Omni-channel commerce: 24-hour shopping crowd


iStock_000030408368_XXXLargeWith the holiday shopping season almost upon us, it's time for the yearly speculation on what retailers are preparing to do to woo customers. Over the last few years, we've seen a shift from a focus on discounts and deals to approaches that concentrate on availability. Much was made of last year's decision by many retailers to stretch Black Friday hours well into Thanksgiving Day, and whether you're praising the companies for the decision to give customers more choice or lamenting the intrusion of the shopping world on a family day, it's safe to say that hours aren't likely to contract anytime soon. 

The first rumors of Black Friday store hours have arrived, according to Examiner. Speculation has Walmart opening on Thanksgiving morning, with special deals kicking in during the early evening hours. Kmart is also reportedly opening on Thanksgiving Day, while Best Buy would potentially open Thursday evening. If true, these hours would be the same as their hours for 2013, but as we remember from last year, retailers were willing to experiment more with their doors-opening strategies closer in advance, spurred by customer demand or by the competition. These are just rumors, of course, and may not actually be the hours - but it's safe to say the days of a Friday-only Black Friday are probably in the past. 

The value of closed doors
E-commerce, more than anything else, has changed the landscape of Black Friday. If stores cater to the 24/7 shopping crowd, then brick-and-mortar stores look downright unavailable by comparison. The move of major retailers to open their doors for more hours during key shopping times is an effort to keep sales up. It will be interesting to see how long this two-pronged effort continues.

In Germany, the lack of always-available brick-and-mortar stores is already having a demonstrable effect on the balance between digital and physical shopping. As The Wall Street Journal's Sarah Sloat reported, many stores in Germany close for the day around 8 p.m. in major cities, and even earlier in smaller towns. On Sundays, many stores are closed, adhering to a tradition despite a move in 2006 to allow for more expansive store hours. It's led to more Germans turning to online stores to fulfill their requests, from e-books to groceries. One retailers association predicted that the shifting balance of power could lead to 50,000 physical stores closing across the nation by 2020. 

Of course, successful companies are realizing that they cannot rely solely on brick-and-mortar stores, even with extended hours. The priorities of today's consumer are shifting, and it's important for organizations' omni-channel commerce strategies to reflect them. 

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