Omnichannel Options for Austin Shoppers

Exploring Omnichannel at The Domain

When looking for a new place to live after I graduated college, proximity to work topped my list of requirements. Luckily, I was able to find an apartment that I loved within a seven minute distance from work. My new home also happened to be only seven minutes away from the place I sometimes jokingly refer to as my second home: The Domain, a shopping center featuring some of Austin’s best omnichannel options.

Moving to North Austin has only made that statement even more true. What once was a light-hearted joke, is more of a reality for me now. As a frequent visitor of Austin’s premier retail hub, certain stores have caught my eye. Since I’m constantly reading about omnichannel trends, I thought I’d assess how my favorite stores are implementing these tactics. For a look at how The Domain exemplifies some of the most positive trends in retail’s ongoing renaissance, check out Jeff’s blog from 2018. Without further ado, here’s what I’ve learned about omnichannel options in Austin as a local consumer.

Nordstrom Provides Expanded Order Pickup Options

When it comes to omnichannel options, Nordstrom is no stranger. Nordstrom’s app is an essential tool for digital shoppers who like to browse online before they buy. When searching for items in-app, shoppers can even custom tailor the search bar to reflect their store location of choice. Plus, the app will curate personalized outfits based on your past purchases and search history.

A few months ago, I tested out the “reservations” option, which allows shoppers to reserve up to 10 items online. Through the app, I reserved a pair of shoes. Within a couple of hours, I got a notification that the pair of shoes I picked out were ready for me to try on. Upon my arrival at The Domain, I received a second notification explaining where to go to try on the shoes. After parking, I entered through the doors to the second floor and found the designated kiosk immediately. Subsequently, a sales associate directed me to a reserved dressing room and assisted me when I requested to try on a different size.

I’d call my experience a success. As retailers start to provide more omnichannel options where the digital and physical sides of the store work together, I’m looking forward to quicker and easier shopping trips. In addition to the reservation option, Nordstrom at The Domain also offers buy online, pickup in-store. In a jam-packed parking lot, customers picking up their online orders can park in reserved spaces, speeding up their shopping journey.

Away Creates Seamless Shopping Experiences

Away, a luggage startup and lifestyle brand, caught my attention on Instagram. With its “clicks to bricks” model, the formerly online-only retailer now has seven physical locations. Lucky for us Austinites, The Domain is home to one of Away’s stores. I’m taking off on a plane to Europe this month and realized it was time to upgrade my luggage. Perfect excuse for my first trip to Away!

Before visiting the store, I researched options and decided which pieces of luggage would be best for my traveling needs. Based on Away’s website and social media platforms, I’ll admit my expectations for the store were already high. To my surprise, my experience at the store exceeded my already-high expectations.

Though I had an idea of what I wanted, I had a few questions before making the investment. One of the sales associates was quick to greet me and patient with my questions. She even looked up measurement restrictions for the airlines I am flying to ensure my luggage would make the cut. Her help ultimately led to my decision to purchase a set, including a carry-on suitcase and bag. I left the store feeling refreshed and satisfied with my purchase. What started as browsing on Instagram turned into visiting the store and making a purchase. Yet another example of an omnichannel option in action!

Omnichannel Options Are On the Rise

All in all, omnichannel is putting a spin on traditional shopping and giving consumers something to look forward to. Whether it’s through a personalized app, store navigation tool or expanded pickup options, omnichannel is only growing. I consider myself lucky to live in a city that often gets a “first taste” of omnichannel options that later evolve. The latest and greatest is right in my backyard, so to speak. If my experiences at Nordstrom and Away are any indication, the future is bright for omnichannel retail.

retail technology news

Retail Technology News Roundup: Q1 2019

At Ketner Group, our year always starts off with a deep dive into the latest retail technology trends at NRF. However, after a three-day frenzy of innovation and announcements, the retail technology news doesn’t stop – it hits the ground running. While it may be hard to keep up with every piece of news, we’ve done our due diligence of tracking the important retail technology news in Q1. Check out the following highlights for the latest and greatest in all things retail.

