Tuesday, November 30, 2010

South Florida: Snookered at Sawgrass Mills

Last Black Friday I ventured out to Aventura Mall, the 5th largest mall in the country. This year I went to Sawgrass Mills, one notch smaller and the 6th largest mall in the country. I just re-read last year’s article, and I had to laugh. It turns out the year and venue may have changed, but my strategy was pretty much the same.

Even though the mall opened at 12:01am, there was no way I was heading out early. Nikki ventured out at 3am last year and returned somewhat shell-shocked. Add to that Target’s Black Friday ad campaign that seemed to be focused on a 50+ year old housewife cum meth addict, (seriously….were these ads meant to inspire? They scared the beejezzus out of me! I hope Target had all the sudafeds locked up tight), there was no way I was going to try that. So I tried a different approach, which turned out to be a lot like my approach last year. And that was, go as late in the day as possible, in the belief crowds would have thinned. Boy was I wrong. Again.

This year when I awoke the weather was warm, but the skies cloudy. I thought for sure everyone would do their shopping right then, since it really wasn’t a beach day. So I languished and at around 4:30, I headed up to Sawgrass (last year I headed to Aventura at 2pm). I expected to see some traffic, with most people leaving. Wrong, Bunkie! People were leaving, heavily laden with bags, luggage, carts and anything else that could hold merchandise. But as many people were still arriving, and it took me more than a half hour to find a place to park.

I’m just a little sensitive to parking situations in large lots, as I was born without a particular sense – the sense of direction. And having already lost my car once last week, I was disinclined to wander far in a strange place without adult supervision. I checked all the landmarks around my car, and headed into the nearest mall entrance, which turned out to be a food court. Again, I was disinclined to wander far, so I ordered some pizza and sat. That’s when the fun began.

Holy QR Code, Batman: Mobility is HOT
Last year I was excited to find JC Penney’s mobile web site, pretty much the first I knew of that would work on my Blackberry. This year, as I sat munching on my pizza, I watched the TV screen hanging overhead. Everything was about mobile something. Sears offered me to text a number and get a 15% off coupon. Another company showed me a QR code (not knowing how far away the screen was at that location). I could take a picture of that code to take advantage of another deal. All along the way on th split screen there was a quasi-location-based network called myakoo.com (or akoo remote), that would allow me to text a set of numbers to akoo, and they would then play my favorite video free, right there in the Sawgrass Food Court. Yes, the sound of Justin Bieber is still ringing in my ears, and no, I did not text it, but someone did. The mall operator, Simon Property Group, has fully grasped the “problem” of the mobile device, and has found multiple ways to engage the customer.

Along with myakoo and the ads I described on the digital TV’s…you guessed it, there’s an app for that. Simon has its own iPhone app which allows you to find out about stores, dining, events, a mall map, a parking reminder (maybe it’s worth it to buy an iPhone just for that!), and driving directions to any of its properties (and there are a LOT of them).

I ventured carefully away from the food court and even wandered into a store or two. Employees had done a nice job recovering the floors – it was nothing like a party supply store before Halloween – things looked downright tidy. At some point I’d had enough, and headed back to my car. It was 7pm and vehicles were still streaming into the lot. In fact, I quickly abandoned the idea of doing a drive-by of Aventura. Aventura is the place I got lost looking for a restaurant with a client, even with my GPS on. I wasn’t going there in a crowd.

Small Business Saturday: A New Phenomenon
I had every intention of heading out to my local stores to see if American Express’s new special day “Small Business Saturday” was having an impact. The problem is it was hard to know from a distance which small businesses were involved and which ones weren’t. Since this is the event’s first year, I suppose it wasn’t completely thought out. I expect to see better publicity around it next year. After all, the very retailers Amex is trying to promote have the least resources to promote themselves. What I would expect to see, along with that nice Facebook page, is a location-based listing of participating retailers, and yes, I’d like it delivered right to my phone.

That might have been worth more than the $25 credit Amex offered me for shopping at one of the retailers. After all, who’s got time for a $25 Easter Egg Hunt the day after Black Friday? Amex, take note – these guys really DO need your help.

So ends our Black Friday tale from South Florida. The sun was not shining, but the store windows were most definitely gleaming. Frugality Fatigue is in full swing. People WANT to have a good time, and for Americans that means one thing: consume. Once you’ve consumed your dinner, it’s time to work it off by consuming some products. Then, we all go back to the beach, which is where I spent Sanguine Sunday, my own special day of rest.

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