Black Friday Is Now Second Fiddle, And That’s Good

Full disclosure, I did not leave the house today to go shopping. In fact I’m still in my sweatpants and the day’s highlights included petting cats and convincing the wife to bring Chipotle home for lunch because the electricity was out. She on the other hand was up relatively bright and early and was on the retail scene by 8:30am, which is extremely late by our society’s standards for shopping the day after Thanksgiving. No worries, her mortal retail sins were soon absolved with the swipe of a credit card.

I am going to take a moment (the cats are sleeping) to share some of our observations on the Black Friday holiday.

Should we have ditched the family and went shopping at 6pm on Thanksgiving?

Yes, and no. No because it’s disappointing that consumers think they have to go shopping on Thanksgiving Day. And retailers take the easy way out by saying [I’m paraphrasing] Really, we’d love to be closed on Thanksgiving but it’s the shoppers who demand we are open. [points finger]”. The reality is stores are open because humans are intrinsically competitive; insatiable consumers demand the best deals and retailers need to capture consumers sooner than their competition does. Over the course of the next few years Black Friday will go away completely. Stores will “open” at 8pm the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, everyone will be done shopping by Thursday afternoon and we’ll all go back to eating turkey again around 4 o’clock, and spending time with the family afterwards…

…Although there is something to be said about the allure of shopping on Thanksgiving. By time 6pm rolled around I was ready to kick my family out, even the ones who live here…maybe family time is better in smaller serving sizes. As it turned out, by not storming out of the house once the leftovers we’re in the fridge, brass knuckles in hand, we did miss out on one sale item that we probably should have jumped on.

We should have shopped on Thursday: Toys R Us

There are certain stores that should be open on Thanksgiving, all day, one of which I did visit was the grocery store. We needed ground ginger for the pumpkin pies and we also like to get a copy of the newspaper with all the ads. The Thanksgiving ads are part of our annual shopping ritual. While the turkey is roasting we go through the ads seeing what, if anything, catches our eye. Frankly nothing really caught my eye, but a little train table at Toys R Us quickly made it on our youngest’s Christmas list. Turns out by time the wife went shopping this morning they were all gone everywhere. 50% off assured that would be the case in hind sight. Which is a shame because he really liked it, we liked it, and quite frankly the money part didn’t matter. $80 seems very reasonable, and actually at $40 I get a little leery of the quality and fairness of its manufacture, but it’s a moot point, there are none to be found. Hopefully mid-holiday season will find more of them in store.

Note to Toys R Us, there is an inconsistency in the online item and the marketing ad. We prefer the ad item, as does a certain 3-year-old. I suspect the online item is the real one which is a shame. From a retailer perspective it’s a minor mix up, and surely consumers will devour 50% off items regardless, but for this consumer it’s a disappointment.

Discrepancy between the ad in the paper and what's online. Sold out in store so no way to tell which is right, other than item number is the same. I suspect the online item on the left is real, it looks to be a less expensive set than the one on the right, thus the 50%.

Discrepancy between the ad in the paper and what’s online. Sold out in store so no way to tell which is right, other than item number is the same. I suspect the online item on the left is real, it looks to be a less expensive set than the one on the right, thus the 50%.

Best Black Friday in-store shopping experience: The Home Depot

The wife reported that The Home Depot won hands down for in-store shopping experience. They had plenty of staff to handle all the guests; yes it was crowded. And advertised sale items were easy to find, with plenty of inventory. Maybe I should have put more items from Home Depot on my Christmas list.

Best Thanksgiving Ad: JC Penny

You may be surprised, but we’re actually fans of struggling JC Penny. The wife says their ad was the only one to prompt her to add a store to her shopping itinerary. She was able to pick up a few items on sale, though a few sale items weren’t in stock or the ad proved somewhat confusing (specifically a sale on children’s jeans).

Best overall Black Friday shopping experience: Amazon.com

I let my fingers do the shopping this Black Friday.  Frankly I could have shopped there on Thursday had I not been taking a post turkey nap. For about 15 minutes of my time I did the bulk of my remaining Christmas shopping. I didn’t have to shave, shower, fight traffic or over analyze anything. Just type what I wanted and magically the elves at Amazon.com find it, I throw it in my “cart” and it all shows up on Tuesday next week. I couldn’t care less about sales or door busters. I just went Christmas shopping in my pajamas essentially, at 11am with a cat on my lap.  How can opening at 5pm on Thanksgiving beat that?

