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The good, the bad and the ugly for customers this Christmas

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15th Dec 2015
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I just posted an article on our website about the good, bad and ugly American airports and it had me thinking about festive time as a consumer.

It’s a pretty hectic time of year as it is and we need all the help we can get. Consider it. Customers have all the stresses of normal life but also have to cook a large meal for anything up to fifteen people, buy gifts for people they hardly see all year, watch countless school plays, race around shops on Christmas Eve, go to the supermarket just as the shelves have emptied, find that every size you want is out of stock, find time to go to a carol service, write a letter to Santa and spend a fortune they don’t have.

So who’s helping us, who’s making it a whole lot worse for us and what could be removed to at least improve the view?

The Good

The Internet. What did we, and Santa, do before the internet? Instead of walking around a wet city or town centre running the gauntlet with millions of other people, we can kick back on the sofa and order everything online. On the Black Friday (don’t get me started) weekend UK shoppers spent £2bn – up 30% on last year – and around half of this was online.  Imagine the crowds and queues if the World Wide Web didn’t exist and we had to (Oh, God) walk around on our legs to buy things.

Amazon. What did we, or Santa, do before there was Amazon? The internet is a fantastic place to buy Christmas gifts but Amazon stand head and shoulders above the rest. If it exists, it’ll be on there and they’ll get it to you come hell, high water or if you’re buying it from China. Amazon tick so many boxes for everyone. They make the world a much smaller place so if the only place you can get an item is a small town in Peru, that no longer presents an obstacle. Santa is especially grateful as it cuts down the Little Helper’s overtime spend in the short term, and when Amazon start using drones to deliver, he can get rid of them altogether.

Sales. Remember when there was a mad rush on Christmas Eve, then you had Christmas Day and then on Boxing Day the sales began? Seems a long time ago doesn’t it? Now you don’t have to ask for ‘the money instead’ for Christmas and wait a day for the sales. Most of this year’s Christmas sales started in August or September and go on until June or July so there’s no longer that pressure to get in early. The only question you have to ask yourself is do you want 25%, 30%, 40% or 50% off. That and ‘do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya, punk? As a guide for the rookie, if the retailer says the 30% sales ends on Friday so take advantage now, then there will be a 40% sale starting Saturday.

The Bad

Sales. In a perfect world, you buy your Christmas presents early to avoid the rush and chaos. You get 30% off and you’re delighted. Then they go and knock an extra 20% off in the week before Christmas and you are furious. Basically, you are penalised for being organised. The biggest headache? Standing in the line of fire with the stuff you bought for £100 to get a refund so you can re-buy it again for £50 plus some other things you don’t need to get the overall spend back to £100. Otherwise known as the second Saturday after Christmas in Next.

Smartphone Apps. More than 70% of us think that the current Smartphone apps available for shopping aren’t fit for purpose. Arecent article highlighted the failings but generally, the apps are slow and unresponsive (think how you are twenty minutes after your Christmas dinner) and also the retailers are sloppy in their marketing efforts and the customer exercise their absolute power by deleting the app. But it could be worse. The next time you are walking within two hundred metres of a Marks & Spencers and your phone pings you a message asking if you’d like to buy a turkey, just remember that in ten Christmas’s time, it will be a digital hologram of an M&S employee asking you the same question.

Retailers Who Can’t Cope. There are a few but one (we’ll call it the Company With No Name to avoid naming and shaming) in particular had a complete meltdown on Black Friday because of the amount of people using it. Despite the hype of fantastic not to be missed deals, the reality for some customers spending a fistful of dollars was that the retailers failed to deliver on time, leaving many people having to wait at home for days until their goods arrived. For a few dollars more, some booked same day delivery but didn’t get it. And many answered calls or hours on hold later, the customers were left just wanting to contact the company any which way you can.

The Ugly

Send Back Saturday. Not just this but generally any day that suddenly gets a new name attached to it. SBS is particularly ugly though because it highlights the problems that online shopping brings with it. You see, when all these customers are spending hundreds of millions on jumpers, socks, coats and trousers online they aren’t trying them on. Eventually,  half of them have to be returned, so many in fact that we have to name a day after it. So this weekend, spare a thought for the Post Office’s Little Helpers who have been drafted in to work (and thus get behind on their own shopping) so that the sudden impact of extra postage demand is catered for. And one can only guess at the way the banks will handle all the refunds.

Christmas Day Shopping.  Want a horrible stat? Apparently, one in three people in the UK will shop online on Christmas Day, many before they’ve opened their presents. I admit that on one occasion, two years ago, I ordered a doll’s house for my daughter and when she opened it on the day, it had no furniture whatsoever, even though the online description suggested it did. Out of guilt, I went online and ordered some, so that it arrived as soon as practically possible but I still felt dirty afterwards and had to take a shower. But now, I’ll only just be in the minority if I do it. Call me old fashioned, but what is so wrong with spending time with family, watching old James Bond films and playing monopoly on Christmas Day morning, and then spending all Christmas Day afternoon ignoring everyone while you check Facebook?

Christmas Tree. All towns have Christmas trees at this time of year as the centre piece of their Christmas decorations. How else would they be able to hire someone off Big Brother 3 to turn on their lights? It seems a relatively simple task, but then some towns have a different view of what a suitable Christmas Tree should look like and one extreme example is the one in Birstall, Leicestershire that looks less like a Christmas Tree and more like Mickey’s hat in Fantasia. Residents have shown little in the way of goodwill to all men, and even less goodwill to all trees and the council are considering making the ‘wizard’ tree vanish in much the same way they made £21,000 of taxpayers money vanish when they purchased it, which is surely the true crime.

* how many Clint Eastwood film titles (not quotes) did you spot? If it was eleven, well done, you will be entered into a draw to win a free 30 minute untangling of your Christmas lights at Tesco, Wrexham.**

**may not actually be entered into prize draw.

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By laura_tompkins
15th Dec 2015 13:27

I bought all the presents online this year. I hate crowds, shopping centers and etc. So , I didn't know what Santa did before Amazon but thanks God we are living in digital area. There are some negatives, of course but this is the new era. Happy Holidays!

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Chris Ward
By Chris Ward
15th Dec 2015 15:38

Hi Laura. Are you suggesting that Santa now uses Amazon to deliver presents? Does that mean that Amazon Prime is now officially a faster mode of delivery than reindeer-drawn sleigh!?
I agree though - online shopping really comes to the fore at Christmas. Happy holidays!

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Rob Thomas Profile Photo
By Rob Thomas
05th Jan 2016 10:11

Just reading this after Christmas and New Year - what a fun read and great insights Darren. Keep them coming!!

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