Driving in Fear in the Midwest Rain

Coming back to Chicago from Cleveland last week, it started raining. At first, this wasn’t anything special as I’ve driven in the rain plenty of times, but then we hit a spot in which it was raining so hard, I lost complete visibility. When the rain first started, I had already slowed down to around 60MPH and kept a distance of over 5 car lengths behind the car in front. We (Ha and I) then hit an area where that car completely disappeared and I could not even see the left (I was in the left-most lane) barrier to the freeway.

This was the scariest time I had ever experienced driving. My heart breaking out, sweat creeping out, I knew I needed to slow down, but I was fearful of the other cars around me. If I couldn’t even see the road or other cars, that would likely mean they couldn’t see me. Thus, it wouldn’t be a good idea to just stop in the middle of the freeway. However, to keep going would risk that I would hit someone else or drive into the barrier. I saw a car in another lane slowing down as I did with its caution blinkers on. I signaled to the right and slowly switched lanes to the right. I wanted to get off the road completely and stop, but I couldn’t even see it. I could only see my neighboring caution car and wanted to go along with him. During this entire time, I was expecting to get hit from behind – it is one thing to see a crash in front of you or have a few seconds of fear. I think this patch of rain was about a minute long, which may sound short, but is intensely terrifying if you are in it. When I finally got to the right most lane and was looking for a way to stop off the road, we passed the rain, and things became more reasonable in terms of visibility.

Since I am from the West Coast, I wonder if this type of rain happens to everyone in the Midwest area from time to time. All the cars involved were very lucky, and I hope no one got hurt. Keep in mind that this was around noontime, during the day. If this had happened at night, I don’t know if there is any way we could have avoided an accident.

How Reggie Miller Cost Me an Autograph from Tim Hardaway (and Junior) [Funny Memories]

“I’m Tim Hardaway of the Miami Heat and blah blah blah…[redacted from memory]”

My sister went to the Warriors game versus the Knicks last week and she mentioned Tim Hardaway’s son, and this brought back my own memories of both son and father.

In the summer of 1995, I was 14 years old, waiting at the San Francisco International (SFO) Airport for my relatives (family of aunt, uncle, and two cousins) to arrive from Indianapolis. As they were my only other relatives in the United States, they were my favorite relatives, and Indianapolis was my adopted second favorite city. In addition, the Colts and Pacers were my second favorite professional sports teams in their respective leagues to the 49ers and Warriors (I stopped supporting the Colts after they fired Ted Marchibroda. Nearly 20 years later, I may be on the verge of ending my support for the 49ers because of their stupidity in letting Jim Harbaugh go. Harbaugh was also Marchibroda’s quarterback with the Colts and the Baltimore Ravens and was replaced with whom I fear to be the next Mike Singletary.)

Continuing the story:

“Hi Tim,” said the man behind the counter on the phone in between moments of talking to customers.

I was five feet away from Tim Hardaway and his three year old (had to look it up) son (the aforementioned Tim Hardaway, Jr.), wearing a Reggie Miller (my first jersey, shown below, still in pristine shape) Pacers jersey. Our family had come to SFO to pick up my cousins’ family and I had worn my jersey proudly to show that I love Indiana (please remember I was 14). And yes, I loved Reggie Miller, the Knick killer as well.

However, there was Tim Hardaway so close to me. I wanted an autograph (in 1995, it was not so common just to have cameras on one’s person) of course – it was Tim Hardaway, former all-star (and soon to be once again, sigh. WARRIORS!) and Run-TMC member who had just been traded from the Warrior a few months prior. But I was shy and of course, had branded Reggie Miller and the Pacers across my body. How could I do this, how ridiculous would it be? Plus, what if Tim was a super jerk or just too busy and rejected me. (By the way, Tim was either trying to rent a car at the time or claiming lost luggage at this moment)

Tim looked at me (I can only imagine what he was thinking), and I shied away. I was too ashamed (not of Reggie, but appearing like a bandwagon fan. Tim was never to know that I LOVE the Warriors and always have) and could not do it.

Today, I have kept my Reggie Miller jersey (another embarrassing note, I used to think I would grow into a size 48 jersey. While part of this was the era of baggy everything, I was clearly very optimistic. I am today 5’6, essentially the same height I was at in 1995, and can wear a size 36. NBA players wear size 48 and above.) Recently, I have also purchased a vintage Tim Hardaway jersey as well as a recent issue Chris Mullin (also of Run-TMC) one, shown below.

How I Would Tackle Black Friday if I Worked at a Big Box Retailer [Business / Marketing]

imageIt used to be that Black Friday started on Friday after Thanksgiving. This year, we started on Thanksgiving itself, with Best Buy opening at 5PM.

My question: is all this really necessary? This is like an arms race, with competitors challenged to see who can open the festivities earlier. If that’s case, perhaps retailers will begin to ask “Why close on Thanksgiving at all?” in future years.