Amazon Continues To Make Headlines

It’s hard to imagine a quarterly roundup where Amazon isn’t included. However, the company definitely made waves in several different areas in Q1. The first was when they backed out of their plans for a New York City campus. After their announcement, the community and a number of politicians made it clear that they opposed the retail giant’s presence. Surprisingly, the negative attention worked, and the company reversed its decision.

Also in Q1, reports showed that Amazon’s online grocery sales growth had slowed in 2018. Given their struggle with Amazon Fresh and Prime Pantry, it makes sense that their continued focus is on expanding Amazon Go stores. It will be interesting to see if Amazon leaves fresh management to the more veteran grocers and continues to focus on other products. According to Retail Dive, the company has “gained traction as a destination for plenty of products brick-and-mortar stores are known to stock.”

Surprising Statistics

The exciting part about following retail technology trends is that every now and again, new statistics or studies come out that conflict with what we may have thought about shopper behavior. For example, eMarketer forecasted that more than half of U.S. households will have Amazon Prime this year, in part due to their expanded offerings of product categories. Despite this projection, shoppers spent twice as much in physical stores than at Amazon during the 2018 holiday season.

These findings are interesting to explore, especially with an overwhelming number of “retail apocalypse” stories in the news. Perhaps consumers prefer eCommerce for routine purchases, but physical stores when shopping for one-off items. What’s more, the growing number of convenient click and collect options may be another factor, as well. This also helps retailers increase foot traffic as these shoppers often end up making another purchase once in the store. Not to mention the ability to be able to touch and feel products is still very important to consumers.

Brick And Mortar Or eCommerce?

This might explain why digital native brands continued to move into the brick-and-mortar space in Q1, including Wayfair. Webrooming and showrooming have only increased in popularity as consumers continue to research products before making a purchase. Conversely, Instagram announced a new checkout feature where users can buy a product without having to leave the app. This new feature offers an even more convenient path to purchase, as a Facebook survey found 87% of people have taken action after seeing product information on Instagram. This has the potential to make a great impact, especially as many influencers continue to use the app.

Ever-Changing Retail Technology News

The speed and unpredictability behind the retail technology industry is exactly why we like it! While certain patterns may emerge, keeping tabs on industry pioneers and leaders is essential to one’s own success. If you’d like to chat about the latest industry trends, feel free to reach out to us at [email protected]!

NYC Retail

NYC Retail Hits and Misses

Greetings from America’s shopping capital! Okay, no one actually calls it that but maybe they should. As a reminder, I recently moved to NYC and while Ketner Group always lived and breathed retail, I’m now drowning in all things retail on a daily basis. As a consumer, wherever I go, whatever I do, I’m surrounded; I can’t escape the world of retail!

My ever-growing list of NYC retail experiences has been full of ups and downs. With that in mind, consider this Edition 1, Volume 1 of a little series I call, “NYC Retail Hits and Misses.”

Hit: Happy Returns

Pretty soon after I moved, I realized I needed another sturdy pair of work flats. I’d been toying with the idea of investing in a pair of Rothy’s for a solid year. After a friend posted a review and discount code, I sucked it up and made the investment. One problem. I wasn’t sure what size to buy. I range anywhere between a women’s 8.5 and 10 depending on the brand and style. After some back and forth, I settled on a size 9. I was wrong. I loved the shoes but sadly, they were too small. Given that Rothy’s doesn’t have an NYC store, I expected the exchange process to be a hassle.

Enter Happy Returns. Despite my daily consumption of retail news, Happy Returns was not on my radar (as I was writing this blog, PayPal Ventures announced an $11 million investment in the company). Happy Returns enables “‘buy online, return to store’ for retailers without stores.” Using Happy Returns, the exchange process was, well, happy. I simply walked a few blocks to the nearest Happy Returns partner location, Paper Source. My exchange was processed by a store associate and I was on my way, but not before picking up a birthday card.

