Beware shiny things
October 15, 2022
After a round of meeting great new vendors, exploring cool new tools & tech, I always think about how much room my clients have in my budget for these fun, experimental things. We’re all attracted to fun, shiny things. But as business leaders, are these always the panacea we want them to be? When we’re thinking about how to allocate precious budget $ to improving our websites, there’s push-and-pull between the foundational and the fun.
There are always new tools that promise better engagement, conversion or order value. Innovations that will increase brand value and improve the customer experience. Some of these are truly a value add.
But what good is a fun or beautiful front-end, if the underlying experience is bad?
The same is true in our personal lives. That shiny new buy isn’t going to change your life, though it may make you feel great in the moment. When the excitement wears off, you still have the same issues to deal with.
Last summer, I was planning a few home renovation projects. Not my favorite thing to do, but I love the result. It’s so much work: the planning, the product, color, and materials. The contractors. The coordination and disruption. Whenever we’ve talked about these bigger projects, I joke that I’d rather buy a new house that someone else already fixed up.
After two years of work-from-home, and daily visibility to the deficiencies of our laundry room, the main entry to the house from the garage, I was ready. Picture old, low-quality cabinets peeling at the edges, no longer flush, unpleasantly aged beige particleboard- yuck. It was dated, ugly and in disrepair. Our downstairs bathroom also needed an upgrade- tiles that keep pushing out the caulk, ugly striped wall-paper, and out-of-date everything.
But then while gardening out back, we noticed a deep foundation crack. One that used to be a hairline. The crack extended 15 feet, and was big enough that you could see sunlight from inside our furnace room, and feel outside air if you put your hand up to it.
For context, we live on a hill that descends into a creek. To protect the house, it’s a constant fight to keep erosion at bay. And after 25 years, the house was showing the wear.
We had to deal with it.
So we fixed the wall. It took 4 weeks of back-hoes, concrete destruction and reconstruction, leaving deep trenches through our back-yard and dust everywhere. During the tear-down, they told us that moving our old A/C units was a risk. Since they were ancient, decrepit, and inefficient, they recommended we buy new. They couldn’t guarantee that they would work if disconnected, moved and reconnected. But in light of the fortune we were investing in the foundation, we had little appetite for replacing those NOW. Let them hang on for one more summer.
When the work was finished, neither of the A/C units could be saved. One had been dropped. The other needed repairs so expensive, it wasn’t worth doing. So now, two days before the first 95 degree weekend of the year, we needed new A/C units. That was fun.
All in, we spent $20K on the foundation, then another $12K or so on the A/C’s. My renovation budget was gone- and then some. I really wanted that updated entry for the house. We were going to tear out a closet and make a more modern mud-room with a bench. And nicer downstairs bathroom.
But what good is a beautiful entryway to the house, if the house might slide into the creek? When we try to sell the house, what’s going to drive more value? A solid foundation, or a nicer mud-room? Shoppers might love what they see walking through and make the offer, but when the inspection is done- the foundational issues come to light, and many shoppers opt to simply back-out.
The same thing happens on your website.
Consider this as you plan your commerce & technology budgets. If you keep investing primarily on the superficial- the entry-ways, the cosmetic and feel-good moments, your technical debt gets bigger and bigger over time. Eventually, you’ll feel the pain. Conversion will stay flat or down. Only your most loyal or sale-conscious customers will persist.
We all love a little bit of fun. Branding matters. But customer experience is everything, from the beginning to the end. If a shopper loves shopping your product, but has trouble signing-in or checking out, your brand value takes a negative turn.
If your underlying foundation is cracked, all that good will just opts out.
I Have A Reason To Be Scared
October 10, 2022
Worthwhile read. “Dr. Maya Angelou once said, “When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.” She was and is exactly correct.”
I am scared. I am scared for my Catholic friends, my gay friends, my non-evangelical Christian friends, my women friends, my family and my Jewish community. The rise of Christian nationalism is threatening a basic tenet of our agreement as a United States, our founding principle of the separation of Church and State. But it gets worse: Christian nationalist rhetoric, excused as “free speech,” is profoundly dangerous.
