Storming Retail: How Home Depot, Lowe’s & Sears Miss Opportunities

A hurricane of missed opportunities in retail and content strategy.

If I had stock in Home Depot, Lowes, or Sears, I’d be pretty annoyed right now. I’d be looking at the impending storm that’s about to hit the East Coast, and think, “why aren’t these retailers ready for Hurricane Sandy?”

To that, I’d add, “again.”

Yup, this is the second year in a row that retailers are not ready for the consumer demand in times of emergency. Last year, we were hit with an epic, freak storm that knocked out electricity for four days. The folks with generators were just fine, but the rest of us were, well, very cold.

You’d think that people would learn from last year and already have generators, batteries, bottled water, canned goods, gasoline, and other things like that. But they don’t. People are people. They don’t usually do a good job of taking care of themselves and typically wait until the last minute to do their Christmas shopping. People are like that and will always be like that.

Retailers, however, have the benefit of business analysis. Specifically, there are people paid to review their business plans, analyze what they did right/wrong last year, and adjust for next year. This is why some retailers are rolling out Christmas displays before Halloween. We roll our eyes at the marketing and merchandising, but apparently some shoppers also take out our credit cards. The analysts know this.

Sears.com on 10/27/12.

They have, in essence, figured out how to market effectively to specific targets, including early birds who get their shopping done by Black Friday.

What they will not see on their spreadsheets is missed opportunity. They do not see the lines of nervous people hoping to spend $1,000 or more on a large portable generator. They do not market to these people because they are not taking their money, so they appear on no spreadsheets.

But they are out there. For the past three days, people in the North East are driving store to store, credit card in hand, trying to buy a generator. Or batteries or anything else that you’d need when the electricity goes out.

Many large retailers emulate the Walmart model, which means keeping the perfect amount of product on the shelves. Many factories do this as well. This probably works best when there are holidays and no storms.

Right now, shelves are bare and retailers like Home Depot, Lowes, and Sears have all missed the opportunity to sell high-priced generators. No sales, no discounts; just people with credit cards happy to spend $1,000 for a generator. Or two.

HomeDepot.com on 10/27/12.

This isn’t just happening here in North Jersey, it’s happening all over the East Coast. Literally hundreds, maybe thousands of people who are ready to spend their $1,000. And if they’re electricity gets knocked out, they’ll huddle together for warmth, attempt to save the frozen foods, and curse the darkness.

And when the storm passes, they’ll intend to buy a generator, but life will get in the way. Most won’t go spend that $1,000, since they already spent a night or three in the dark. Once the storm is passed, they will go back to life-in-progress. That’s the nature of missed opportunity.

That is, until next year, when we repeat the same circle of failure. Procrastinating consumers are unable to buy exactly what they want, no matter how much money they have. Retailers should know how to prepare, but apparently do not. Every year, the generators, batteries, candles, flashlights, and canned goods sell out.

Quick Links:
Generators in short supply as Hurricane Sandy looms
Battery-Operated Items Flying Off the Shelves at Lowes
New Jerseyans recalling Irene stock up on supplies, again

As a consumer, yeah, I may regret not getting enough emergency supplies, but hopefully the most I’ll lose is some ice cream and a few Omaha Steaks. I’ll be fine, but the shareholders of those companies? Well, maybe they’ll be complaining how nobody can compete against Amazon and WalMart.

Loews.com on 10/23/12.

This storm is big, big news. People are motivated by fear and need more than just generators. They need advice on how to survive power outages, floods, and other weather related calamities. And yet, nobody bothered to update the websites of these top retailers.

So not only is this a gigantic missed opportunity in terms of retail dollars, it is a missed content strategy opportunity. That’s right, the content on HomeDepot.com, Sears.com, and Loews.com could actually reflect the regional needs of shoppers, not just some random promotion.

For example, all three of these retailer websites were able to determine that I was in the Northern New Jersey region. They all personalized the page in a way that identified the retail store closest to me. Yet not one of them served me a message advising me to prepare for the storm.

These retailers have one major advantage over Amazon. Yet their websites don’t have any location-relevant content.

Why doesn’t their content strategy include weather-related messaging that can be placed on their home page? Even if they don’t sell me a generator, they might want to remind me to buy batteries, a chainsaw, a cooler, and other stuff they sell.

To win in the web wars, you need to use your content and analytics to identify additional products your customers need, especially in times of emergency. A proactive content strategy plans for this, has this content already written, and shares it to customers likely to be impacted by a storm. Heck, they have huge mailing lists that include email addresses. This is an opportunity to remind people that they need stuff, including information on basic survival.

It’s good retail, it’s good content strategy, and it’s part of being a good citizen.

Hurricane Sandy (aka FrankenStorm) is coming and we hope we’ve prepared appropriately. And right after this, I’ll go spend a $1,000 and buy a generator! Definitely. Maybe.

Then again, knowing me, probably not.