The beauty of Happy Returns is three-fold, benefitting the customer, retailer and location partner. Happy Returns processed the exchange instantly and Rothy’s didn’t wait to receive the return before shipping the larger size. Meaning I ended up with my news shoes faster than with a traditional online return. Happy Customer. The ease of the experience (not to mention the actual shoes) means that I will be a return customer. Happy Retailer. And I didn’t leave empty handed; I made a purchase at Paper Source. Happy Location Partner. All around, Happy Returns!

Miss: Whole Foods and Amazon Prime Now

As I mentioned in my Q&A, grocery shopping has been a bit of an adjustment. Since I moved into my own apartment and my pup Mackey has joined me in the city, I find my time even more limited. With this in mind, I gave in and decided to try Whole Foods “Two-Hour Delivery” through Amazon Prime Now. As Greg mentioned in a previous blog, the free two-hour delivery promotion is kind of a joke. It’s a two-hour delivery window, not delivery within two hours. Nonetheless, I ordered my groceries on a Saturday and scheduled a delivery for the following evening when I knew I’d be home.

The following afternoon around 5 p.m., I was notified that a shopper was picking my order and selected a few replacement items. My order was picked and placed in the cooler to await drive pickup. Next thing I know, it’s 8:30 p.m. on Sunday evening, 30 minutes after my scheduled delivery window and no groceries. My groceries were still sitting at a Whole Foods in…wait for it…YONKERS!

Now if you know anything about geography and getting in and out of NYC, you’re probably, like me, thinking, “That’s BONKERS!” Well after 45 minutes on the phone with Prime Now customer service, I was left with “this seems to happen a lot in NYC” (well, duh, you’re trying to get someone to deliver groceries an hour away for a minimal tip), a $30 credit in my Amazon account and no groceries.

NYC retail FAIL.

More NYC Retail Hits and Misses to Come

With almost four months of living in NYC under my belt, I have a few additional NYC retail tales stored up to tell and many more to come. Stay tuned for the next edition of NYC Retail Hits and Misses to learn more about what the retail industry is getting right and where there’s room for improvement.

Consider the Cost: Why Free Shipping Is a Shared Expense

Free shipping is basically expected nowadays. When shopping online, you may be caught off guard if you see a shipping charge added at checkout. At that point, you have a couple of options: decide if the product is worth paying $5-10 extra to have shipped; search online at another retailer who does offer free shipping; or, take advantage of in-store pickup if there’s inventory near you.

Free shipping is an incredibly powerful tool to motivate a purchase, but it isn’t really all that ‘free’ – it’s just a matter of who covers the cost. And in a cultural climate more concerned with protecting the environment, retailers and shoppers aren’t the only ones sharing the burden.

The Sliding Scale of Free Shipping

I mentioned the motivating power of free shipping and the role it plays in the buying journey. If I know a retailer offers it, I’m more likely to spend my money there, and that translates to my increasing loyalty. The way I see it, free shipping is a bit of a sliding scale, where the retailer or the shopper covers a smaller or larger portion of shipping expenses, depending on the scenario. The company may eat the cost at one time to win consumer affinity, but through devoted shopping dollars, the consumer helps to lessen the blow.

What immediately comes to mind as an example is my identity as a Target REDcard holder. I don’t have to pay for unlimited, free two-day shipping, as one does with the membership cost for Amazon Prime, but Target sure does get a chunk of my budget each month. Big picture: I see it as a great deal. The retailer is rewarded with my loyalty, and in the end, we’re both pretty pleased.

Because of my work with Ketner Group client OrderDynamics, I watch the industry closely for trends related to order fulfillment and shipping. Our friends at OrderDynamics put out a study this year called Omni-2000, in which they found that 75.7% of retailers with an eCommerce site provide free shipping with a minimum purchase. In cases like this, the retailer foots the bill to deliver your goods. However, the cost to you as a consumer is often spending more than you intended. And because you’re increasing the size of your order, the added sale helps to reduce the hit the retailer will take for covering shipping costs.

It all costs someone something – it’s just a matter of how you look at it.