If I were a retailer looking to tackle the competition on Black Friday, I would ask the following questions:

1) Many families travel during the Thanksgiving holiday – if I live in Chicago and then fly to San Francisco to spend the holiday with my family, am I likely to go shopping and bring all that stuff (“oooh, 60 inch 1080P HDTV for $699!” back with me? In not, current Black Friday sales are excluding this substantial customer base.

2) You are probably familiar with the concept of a loss leader – selling a high profile (see TV above) item at below cost in order to attract crowds and associated purchasing – I don’t just buy the TV but since I am at Walmart I might as well buy video cables, and all this other stuff I was planning to buy. On Black Friday, do these trends continue? Do people buy more, the same, or less than if you created that same loss leader on another day? If people were going to buy that stuff from you anyway, but on another day, have you really gained anything except a loss on the TV? If people don’t actually buy the video cables from you, or buy it on another day, then you’re really in trouble. My mental image of Black Friday is massive crowds. Is this really the time to be slowly looking through the store to see what else you might want to get, or do you just want to get that super-cheap stuff and get out?

3) On Black Friday, does this start the buying season or do more people start earlier or even later? (The biggest shopping day is actually right before Christmas). I actually start buying very early, at least 1 month before Thanksgiving.

4) Do people work harder (weekends, overtime) the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving or these normal work weeks? Are they available to shop?

If I work at Walmart and feel this huge pressure to make sure Americans are using their shopping dollars at my retail locations, I realize this is a zero sum game. The more I sell, the less other stores will get, leading to stronger quarters for me, weaker quarters for them. If I stay in business, those guys…anyway you get the idea. With more retailers offering price matching, even against online retailers like Amazon, retailing is a no-holds-barred dirty war. Retailers don’t care if they lose money on some items, they just want customers to pick them for holiday shopping first.

My solution is to skip Black Friday altogether. Start the bonanza a week earlier, create your own shopping holiday (like that has never happened before?) when everyone is home and can still buy stuff. Then, offer a price-match guarantee on anything that is bought that weekend for the rest of the holiday season. My goal is to take away as much money from the retail market as possible early before the big battles start, preempt everyone else.

The details:

  • Advertise big, just as you would during Thanksgiving. But because you’re doing it when there is less competition, the ads are cheaper and you can get more coverage for the same rates. BLOW IT UP.
  • Price-matching would be returned through gift cards. I do not care what customers buy from me, if I am going to price match in the future, I might as have them buy everything now.
  • Think of price-matching as a mail-in rebate. A significant percentage of people will not bother to get the price match, but you have injected the confidence in customers that no one is going to beat you this holiday season. That means instant (financial) returns for you, the retailer who was going to price match anyway. I’d rather someone buy first from me and then forget to price match (money is worth more today than it is in two weeks) than someone either coming me to price match and buy something or just not bothering to price match and buying at that original retailer.
  • Using customer-matching technology based on past purchasing, I would offer gift-card rewards based (the more you spend, the higher rewards tier you reach, the higher % you get back) on how much was purchased during the special pre-holiday weekend, further encouraging customers to max out their credit cards at my retailer during that holiday weekend, to be given back on December 25th. I want to optimize for the hoarder mentality. I would send the customer a SMS on Christmas morning with how much they got back in gift card credit – who wouldn’t want to wake up to that? I just spent a ton of money on my family, and (instead of regret from guilt) now I am told I get money for loving them.
  • After this pre-Thanksgiving shopping holiday, I would just offer normal deals as you might expect – all I have done is move the craziness from Black Friday to a week earlier.
  • In case shoppers are still procrastinators, I would mail them a catalog with great gift ideas one week before Christmas, and then redo my super duper price-buster price matching weekend (price match + tier rewards) one more time. I clean up at the beginning, before anyone is competing, and at the very end, in the mad desperation. Again, my aim right before Christmas is to suck every dollar from the wallet but leave the customer feeling great about it on Christmas day.
  • (In case you’re wondering who shops on Christmas day itself, a LOT. As a teenager, I worked at Walgreens on Christmas day, and people would wait 30 minutes in line as cashiers rang up $1,000 shopping carts from customers buying anything available before seeing their families)

How fun would it be to take on retailers this way?

A Failed Customer Service and Social Media Lesson for Hanes.com and its Customer Service and Marketing Teams

Hanes.comEarlier this week, I found a nice deal on white v-neck tees from Hanes.com on SlickDeals. I ordered a couple packs of t-shirts and some underwear. Unfortunately, a couple of days later, Hanes.com cancelled the shirts but shipped the underwear anyway. I wrote to Hanes Customer Service:

Hi, I saw the promotion on the V-Neck shirts and this is why I decided to order from Hanes.com. Because I was making the order from Hanes.com, I also decided to get some extra underwear that I didn’t really need but was convenient to add in due to the combined shipping. However, yesterday, I received an email saying that the t-shirts would be cancelled and only the underwear would be shipped. Can these t-shirts be placed on backorder and shipped later? Otherwise, this feels almost like a bait and switch to me, and I would prefer the order cancelled. I am being shipped the items that I didn’t necessarily need while the things I actually did need are being cancelled.

