditional retail.”
Our Australian population growth is higher in percentage terms and our major malls across the country are new, nearly new or newly refurbished. On any given Saturday they are beautiful places to shop. However, on a busy December Saturday they are fraught with, well, fraught people.
One of the key drivers towards online is, was and remains convenience. Not price. We assume the price is as good as anything else out there. If it isn’t somebody will drop it or match it. So we tend not to shop around too much.
Don’t believe me? Go to a store and choose a branded item priced at about $200 on the shelf, factoring in any discounts and offers. Then search on your smartphone for the item online.
What do you see? There’s about a 5% spread on the actual price you’ll pay. So you can pick it up and take it to the checkout or have it shipped to your home. That’s your choice. If you’ve driven, queued, acted as a peacekeeper with all your family members on the journey, you buy it there and take it home.
But here’s the thing. Many of you are now most unlikely to shop again in store next Saturday, and very unlikely to return on the last Saturday before Christmas. That fraught experience will see you shopping online for the rest of the season.
So why does that matter? Well, physical retailers can sell almost everything they have in store on the Saturdays before Christmas assuming they have foot traffic. All things being equal, if you can get shoppers into the store they’ll buy.
That’s why Coles’ Little Shop promotion worked so well. Move up the value chain away from grocery and the ‘things that all need to be equal’ are:
- Stock available in-store right now;
- Enough trained staff to assist the shoppers’ buying decision; and
- Enough checkout staff to complete the shopping transaction without shoppers abandoning purchases in the checkout line.
However, as a physical retailer with an online offering, if any one of these three gates is broken, you can still save the sale with a time-bound ‘sorry-it-was-busy’ offer. You’ve invested in ‘greeters’ (thank you Sam Walton) to welcome shoppers into your store. Their role is to observe shoppers and look for shoplifters. Use their observations skills to look for abandoned or frustrated shoppers and hand out cards that read: ‘Sorry we were so busy in store today. If you couldn’t buy what you needed, please accept a discount of 5% off on all your online purchases with the promo code “Merry Christmas 2018”. Valid until midnight Monday, December 17, 2018.’
If you don’t have an online offering, it’s unlikely your shoppers will be back this Saturday. Or Saturday, December 1, 2029.