A Greener Future for Free-Shipping Shopping Habits

Financial costs aside, retail fulfillment has become increasingly complex, and the associated logistics have ramifications for the environment as well. Turning orders around more quickly means more trucks are on the road. In the name of timely and convenient delivery, those trips aren’t optimized to fit the most boxes in one vehicle at a time. Plus, there’s the additional waste associated with cardboard boxes and packing materials.

With Earth Day right around the corner, this is an interesting conversation to have in the industry. I found this short five-minute video extremely insightful, discussing the environmental cost of two-day shipping, if you’re interested!

I believe because of present discussions around global warming and carbon emissions, we’ll start to see retailers become more vocal about their proactivity to reduce their global impact, while still coming through on omnichannel convenience. And if it’s an important issue in the heart of its customers, retailers ought to gain even more loyalty in the process.

I’m also curious to watch for the emergence of other fulfillment channels as retailers work on efficiencies, cost savings and waste reduction efforts. Will there be wider availability of BOPIS, BORIS and ROPIS offerings, perhaps? Incentives besides free shipping to nudge conscious consumers to select a “greener” option? Driverless cars and drones? We’ll have to wait and see.

All Is Fair in Love and Retail

Valentine’s Day is upon us and love is in the air at Ketner Group. Some of us will be watching romantic comedies (such as Crazy Stupid Love – objectively the greatest rom-com of all time). Some will be enjoying a nice dinner (now that KG has a New York office, perhaps Adrienne will enjoy a beautiful candle-lit dinner at my favorite dining establishment – White Castle). And others will be finding their own ways to celebrate (or not).

Regardless of our plans on Feb. 14, one thing will remain consistent for all of us here at Ketner Group: our love for retail. So, what can we expect this Valentine’s Day from our one true love?

NRF Projects Fewer Lovers but More Dollars

According to NRF, not everyone in the U.S. is feeling the love. Only 51% of Americans plan to celebrate the holiday, down from 55% last year and well below 2007’s high of 63%. It’s not all gloom for retail though. According to NRF’s release, “it is unclear why the number of consumers celebrating has trended downward over the past 12 years, but spending, while varying with the economy, has generally trended up.” In fact, the data shows that respondents plan to spend $161.96 on average. That’s a 13% increase from last year’s $143.56 and tops the previous record of $146.84 set in 2016. Total spending is expected to reach $20.7 billion, a 6% increase over last year’s $19.6 billion. This breaks the previous record of $19.7 billion, set in 2016.

What about those who aren’t celebrating? More than a third of those under the age of 35 who say they are not “celebrating” still have plans to spend money on themselves or spend time with other single friends. This might include buying a little something for themselves, going out to dinner, or splurging to celebrate Galentine’s Day right (What’s Galentine’s Day?).

If you’re without a Valentine this year, at least take comfort in knowing an important group will be pampered. According to the NRF data, a quarter of celebrants under the age of 35 plan to purchase Valentine’s Day gifts for their pets. And can you blame them? Dogs deserve it (cats, I’m not sure).

Looking Forward

When Valentine’s Day is over and the roses wilt, so too will the love for retail? Between this year’s government shutdown, tariffs and worries of an economic slowdown, some are concerned about the state of the industry throughout 2019. However, according to NRF, the “state of the economy is sound.” The organization estimates that retail sales this year will increase between 3.8% and 4.4%.

This growth would result in total 2019 retail sales of between $3.82 trillion and $3.84 trillion. Based on last year’s 10-12% online sales growth, e-commerce sales this year could reach between $751.1 billion and $764.8 billion. Fortunately, the success should continue, even if the candy hearts won’t.

This Valentine’s Day, the Ketner Group team will be thankful for the undying love that retail provides us with all year long. Will retail be as kind and tender to others during the rest of 2019? The numbers look promising, but as we all know, all is fair in love and retail.

NRF 2019

Ketner Group Takes on the NRF Big Show 2019

In retail, we know that the holiday madness doesn’t end once the ball drops in Times Square. Even those of you who identify with “A December to Remember” more than “Ford Truck Month” – and are still reconciling the fact that no one in your family loves you enough to shell out a year’s salary on a front-wheel-drive convertible parked in a snowy driveway – know it’s time to take one more deep breath from the bottom of your newly built Saint Nick belly and get ready for NRF 2019 in New York.