Also one positive of Black Friday losing its luster: the stores are more easily accessed as the day progresses I suspect. Hell, maybe I should clean up and get out there tonight.  A little retail therapy might be nice.

I’ll leave you with this great article from the Wall Street Journal, here, about 10 things stores don’t want you to know, many of which are common sense. By the way, stores that should be open on Thanksgiving: gas stations, grocery stores and Walmart.

What were your favorite Black Friday stores to shop at?

Did you go out on Thanksgiving shopping?

I’d love to hear your stories and perspective.

-Chris

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Grocery Store Swapping

Earlier this week my wife and I decided to consider switching grocery stores. She had recently taken a field trip with our oldest son to a local northeast Ohio grocer, Heinen’s, and was impressed with the “behind the scenes” tour. We had shopped there before, but never really for a full trip so to speak. This past Tuesday morning was our first comprehensive visit to our local store.

Probably more so than any other retail outlet, where one buys groceries garners the highest degree of shopper loyalty I suspect. You go there every week, list in hand, and you learn the layout. The art of navigating the grocery store waters is refined over the course of years. You learn where your bread is at, where the Kalamata olives are…how best to request the week’s cold cuts from the surly deli lady. So switching stores is not to be taken lightly. One year at Thanksgiving I could remember hunting several different stores for specific ingredients that couldn’t be found in our regular store, only to be frustrated by the various layouts. Ultimately, when life is hectic, getting in and out at fast as humanly possible is just as important as quality and pricing.

Having been to our local Heinen’s several times previously we sort of knew what to expect, but we made sure to take our time and visit every part of the store to learn the layout and see how we liked it compared to our regular grocery shopping retailer. Size is the biggest physical difference between old and new. Everything at the other store is bigger….parking lot, product offering, number of checkout stations.

“We could have been shopping in our home, save for the fact that Heinen’s is infinitely cleaner than our home.”

I grabbed a shopping cart that was decidedly smaller than what we were used to, and we started in the produce department. The perceived quality of the produce is higher in my mind at Heinen’s than most other grocery stores. The food is displayed artfully and the saturated colors make you want to start making exotic salads and side dishes. Navigating the area was a challenge, because when you’re new to a store you just don’t know where anything is. We spent probably twice the normal amount of time there, but ultimately got everything we needed. One note, we asked the same produce associate where something was about a half-dozen times and each time instead of just saying “oh, it’s over there” he would walk over and physically show us. I had to ask the wife to ask the last time because I was too embarrassed to ask.

Fresh produce lined up at Heinen's. We like that they make the effort to stack up the apples in real life like you'd expect to see in a magazine. No need for some sort of excessive display components when a deft hand can leverage the fruits natural stackable shape.

Fresh produce lined up at Heinen’s. We like that they make the effort to stack up the apples in real life like you’d expect to see in a magazine. No need for some sort of excessive display components when a deft hand can leverage the fruits natural stackable shape.

Produce, both in quality and display, is an area where Heinen's excels in our opinion.

Produce, both in quality and display, is an area where Heinen’s excels in our opinion.

As we passed down the dairy aisle we were loving the wide open aisles. Grocery shopping was no longer a stressful battle with humanity for nature’s bare essentials. It was a relaxing stroll through wood (patterned vinyl) floors with bright lighting overhead. We could have been shopping in our home, save for the fact that Heinen’s is infinitely cleaner than our home. Granted traffic was light on a Tuesday morning, but I would imagine that even with a Summer weekend or holiday rush the store would be manageable, as opposed to most grocery stores that appear to be selling aisle displays in lieu of food. Just as in the produce department, products throughout the store were arranged in an orderly fashion. Packaging designers should rejoice, for the time taken to organize the product on shelves made good packaging design shout out to guests. In a world where retail designers and marketers spout off about making the product “king“, only to have the system delegate product to an afterthought, saddled with promotional signage and overwrought merchandising schemes; it was refreshing to see restraint and product focused merchandising.

Orderly end caps are a pleasant sight for many a weary grocery shopper.

Orderly end caps are a pleasant sight for many a weary grocery shopper.

Wide, uncluttered aisles that benefit guests and enhance the shopping experience, stand in the face of the status quo for grocery merchandising.

Wide, uncluttered aisles that benefit guests and enhance the shopping experience, stand in the face of the status quo for grocery merchandising.

