Easy Christmas Returns and the Death of the Department Store

I was having a conversation with my wife after we managed to get out of bed, some hours after the new year began, and we were trying to decide what to do with the day, it being a holiday and all. She offered to take the kids out and do something so that I could have some peace and quiet. Now I’m not normally one to ignore such an opportunity, but I also didn’t think that there would be much that she could do with them.

To my surprise, it seems like just about everything was open. Malls, stores, even Chick-fil-A – and they are always closed on holidays that are family oriented (not to mention Sundays). Imagine my surprise. So we decided that we’d do our Christmas returns. It was unbelievably easy. I think we’ll do it that way every year.

Day After Christmas? No Way!

There is simply no way that we’ll fight the crowds on the day after Christmas – or any time in the week after Christmas, for that matter – when on New Year’s Day there is no one out and about. The roads are fairly empty, the malls have a few people, but it’s like a normal day at the mall. It is simply wonderful. I just couldn’t imagine it being a better time.

We took back everything we needed to take back and we were done in a couple of hours – despite the fact that we had to go to four different stores and the mall, all on the other side of town. I was considerably impressed. We even had lunch in that time.

Goodbye Department Stores, Hello Big Boxes

What absolutely did not impress me was the fact that the good, old-fashioned department store (specifically JCPenney) was such a horrible experience. I had to take back a sweater that my mom gave me (sue me). We must have stood in line for ten minutes while the two women ran around like crazy trying to figure out how to find replacement merchandise, then how to work the register.

Compare this to the efficiency of just about any big box retailer and you will no longer have any reason to wonder why the old department stores are disappearing. We actually had to search a bit for a JCPenney store where we could return the sweater. In all of Charlotte, there is one. One! Yes, there are a couple others in the metro area, but they are even farther out of our way. Meanwhile, if we want to go to Wal-Mart, there are eight in Charlotte. Just within the city limits! Nevermind Target or a specialty store like Home Depot or Lowes.

Code Me, Scan Me, Make Me Feel Good

When we finally managed to get to the register, the lady (who was nice) had to manually key in the details from the register receipt to pull up the sale. It had to take at least fifteen minutes. For comparison, we took returns to Home Depot, Target and Wal-Mart and all three were done in less time. Combined.

This is due mostly to the fact that those stores can simply scan the bar code on the receipt and pull up the details. It’s also because they have dedicated customer service return locations, rather than scattered register locations throughout the stores. The fact that the cashier (or cashiers) are not capable is only a small portion of the equation. It’s really a sad thing, but it would not surprise me if all the old-line retailers who continue down such a path are gone in a few years. There is just no way that they can compete like this.