Although Austin isn’t exactly the North Pole, we’ve been hard at work the past few months getting everything ready to knock it out of the park for a major mid-winter event. And this year, building on years of experience our team’s had at the event and given that our agency experienced pretty incredible growth in 2018, we’re collaborating with our largest cohort of retail technology innovators to date – representing 18 clients in total. Therefore, we’ve coordinated meetings with media and analysts, promoted their presence via social media, overseen email campaigns and used every other conceivable medium to get us ready to take on the Big Apple with the enthusiasm of Buddy the Elf.

What’s In Store

We’re excited to feel the energy in the expo hall as we move another year away from the doomsday ramblings about the ‘retail apocalypse’. We’ve seen firsthand how innovative retailers partnering with innovative vendors have established a bulwark against Amazon’s encroachment. We’ve seen how enigmatic executives have rallied an industry in need of optimism and vision to become a catalyst for even greater change. We’re excited to hear stories of recent successes and learn about what the future holds for the industry and for the everyday consumer.

Although NRF stands firm as the last hurrah before we can officially call the holiday season quits, I don’t know why anyone wouldn’t be excited about having more time than anyone else experiencing The Most Wonderful Time of the Year…

Meet Us at NRF!

So, if you’ll be at NRF and would like to meet us to learn about our agency, our services or our clients – or would like to meet with any of them – please don’t hesitate to reach out! You can find us at [email protected] or feel free to find us helping our clients at their booths, including:

  • Columbus Consulting – Booth #3083
  • DisplayData – Booth #1910
  • DynamicAction
  • Elo – Booth #3655 (with partner and Ketner Group client, Shoptelligence)
  • GK Software – Booth #3267
  • GroupBy
  • Kibo – Booth #4419
  • Mercatus – Booth $4560
  • Mirakl – Booth #206
  • NGC Software – Booth #4523
  • Opterus – Booth #4911
  • OrderDynamics – Booth #240
  • PlumSlice – Booth #1200
  • Shopgate – Booth #551
  • Symphony RetailAI – Booth #3036
  • Theatro – Booth #1517
  • Zynstra – Booth #230
HEB Scan-and-Go Inside Look

An Inside Look at H-E-B’s Scan-and-Go

At Ketner Group, we keep close tabs on what retailers are doing to make the checkout experience as frictionless as possible, such as the expansion of Amazon Go stores and the launch of Macy’s and Target’s scan-and-go apps. So when I heard that H-E-B, our Texas-based local grocery store, was piloting a new scan-and-go app, I knew I had to go try the technology for myself and see what the hype was all about!

Technical Difficulties

When I arrived at H-E-B, I sat in the car to download the app, expecting to easily scan and go, as the technology implies. However, I wasn’t off to a great start. I tried registering and logging in, but I kept getting the same error message over and over again. Finally, I decided to go into the store and ask for help. The store associate didn’t know what was going on, saying that it must be a server issue. I ended up leaving the store, disappointed that I couldn’t try the app out that day.

This was not a good first impression. I learned how important it is for retailers to deliver a seamless app that is easy to download and set up. Or else, it’ll leave customers even more frustrated, going against everything the app was built for. Of course, technical difficulties happen from time to time. But when they do, stores should have trained associates in place to help shoppers who are encountering problems with the app and quickly fix any issues that may occur.

Convenient and Fast

A couple of weeks later, I was in Gruene, a small city in Texas, for a friend’s bachelorette party. Before we went on a hike, we decided to stop by the nearest H-E-B to pick up a few picnic supplies for lunch. Turns out, that store was also piloting the scan-and-go app. I opened up the app and voila, I logged in successfully!

We pick out a few items for the picnic, including apples, salads and sandwiches. I used the app to scan each item’s barcode. To my surprise, the scanner was super fast! I didn’t even need to hold the phone to the barcode steadily before it read the item. Since all the items we bought had barcodes, I was able to easily scan each product and put everything into the cart.