Our government was founded on the principal that the government would neither prefer nor prevent any religion. Yet in the past few years with recent acceleration, the idea that this country was founded as a white, Christian nation (i.e., Christian nationalism) has begun to take root in our national debate. According to a recent University of Maryland poll, 17% of Democrats and 61% of Republicans support declaring the United States a Christian nation. The findings also indicate that “white grievance” plays a role…
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Customer Centricity: how to make it count.
March 20, 2022
Is your brand as customer-centric as you think it is? Most leaders will say that the customer is at the core of everything they do. Yet, so many websites fall short on creating exceptional customer experiences. Creating a culture of customer-centricity involves every aspect of the customer journey: before, during, and after the sale.
Is your brand as customer-centric as you think it is? Take the quiz and see where you stack up:
- Is it easy to shop the site? Shop on the device most of your customers use, and score yourself against your most aspirational competitors. Is the site mobile optimized? Is it easy to contact customer support? Do you take mobile payments? Are returns easy? Hint: all those annoying things you haven’t had time to fix? They are friction points for your shopper. Friction=lower conversion. Removing friction points=opportunity to “wow” the customer. Getting the basics right matters more than the shiny new things.
- Is customer service empowered to make your customer happy? Can they solve the problem in one interaction? Can they make exceptions to policy without management approval? Your customer’s experience with the contact center will make or break her perception of the brand. Lose her trust here, and she’ll buy from a competitor next time. Delight her here, and you might create a customer for life. Empower your teams to do what’s right for the customer. Every time.
- Do you recognize and reward your best customers? Does everyone get the same treatment, or do you personalize based on shopping history, interests and activity? Do you have a loyalty program? Do you create value beyond promotions to inspire loyalty? Do you meaningfully support the causes she cares about? Do you recognize VIP customers when they call, chat or email?
- Do your customers shop with you again? What’s the average lifecycle of a customer? How many times does she buy per year, and what’s your LTV? How healthy is your email, SMS and organic traffic growth? If you’re buying new traffic without cultivating existing customers, you’ll be running on a very expensive (and unsustainable) hamster wheel.
- Do you listen to your customers? Do you ask your customers what they think? Are Voice of the Customer learnings shared regularly? Consider creating a customer panel comprised of your most loyal shoppers. Do you analyze the shopping funnel to understand drop-off points, and use both VOC and funnel metrics to drive your roadmap?
If you can’t say yes to all of these questions, it’s time to think about how you’ll begin to level-up. Here are a few tips to get you started:
Rule #1: Everyone in senior leadership needs to be shopping the brand as a customer regularly.
Rule #2: Create a customer-centricity report card and make sure you know where you stand.
Rule #3: Create a customer experience manifesto and make sure everyone across the organization exemplifies it at every touchpoint.
Rule #3: Don’t chase the shiny things at the expense of getting the basics right. The ratio should be basics: 80%, shiny things: 20% or less.
Customers have more choices than ever. Give them a reason to choose you.
Why are so many people quitting?
October 16, 2021
The Great Resignation is real. We’re seeing a new mindset for how people think about, and value work.
Millions of people are quitting their jobs- to the tune of 4 million in July 2021 alone, with almost 11 million open jobs at end of July (Ian Cook for HBR, “Who is driving the Great Resignation?“), and in the past 6 months- resignations have accelerated.
Is this really surprising? We’ve had nearly two years of uncertainty, tragedy, and collective trauma with Covid. Now that we’re starting to come out of it, people are re-evaluating what they want. What they need. What matters. And guess what? It’s not working 12 hours a day for lousy pay. It’s not putting your life at risk to go sit in an office, socially distanced from your co-workers.
Think about the lowest wage segment- putting their lives at risk every day, in service industries, supply chain and health care- the jobs that could not be done virtually. Parents without other options for childcare simply had to pull out of the market, with schools closed and lack of childcare options. Burnout and exhaustion were a given. There’s a collective trauma- an element of PTSD at play. It’s not surprising these industries are now facing staffing shortages.
