The Silent Thief: How Unsupervised Store Hours Rob You Blind

woman waiting for retail store to open

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Closing a store and kicking out customers can be difficult. But waiting to open a store until the exact dot on the clock can be worse. I see those customer friction points increasing. Are both signs of how far we've come from doing what is best for the customer? And if so, what is causing the downslide?

Gallup's State of the Global Workplace: 2024 Report reveals that 15% of the global workforce is 'actively disengaged,' defined as actively opposing an employer's goals. Additionally, 62% is simply not engaged. 

One of our team members recently shopped at an upscale mall in Princeton. She shared that it was about 30 minutes before the posted closing time, and one store had pulled all but one of its doors across the front. This signaled that the store was preparing to close, and you could hear the register being counted out. She felt like she shouldn't bother going in.

That led me to post a simple question on Facebook one day: “A customer is waiting outside your front doors ten minutes before opening. Do you let them in?” The next day, I asked about it being five minutes before closing: Do you kick them out, and when?

With over three hundred comments on those two posts, this topic clearly needed attention. It's important to consider how your customers would want to be treated if they arrived early and saw employees inside or if they needed a bit more time before closing.

Some commenters said they had boundaries about work and personal life. That's fine. But when you first opened your doors, you would have done anything to get someone in, right?

Let's cut to the chase...

If a customer stands before your locked store doors a few minutes before the stated opening time, you should open early to accommodate them.

It's that simple. 

I also firmly believe that no one should open a store alone. It's a security risk, and many things can happen—most of which are not good. But on that occasion that someone has gone out of their way, assuming you open at 9:30 when you open at 10 a.m., if you're not in the store alone, why not be welcoming? 

The Opportunities of Opening a Bit Early

Many retailers recognize the value of accommodating early customers. As Tim Haines said, "Always open for the customer, the hours sign on the door is just a suggestion." As Nancy Rawlinson shared, this flexibility can lead to significant sales: "We've had some really great art sales on Sundays when we've just run in to grab something and found folks looking in the window."

I thought that was a no-brainer, but plenty of people were adamant about not opening, justifying it by saying their time is their own, they could trip over a vacuum cord, or for other reasons. 

But let's face it: most owners, District Managers, and others who would encourage opening early aren't there to tell store associates to do the right thing. That's why I call this the silent thief.

But it's even worse for crews who are bored and start closing early. I've seen that most doors are closed as early as 30 minutes, and registers are counted with "Credit Card Only" signs.

The Opportunities of Closing a Bit Later

I appreciated Robert Palleja's exemplary approach: "I'm not closed until the last sale is complete, so I will be here as long as I need to be to help you take something home today." This attitude has led to substantial after-hours sales, as Paul Joyce reported: "Year to date, 67k done after closing."

Security Considerations

While customer service is paramount, security is a valid concern, especially if you only open with one person - which, again, I never recommend. Wayne McNeil noted, "When a member of my staff is waiting for the other employee, they are not allowed to let customers into the store for security reasons." Balancing security with service might involve opening slightly early when safe to do so: "We ALWAYS open the store 5 minutes early to catch those early birds."

Reasonable Limits

It's important to note that accommodating customers doesn't mean completely ignoring business hours. As Jason Lawrence suggested, "Always acknowledge… If you notice the customer, acknowledge their presence with a friendly gesture, such as a smile or a wave, to show that you know they are waiting." He believes the approach demonstrates respect for the customer's time and the store's policies. 

My experience starkly contrasts this approach and demonstrates why even seemingly polite acknowledgment can be detrimental without action. 

I remember a camping supply store in Long Beach. Two employees, their coffees clearly in view on the counter, saw me at 9:55 a.m., pointed at their watches, smiled, and returned to their conversation. At 10 a.m., one left the register and came to unlock the doors. I told him, "I guess business is great to make me and several others wait while you chat.” He started to chuckle. I turned and left—for good.

The Costly Wave: Acknowledgment Isn't Enough

A mere statement of acknowledgment without action can be just as harmful as outright ignoring customers:

  1. Lost immediate sale: I was ready to purchase but left without buying anything.
  2. Lost future business: I vowed never to return, impacting potential lifetime value as a customer.
  3. Negative word-of-mouth: I’ve often shared this experience and likely influenced others to avoid the store.
  4. Employee complacency: The staff's behavior suggests a culture prioritizing personal comfort over customer service.
  5. Missed opportunity for positive interaction: Opening a few minutes early could have created a loyal customer instead of driving one away.

Flexible store hours and a customer-first mentality are crucial. It's about acknowledging customers and valuing their time and effort to visit your store.

The long-term consequences of prioritizing strict adherence to store hours over customer satisfaction can give begrudged employees power over customers to make them wait. Don't rule that out. Check how funny—or not—this is.

 

This incident also ties back to the issue of managerial oversight. Had a manager or area supervisor been present or actively monitoring the store's practices, such customer-unfriendly behavior might have been prevented or corrected.

The Trend of Early Closures:

Retailers closing doors early is concerning. This practice can significantly impact sales and customer satisfaction. As Matt McDermott shared, "I have a friend who used to be located in a local mall who purposely set her closing time an hour after the mall closing time to capture sales from all those customers getting kicked out of the rest of the stores. It was absolutely worth the payroll she spent".

A friend of mine shared even when they told her they were closing in five minutes, at least they knew how to handle it. She shared, "I needed hand cream and went to Boots at 5 minutes before closing time. They let me know, I said "I just want hand cream with no fragrance." A nice guard took me to the right place. I took 3 seconds to grab what I wanted and was out of the store with 90 seconds to spare. I could NOT have done that if I was directed, not taken.

A great point, really help the person at closing time, don't ignore or be unreasonable. 

Read more about Retail Store Operations: A Guide To Running Multiple Locations

In Sum

Sure, someone waiting at the doors isn't an everyday occurrence, and late shoppers are rarely a problem outside of the holidays.

But unless you train your expectations that every customer who comes to the door deserves respect and hospitality, you may find that silent theft is happening more and more out of convenience to your retail crew because they do not feel engaged with their place of work. 

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