I wish I would have had the option to explicitly continue or cancel the order if I had known Hanes would do this beforehand.

After a couple of days, Hanes replied:

Dear Customer,

Hanes.com no longer offers the Hanes v-neck 3 pack undershirt on our website. The Hanes v-neck 3 pack undershirt style 1A0703 that you ordered was posted on links that are not legitimate offers by our company. Any questions you have on this offer will need to be address by the website that posted this link in error.



In response, I wrote:

Dear Claudine,

Thank your for your complete lack of empathy, understanding, and willingness to help find a solution other than to blame customers for issues on your website. Now we know that any time other people promote your website and promotions via social media, customers should ignore that because Hanes is not responsible for the content on its website.

There is nothing that makes a customer feel more appreciated than being written a template reply.

I will make a note that I should never order from Hanes.com directly again and discuss the customer service issue on my website: http://www.ispithotfire.com/



As I discussed in the last email, what really aggravates me the most (and creates the most lasting negative impression of the Hanes company website) is the response via template email and complete ignorance of the issue that I discussed (cancelling my entire order as I really just wanted the shirts).

While Hanes claims that the product is no longer being sold (this was found via search, however) let’s assume this is true and that the product was never meant to be sold. First, in ecommerce, it’s very easy to mark an item as not purchasable. Second, despite this, let’s discuss what Hanes could have done to help its customers and create a positive solution out of this issue.

Don’t lie to or bullsh*t the customer. I believe that if you’re honest and make an attempt to assuage customers, good things will happen. Will everyone be happy? Of course not. By offering ways to save customers, however, you can retain customers who may become long-term customers.

I do likes Hanes products, and will use Hanes products in the future, but just not order directly. Does this mean that I won’t be penalizing Hanes? No. Hanes.com likely has specific sales targets independent of its 3rd party sales. Hanes.com would like to sell more items directly because the profit margins are much higher because it removes the middleman and it provides a customer base to learn from (gather customer data) and improves opportunities for future direct sales (customer lifetime value). If I buy Hanes shirts from Walmart, Walmart eats into those profits.

Thus, we can treat this situation as a marketing misstep. Hanes should have an expected customer acquisition budget, an amount they pay on average to acquire a new customer to their ecommerce site. Let’s say this is $5 per customer. I bought the t-shirt packs for $3.99 and lets say its retail price lists at $15.50, an $11.51 difference. Note that this is not the normal selling price nor is it the actual cost to Hanes. A similar pack is currently selling for $10.99, which is a $7 difference from the cancelled promotion price. If the customer acquisition is $5, Hanes will take a bit of a loss by selling the packs at the low price rather than not selling it at all.

Of course, there are other things to consider, such as negative PR impact by not allowing the sale, but let’s assume Hanes is uncomfortable will taking that loss. Besides, Hanes Marketing could be thinking, well, what if these customers are only here to buy this super cheap item and will never come back. That means we lose money for unprofitable customers.

In that case, Hanes could offer a new coupon to customers in this situation, a 25% off coupon for purchases over their normal average order size (what an average order brings in revenue). If that is $30, the coupon would be 25% off orders over $30. At 25%, Hanes would lose potentially more money (in profits, not necessarily losses), but could gain it back in sales volume. Customers would need to purchase a variety of products, potentially leading to better share of wallet and longer term product and brand loyalty (assuming the products are quality). People who only wanted to take advantage of the super cheap deal would be weeded out, leaving customers who really want Hanes products. There is some math that would need to be done based on Hanes’ actual profit margins, but you get the idea. The coupon needs to be significant where it fulfills both sides. Hanes needs to make a decent amount of sales from people who are serious customers. Customers need to be provided an offer that has real benefit and feels like a legitimate apology – for example, a 10% coupon would probably feel insignificant.

In the communication, Hanes would simply explain 1) we made a mistake, this was an error listing and we didn’t catch it 2) to apologize, we want to offer this exclusive coupon to you.

With over 100 people who explicitly said they participated (purchased) in the deal (I estimate the actual figure could be 3-5x more because typically, 80% of all users are passive), there would be a great opportunity to attract new users and also reverse negative sentiment created by this situation – look at the responses from other customers on SlickDeals (this is the most powerful potential impact by Customer Service teams, to not just be a cost center but to convert sales). Contrast this to the current situation in which Hanes is blaming customers for sharing links to Hanes.com via social media and promoting Hanes for free.

What do you think? What other ways could Hanes create a positive (and profitable) business impact in this situation?

(Edit: June 21, Julie Jenkins, Hanes.com Customer Service Manager contacted me and we found a resolution together on my individual issue. Thanks very much to her!)