Feeling Like a VIP

Once we were ready to check out, I walked over to H-E-B’s dedicated station for scan-and-go kiosks. All I had to do was scan the barcode on my app and it printed a receipt for me. A store associate came over as I was walking away to verify my receipt and after that, I was able to quickly leave the store.

My friends were amazed that we could skip the checkout line, and it was definitely fun testing out a concept that I often read and write about myself. I’m excited to see this technology play out as more and more shoppers use scan-and-go as their primary checkout option. There’s definitely a few hiccups and challenges that retailers should be prepared for, but I think with the proper technology and training in place, scan-and-go will help remove the primary pain point for customers. Because like we always say, no one likes waiting in long checkout lines!

The Holiday Season Is Upon Us: Top Retail Trends in 2018

As the year comes to an end, retailers have one thing on their minds: maximizing the peak shopping season. Between consumers shopping for Christmas gifts and preparing for holiday festivities, sales spike in November and December. Even more so, NRF expected this year’s retail sales to increase nearly 5% over 2017. In addition to a higher percentage of sales, more competition between retailers also ensues. Vying to stand out, notable retailers and brands have proved their value to consumers with a few innovative trends.

Taking the cake in 2018 are those who understand what their customers want and deliver the highest quality in response.

A Personalized Approach Goes a Long Way

In today’s on-demand economy, traditional deals won’t capture shopper’s attention alone. Instead, customized apps and email promotions help on-the-go consumers know what discounts are available ahead of time.

In my own personal holiday shopping this season, Nordstrom’s app has helped me stay up to date on which products are on sale. Furthermore, the app creates a personalized “looks” page that generates outfits based on a profile I’ve created. As I shop for friends and family and snag last minute outfits, the app has been a lifesaver. Browsing online gives me insight into what items are in stock at the store closest to me. When I’m in a crunch and know what I want, I can easily place an order online. If I’m unsure about a size, I can reserve up to 10 items online and swing by the store to try them on. Needless to say, personalized apps go a long way when the holiday season rolls around.

Apps are taking over, but email marketing isn’t a lost cause either. While clogged inboxes aren’t exactly a shopper’s dream, I’ve enjoyed receiving specialized discount codes from my favorite retailers this month. In many cases, I’ve bought something online or stopped by the store to browse because of the emails I’ve received.

Social Media Drives Results

The cellphone is an integral part of the modern-day shopping experience. Specifically, social media platforms have a dominant hold on users. According to the 2018 Holiday Social Marketing Trends report, 56% of consumers said a brand’s social media presence affected holiday purchase decisions. Additionally, 79% of marketers planned to run a holiday campaign on social this year. Out of those who ran a holiday ad campaign last year, 88% of marketers said it was effective. Hence, the strategy seems to work in most cases.

This year, retailers from various industries are getting in on the action. Companies are using relevant hashtags and Instagram stories to capitalize on increased shopping. Target, for example, features a “Gift Ideas” highlight on Instagram to offer some ideas based on who shoppers are buying for from babies to teachers. Though this is a practical approach to increasing awareness among customers, some brands are going for a more emotional effect.

Air Canada pulls on heartstrings with an ad showing emotional reunions as airline passengers come home for the holidays, associated with the hashtag #FlyTheFlag. The Instagram community took to the video with nearly 5,000 likes.

VR and AR Give Glimpse Into Retail’s Future

A recent addition to the holiday marketing repertoire is enhanced reality. Whether virtual or augmented, the technology is gaining traction among retailers. Most noteworthy, Facebook launched augmented reality camera effects for ad campaigns over the summer. This holiday season, Office Depot is using the technology to offer “Elf Yourself” ads. With this feature, consumers can animate themselves with elf-like effects.

An even more immersive and novel experience is virtual reality. Though more of an enigma, we can expect more VR experiences in retail’s future. Macy’s is an early adopter of the technology, launching “See Your Space IRL”  in time for the holidays. Available in about 70 Macy’s locations, shoppers can use a VR headset to envision a room in their home and experiment with different furniture pieces.