We spent a majority of our time in the perimeter of the store, moving through baked goods, frozen foods, and meat departments. We were pleased to see options for sustainably and humanely raised meat and eggs. Adjacent to the meat department is probably our favorite superfluous “lifestyle” department; a whole area dedicated to cheese, beer, wine and hors d’oeuvre meats.  This area alone pushed our grocery bill well beyond what we would have spent at another outlet, but how can you resist artisan cheeses from Washington state and the joy of hunting for “cheap” wine. The wine selection was a bit pricy for our undiscriminating palate, but we can stock up elsewhere for our kind of wine elsewhere. Regardless, once again the shopping experience was delightful and experiential without being gimmicky.

Artisan sausages displayed in an inviting way, just begging you to buy them and call your friends for an impromptu happy hour at your place.

Artisan sausages displayed in an inviting way, just begging you to buy them and call your friends for an impromptu happy hour at your place.

Worn out from spending so much time in the perimeter, and with a small cart already overflowing, we made a quick dash to the center of the store to pick up various pantry provisions. The shopping experience in the core was every bit as delightful as the edges. Products were in order, offering exotic (to us at least) varieties and old standbys in equal measure. Wide aisles made it easy to park the cart, hunt and gather without hindering other guests.

As a small store in an affluent area, the store’s smallness caters to higher income guest who most likely eat out quite a bit and don’t load up on groceries as much as, say, maybe our hectic family would in a typical trip. Checkout was a challenge as we unloaded our overstuffed little cart. In fact I had to get a second cart, and that’s when I discovered they offered larger carts up front; chalk that up to the learning experience. One other difference, that is probably common in settings where parking lots are smaller, is that the store loads your car up for you. I had to restrain the independently minded part of me and gracefully pull up to loading door. I darted back and forth, the control freak in me making sure the gentleman could fit everything in the back of our Rabbit, which already had two car seats in the back, limiting grocery getting space to just the hatch area. With some planning though everything fit and I showed great restraint.

So are we switching? We’ll keep visiting, learning where everything is at the new store. Nearly every grocery chain has their advantages. Ultimately it comes down to cost, convenience (experience) and quality. Both grocery chains we’ve been using hit on all three in different ways. I could see leveraging each, and others, for their strengths. They are good at what they set out to do, who they set out to be.

When we talk specifically about Heinen’s, from a design perspective I think their strength is providing great quality and great shopping experience. Their brand message plays out in their store, by displaying quality products in an orderly manner without being overwrought. Food is a very personal necessity. Maybe shopping for it shouldn’t always border on being work and something we try to get over with. By fostering that relationship we have with food, Heinen’s helps guests slow down and really appreciate shopping for sustenance. It’s not only our pantry that is renewed after shopping there.

Microsoft Retail Eye Candy

Apparently I don’t get out much, but when I finally was allowed to leave my studio earlier this week, I found myself at the mall with my family. We needed new dishes, so we stopped by Pottery Barn and found something we liked. It would be about a half hour to pull inventory and pack our two sets of dinnerware, so we had some time to kill. After the kids tossed a few wishful pennies in the fountain (ah, the simple things in life….when’s the last time you did that?) we aimlessly wandered around the corner and found ourselves in front of the LEGO store. The kids were happy. Their father, on the other hand, kind of dreaded the thought of having to buy more LEGO’s, not because of any aversion to small building blocks (I love them, and play with them, to this day) but rather because both young boys just had birthdays and received plenty already. Across the way though, something caught my eye.

You guys go check out the LEGO store, I’ll be over here” I offhandedly directed to my toddler wrangling partner, and I walked across the way.

In front of me stood the simple shiny white facade of the Microsoft store. I knew these stores existed, but never really thought to find one in the Cleveland area. Has the concept been around so long that it finally filtered its way down to our area? Who cares. It’s here now.

Before I even stepped inside I was smitten by the large lifestyle graphic panels that ran around the perimeter of the store. “That’s awesome“, I thought to myself. I liked the seemingly backlit color and images. I like how it seamlessly went from wall to wall in a 4′ tall band.

Then the graphics changed.

Whoa” I mouthed silently to myself.

What I was actually looking at was not back-lit graphics but rather one giant, extremely long, video screen. It took a moment to comprehend. I mean, I’ve seen all kinds of similar, and even more extraordinary things like this before, but not on a somewhat “mass” retail scale. And a part of me probably recalls reading or seeing this sort of thing in trade magazine or something. Hell, we used to draw this kind of idea all the time but it never made it past a shiny computer rendering.  Back in the day I thought it’d be cool to use video screens instead of printed signs – never have to ship another piece of seasonal signage again, just upload it. But here, live, in front of me was something I guess I never would have expected…or at least not expected to see during a trip to go pick up plates and coffee mugs (albeit a different store obviously).

