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?

Discovering Your Six Pack and Losing 25 Pounds [Body]

Starting college, I was 140 pounds. However, after a couple years, I finally realized that eating a whole pizza and other things for dinner every day wasn’t quite in the recommended daily 2,000 calorie maximum for students when I noticed I had ballooned to 160 pounds. As a teenager, I used to eat super sized double quarter pounder meals at McDonald’s and think to myself, “that was a solid meal”. Not an insane meal, a solid one.

Knowing my friends, who were all pretty skinny at the time, this was what it was like to be American in the mid-1990’s.

A year ago, I was about 170 pounds. I am 5’6 (167 cm). I wore medium-sized shirts and size 33 pants.  I had given up on losing weight, I just wanted to be fit. I don’t think I was ever fat or obese – I just had a good body frame for holding (mostly down low) weight. Even when I was doing intense 2 hour basketball sessions in the Vietnamese heat multiple times per week, I never lost any weight.

After I read Timothy Ferriss’ Four Hour Body last year, I began to understand why. In general, Ferriss talks about how carbohydrates and not fat (from meat) are the key to storing fat in the body. Consuming no carbs meant your body could not store fat. Based on the advice in the book, I decided to change my diet to see what could happen. Essentially, it’s the load-up-on-meats-and-vegetables while avoiding-all-rice-and-bread diet, or the Atkins diet. I also avoid sauces and dressings whenever possible to avoid extra filler calories.

Today, one year later, I am 65kg (143 pounds). This is what I looked like a couple of years ago versus now:

I never thought I could have a 6 pack, but today’s it’s pretty much there. I’m no Ryan Reynolds, but I almost feel like we have a common bond (other than an initial love but now dislike for Scarlett Johansson). I am down to a size 30.5 waist, size small shirt, and a big need to make money to buy new clothes.

I highly suggest reading the Four Hour Body to learn more (or can just research online) – Ferriss does a good job of answering detailed questions and complaints that people may think of against doing this. As a side note, Ferris  also recommends loading up on green tea extract and a number of compounds that is now called the PAGG stack. While both may help in overall health, they are also fairly expensive. I don’t think they are necessary for the weight loss (I tried the PAGG stack for a couple of months and I don’t feel the results were different).

The major changes in my diet, massive reductions in the following:

  1. Drinks: no juices, no soda, nothing with sugar. The only things I drink normally are teas (preferably green tea), plain water, and vegetable juices (with no added sugar). I do have the occasional beer and wine should be ok. Beer is not that high in carbs (generally 12G per can) with 150 calories, especially compared to soda (35G carbs, 200 calories), but if you drink a lot of beer, it really adds up – each beer makes up roughly 8% of your daily caloric intake. I do not drink diet sodas either – this somewhat relates to consuming “real food”, discussed more below. Besides, there is research that suggests drinking diet sodas gives people the false security that they can eat more, so these people actually end up being worse off than drinking normal soda.
  2. Processed Grains: rice, bread, cookies, cake, etc. If I do eat these, I try to get wheat bread when possible. Bacon and eggs for breakfast, no cereals.
  3. Manufactured Foods: I avoid these almost completely, including frozen foods (even vegetables) and boxed foods. I am against these types of foods (though they are amazingly delicious) for long term health (I believe in eating real food over stored or processed food to avoid long term health issues).

Vegetables: I really like Spinach and Broccoli, as I find them easy to eat and they are highly nutritious. Eat a ton of these or whatever vegetables you can handle.

Meats: Load up! For overall health, eat organic when possible. In Vietnam, however, organic meats were not easy to come by.

Snacks / Junk Food / Fast Food can usually be grouped in one of the three things above. Nuts, while healthy for you, are incredibly energy and carb-dense. I avoid fruit as well, though I am not really sure fruit is a problem. Fruit contains high amounts of glucose (sugar), but when is the last time you saw someone become fat because they ate too much fruit? As I understand, fructose (almost always in manufactured foods) is the real issue in fat building (it’s also an issue in cholesterol, according to The Great Cholesterol Myth)

To make what might seem like big changes in your diet, I suggest take things slowly. First, don’t expect to lose a ton of weight quickly. Be patient, give it a few months. Don’t scale yourself constantly. I didn’t weigh myself for 8 months. As my friend Jimmy recommends, do look at yourself in the mirror – as you begin to lose weight, you will want that positive reinforcement of seeing your body shape change.

Start with just one of the diet changes and reduce. If you drink one soda per day for example, just drink one per week. The other times, drink water. If you eat two bowls of rice per day, begin to maximize yourself to one. If 3 beers a night, first reduce to 2 for one month, then reduce to one afterwards. You don’t need to take extreme measures – if you do something you cannot maintain or enjoy, you will only give up later. As you get used to scaling back, try to scale a little further. If you scaled back your beer consumption successfully for a month, now also eat less bread and rice, for example.

Log what you change in your diet and mark each time you do it. For example, if you only want to drink one soda per week, note each time you drink a soda. I made an Excel sheet with a cell for every day. In that day, I write everything I eat or drink. If I eat something bad, I highlight it. I update and review the list every day, so that if in a particular week I have been highlighting too many items, it helps reinforce that I cannot break my rules again.

This may seem silly, but it really does help – you will have that reminder in the back of your mind to lay off, especially as you see yourself change in the mirror.

In case you feel you will sacrificing (what, no ice cream cake!?) too much, Ferriss’ schedule does prescribe a cheat day, in which you can eat whatever you want all day one time a week. In general, however, I still eat rice and other things I love from time to time, I just cut back and keep track so that I don’t fall into bad habits.

If you find yourself getting hungry, you just need to eat more. More meat! Eat baby carrots in between meals!

In addition to diet changes, I still work out, and my suggestion is to pick something you can do at least 5 times per week. Even if it’s just walking the dog for 20 minutes, stick to what you know you can do rather than overpromising yourself. Anything beyond that is a bonus. For example, I hate lifting weights, so I don’t bother vowing to do it. I absolutely hate running. If you live in a city in which you walk a lot already, perhaps add seven minutes of circuit training five days per week.

My workout, each of these done 5 times per week:

  • 50 pushups (I cannot do these straight, I usually do 30-15-15 getting a few minutes rest between each set. It’s a bit lazy, I know)
  • 50 squats (done straight)
  • 1.2 KM Swimming (about .7 miles, I feel I swim at a fairly fast pace, but definitely not a sprinting pace. This is 30 laps in a standard 20 meter lap pool)
  • 8 Minute Abs (see YouTube for the video).

The swimming is done for overall fitness rather than weight loss. I have heard many people say that losing weight is all about diet, and it’s true. I have not been swimming much this year due to travel, and I am still able to retain my weight and body shape as long my diet stays intact. I don’t play basketball anymore, but would like to pick it up again later this spring.

Based on my experience, losing weight is not as much a sacrifice as people often imagine. You can do it too! Best of luck!

The Wedding Invite

Huy and Ha Wedding

This was for our (me and Ha) wedding reception a couple of days ago. As it was booked on very short notice (several weeks), we were unable to invite friends from outside Vietnam, or even all of our friends in Vietnam, but it was still a good time.