All in all, holiday shopping has come a long way from overnight campout sessions outside of stores to catch the latest deals. With a more digital, customer-centric approach, securing the season’s top purchases is a bit more seamless. Don’t get me wrong, I still think holiday shopping is a stressful time of year, but I’m thankful that so many retailers have stepped it up in hopes of a more fun and less chaotic experience.

Grocery Fulfillment: A Curbside Chat with Greg and Jeff

OK, we’ll admit it — the KG team likes to eat. And we have several very cool clients in grocery technology. So it’s no wonder that we spend a lot of time talking about the fast-changing world of grocery fulfillment. And in this blog, we’re taking a slightly different approach as our own Greg Earl and Jeff Ketner have an online chat about one of our favorite topics.

***

A More Convenient Way to Get Your Groceries

Jeff: It’s the perfect day to chat about grocery fulfillment.  As I write, the KG office is getting its monthly mega-delivery of frozen dinners, snacks, sandwich stuff and everything else it takes to feed our hungry crew, courtesy of HEB home delivery. Our team’s ready to descend on the kitchen like a plague of locusts. And at noon, I’ll swing by HEB to pick up a Curbside order to take home, since our fridge at home is just about empty. Speaking of HEB Curbside, Greg, you’re one of its most outspoken fans — your love of curbside is probably only slightly behind your love of Cabo Bob’s.

Greg: While Cabo Bob’s transcends my love for everything in this world, I love HEB Curbside. As the area around my local HEB keeps developing, the store becomes more of a mad house. Even finding parking isn’t worth it for me. Being able to avoid the chaos, swing by and grab all of my groceries is a godsend. However, I will say that they could do a better job at updating their real-time inventory. Nearly every time I shop, they substitute items. This isn’t a deal breaker but can throw a wrench in my cooking plans every now and then.

I haven’t personally tried HEB delivery yet, but today’s office order went incredibly smoothly. Plus it’s much cheaper than when we used Instacart, right?

Be Careful – Not All Grocery Delivery Services Are Equal

Jeff: Yep, our first HEB Curbside pickup order was WAY less expensive than our Instacart deliveries. So I’m glad to see that Instacart is lowering its prices. Hopefully they can up their level of service, too; I tried Instacart one time with Central Market, my favorite grocery store in Austin, and it can politely be described as a disaster. The delivery was late, the communication from the person picking our order was incomprehensible, and I had a lot of trouble using my $15 off coupon code, which was the only reason we tried Instacart in the first place. A recent delivery experience from Randall’s, a perennial also-ran in terms of Austin market share, was far superior. I’m not sure who they use for fulfillment, but it was a surprisingly good experience.

Speaking of surprises, I find it interesting that our office is split nearly 50-50 among those who use grocery fulfillment and those who don’t. What’s up with our team here?

Believe It or Not, In-Store Shopping Advocates Are Out There

Greg: That’s too bad about your Instacart experience. I guess it’s difficult for them to maintain quality across all of their employees throughout the country. Speaking of quality, I think that’s exactly why some folk around here are torn on letting other people pick their groceries — especially when it comes to produce, which is very fair. I’ve received a few fruits or veggies in the past that I wouldn’t have necessarily picked for myself.  

However, some of the luddites around here just enjoy going to the store for the sake of grocery shopping – ridiculous! I think I can understand where they’re coming from though. Sometimes it’s nice to be able to pick out exactly what you want, roam the aisles and grab something that you didn’t even realize you wanted (a dangerous approach sometimes when your cart ends up well beyond your budget). Plus, a trip to the store is very worth it if there are free samples throughout the aisles.

The team especially enjoys shopping in-store at the more experiential/unique grocers including Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and Costco. When you consider the option to drink a beer while shopping at Whole Foods, it does sound much more enjoyable. As for Whole Foods/Amazon delivery, the only experience I’ve had was extremely disappointing. I tried to order some prosecco for the office because Amazon touted a free two-hour delivery promotion. However, this ‘free delivery’ required a minimum that we didn’t need to reach and the ‘two-hour delivery’ meant I could select a two hour window, not that the item would be delivered within two hours of ordering. Going to Twin Liquors down the road saved me a lot of money and time. I’m curious about placing an entire grocery order though.