It was pure visual retail porn.

Without hesitation I stepped inside. I basked in the glow of my newly discovered wall of visual ecstasy. Watching fields of grass in one section, the time and date in another….over there a competitive comparison…all on one screen…like two hundred feet long…that turned two corners.  I wanted to shake someone’s hand. Somewhere out there was a very proud design team who made a very compelling case to someone with there wear withal to make this happen.  Very cool.

The video wall, made up of dozens of smaller monitors, wraps the store.

The video wall, made up of dozens of smaller monitors, wraps the store.

I was promptly greeted by an Microsoft sales associate. We chatted a bit. I owned up to the fact that I was just looking around. I did not use the words “porn” or “ecstasy” in case you were wondering. There I was snapping photos with my phone (I won’t mention the brand…let’s just say it was ironic), like a kid in a candy store….or LEGO store. I walked around, not really interested in the product. I only had a few minutes, so it’s not like I could do a complete deep dive on this retail visit. I was just winging it.

Towards the back I was eyeing the Xbox gaming area when another associate and I started talking. She demonstrated how guests can try out the latest games using controllers tethered to small posts. Gaming screens appeared within the larger screen display that wraps the store. The area is surrounded by simple full faced software displays and large format graphics informing guests of new releases. Also, at the front of the store is a floor to ceiling gaming demo space, that I’m sure draws in mall visitors. The day I was there they had a, yet to be released, Xbox One showing off its impressive graphics capabilities. Very cool indeed.

The gaming area in the back corner of the store doesn't require separate monitors, it utilizes a portion of the video wall. Note the simple merchandising.

The gaming area in the back corner of the store doesn’t require separate monitors, it utilizes a portion of the video wall. Note the simple merchandising.

The Microsoft store facade. At the far end is a game demo area.

The Microsoft store facade. At the far end is a game demo area.

The topic then switched over to computers after I asked what the space behind the registers was for. They have a small classroom to teach guests how to use their new computers. The space features contemporary tables, benches and a very large monitor. On the main sales floor there are various areas to learn about the different computers and other products the store has to offer. All are done in relative simplicity and feature clean contemporary lines. Guests are welcome to sit while shopping as stools are plentiful; something that is in contrast to competitive stores I believe. Personally I found myself smitten again as my Microsoft expert companion explained the pros of picking up a new Surface computer, complete with stylus and portable keyboard. Alas I didn’t have a spare $800 burning a hole in my pocket, but at least now I have something to dream about.

There is an open area in the back of the store for classroom sessions and meetings.

There is an open area in the back of the store for classroom sessions and meetings.

Surface tablet with keyboard and stylus. You would think I would have drawn something more interesting on the screen when I was trying it out.

Surface tablet with keyboard and stylus. You would think I would have drawn something more interesting on the screen when I was trying it out.

Simple, straightforward displays allow the focus to be on the product and features.

Simple, straightforward displays allow the focus to be on the product and features.

As I walked out of the store I noticed the deftly executed backlit window sign. Actually I had seen this from across the aisle, where I left the family earlier, but the video wall had usurped this window sign in my giddy excitement. Now I examined the window sign closer. It was really well done. Graphically it tied into Microsoft’s phone software. The edge  and back lighting were flawless. And the sign artfully suspended itself visually as if in mid-air (it actually sandwiches the store window, but your eye couldn’t care less about the glass window).

I love this simple backlit window sign.

I love this simple backlit window sign.

In my imagination and experience as a designer the window sign and the highly technical video wall were both visual delights, that borders upon being downright mythical in my opinion. I was very impressed.

I would say that the store is doing its job. At least for me. I went in with a few minutes to kill and left with visions of Surface tablets and the Xbox One dancing in my head. I will definitely plan another trip to the Microsoft store to take a closer look. Honey, if you’re reading…you might want to confiscate my credit card before I go back.

Hello World!

Hello.

I set up a blog for Chris Weigand Design. This is obviously the first post.  I’m still working on what the cadence will be, but suffice to say I’ll work to provide posts on Tuesday’s and Thursdays to help get us all through the week.

We’ll talk about design, trends….or whatever we think you’ll like reading about. Also it will help give you a feel for what we’re all about here at CWD.

Until then, enjoy your day and don’t take the world too seriously.

Cheers!

– Chris