Jeff: Interesting! You’d expect a better experience from Amazon based on how fast they’ve been rolling out Whole Foods delivery – maybe it’s more worth it for an entire order. There sure are a lot of options out there and I don’t think we can expect the industry to slow down any time soon. There are a lot of factors for grocers to consider — cost, product selection, inventory, customer service, etc. I think we both are looking forward to seeing these services get even stronger and more rewarding, right Greg?

Greg: That’s right, Jeff. Unlike some of the colleagues, I’d honestly love to never have to think about getting my own groceries. Maybe I should move back home…

In the meantime, I can just eat Cabo Bob’s for every meal.

Flashback (Black) Friday

Working at an agency where I can obsess over retail, I’ve started appreciating the impact it has on my life. I love the industry because as NRF says, “Retail impacts everyone, every day, everywhere,” and it’s true. As I sit down to write this blog, waiting for inspiration to hit, vivid retail memories come to mind.

A Retail “Remember When?”

One of my earliest memories of Black Friday was in seventh grade when a classmate chose an early-morning shopping spree as a “birthday party” of sorts. The day after Thanksgiving, her mom picked up our group of friends in the family van, passing back orange juice and brown-bag breakfasts to enjoy as we headed for the mall. The year was 2002 – “back then,” stores didn’t open until 6:00 or 7:00 a.m. We were among the first people inside when the security gates were lifted. At that age, Black Friday to me wasn’t about Christmas gifts or strategizing my purchases. It was the thrill of the hunt, feeling like a grown-up in the holiday bustle and looking for bargains. I remember buying a pair of trendy sunglasses for less than $2 and thinking, “this is so fun!”

Knowing what I do now about the current retail landscape, I wondered if a little Googling would provide more perspective on that memory of mine. The furthest back I could go was 2004, but it was still a fun window to the past. Try it for yourself… the Black Friday Archive serves up more than 850 ads from the past 15 years. You’ll get a kick out of all the landline phones with Caller ID and portable DVD players, and you can make your own observations on the evolution of Black Friday.

The “Black Friday Creep”

I’m a Target girl through and through, so I started exploring its ad archive first. In 2004, deals started Friday at 6:00 a.m. By 2010, Target opened at 4:00 in the morning, then midnight in 2011, and 9:00 p.m. Thursday in 2012. You already know the rest of the story. In the year 2018, many stores will open before some families have sat down to eat their Thanksgiving meal. When looking at the collection of past ads, it’s easy to see how this trend evolved. Slowly but surely, Black Friday sales crept into middle-of-the-night territory, and then into the Thursday evening hours. And this year, JCPenny made headlines when it announced it would open at 2 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. That’s earlier than any other retailer yet.

For the first time ever, forecasts predict Christmas sales in the U.S. to surpass $1 trillion, and this year, the first day of November was very noticeably the kick-off of a big push to shop. Amazon, Target, Walmart, Kohl’s, and others started special promotions the day after Halloween, all competing for a share of your wallet. In the years to come, we’ll continue to see retailers dazzling us with deals and experiences each of the 54 days between Halloween and Christmas. Whether Black Friday will continue to be an important 24 hours of retail activity remains to be seen.

Smile, Then Shop

Four years after that birthday party, where did I find myself the Friday after Thanksgiving? In “Zone 1” of Bath & Body Works, working my first day as an employee there (side note: probably not the wisest day to start a retail job). That day is no less vivid than my first Black Friday memory. I was stationed at the store’s entrance with shopping bags and a ‘Tester’ bottle of peppermint lotion. Frenzied shoppers breezed right by me, too focused on the center-store deals to pay me any attention. I’ll never forget how frazzled yet energized I felt. This year, I don’t plan to do much in-store shopping, but I’ll leave you with this: if you’re gift hunting in-store this holiday season, be nice to retail workers. Even if it’s just a smile at the nervous high school girl trying her darndest to make your “offline” shopping experience a fun one.