For those who were able to work virtually, many were doing the jobs of 1-3 roles, with downsizing, furloughs, and budget cuts over the past 18 months. This, while juggling home-schooling, childcare, family care, isolation, financial stress and more. It’s been a grueling time for those lucky enough to have the work.
As some companies mandate strict ‘back to office’ policies, there’s a real disconnect with employees who don’t want to give up the flexibility of working from home- better balancing their time, and skipping long commutes. They don’t want to go back to the way it was. And they don’t have to.
…”this level of quitting is really an expression of optimism that says, We can do better.”Derek Thompson for The Atlantic: The Great Resignation is Accelerating.
Derek Thompson talks about the job exodus as a new feeling of empowerment, in his Atlantic article, The Great Resignation Is Accelerating, saying “this level of quitting is really an expression of optimism that says, We can do better.” This is an awakening. Thompson calls it the “Great Reset.” For leaders and managers- it’s an opportunity to evolve and be competitive- or risk continued attrition.
So how do we attract and keep good people? Pay them fairly. Set reasonable expectations. Give them a reason to want to work for you. We all know minimum wage is not a living wage: don’t start there.
It matters more than ever that you’re running a company that listens, and truly cares about your people. Just saying you do isn’t enough. They know the difference.
It matters that you pay what your people are worth.
It matters that you are flexible. Some people simply don’t feel safe coming into the office yet. If you’re not flexible about this, know that others are, and you’re now competing with the entire country- not just your geographic area.
It matters that you make an effort to create paths for growth and advancement.
And more than ever, you need to think about your employees the way you do about your customers: Authenticity, good experience and brand values matter. How your leadership and actions demonstrate these values in every touchpoint with your customers- internal and external, matters. Your customers have a choice. You need to give them a reason to believe in you.
The Great Resignation Is Accelerating: Derek Thompson, The Atlantic
Who Is Driving the Great Resignation: Ian Cook, Harvard Business Review
February 1, 2021
I’ve learned as much from the good bosses I’ve had as I have from the bad. The good ones challenged me, empowered me, helped me to see the bigger picture- showing me the 10,000 foot view when I was still wading through the surf, gave me perspective, objectivity, genuinely cared about me and saw my potential. But guess what? The bad bosses did too, for the most part. It was just less pleasant, and sometimes downright painful. All of it was instructive.
That was my earliest lesson in leadership. By watching, learning and listening, I thought about who I did and didn’t want to emulate. I found I’d work twice as hard, twice as long, and deliver better work for leaders who helped me understand why we were doing something, why it mattered, showed me the greater purpose and how I could make a difference. That was the leader I wanted to be.
In the first brand I worked for, I’d worked my way up from an entry level role to a leadership one. It had been an amazing journey. When I was offered an opportunity for a new role, managing the transition to digital commerce, I was all in. I’d been the one who pitched our CFO on moving to digital design, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars. Selling online was the dream. But one long time mentor said, “Why would you leave? It’s a huge risk. What if it fails?”
It wasn’t unreasonable. These were early days for E-commerce: picture Amazon as a mostly text site full of blue-underlined links. If this new business didn’t drive results, we could get shut down, and then where would I be? I called a trusted C-level executive and asked for advice. Was I making a terrible mistake? He said, among other things: “You have to think about what’s going to make you excited to get out of bed in the morning. What do you WANT to be doing?”
One was the voice of fear, the other, the voice of empowerment. One encouraged me to stay in my comfort zone, the other, to grow. My most inspiring mentors in that time expanded my worldview in a way that felt a little bit like helping me to leave home. Exciting- but scary. And ultimately led me to find my niche and passion in the world: digital commerce.
I’ve sought to do the same for others that worked for me over the years. Be approachable. Listen. Teach. Provide context and the bigger picture. And just like I’ll never forget the mentor who empowered me to find my dream, I occasionally hear from someone whom I’ve helped. One day, I got a text from a former team member saying,
“I don’t think I ever told you how grateful I am that you hired me, supported and developed me. You changed my life and gave me so many gifts!! I’m very appreciative and want you to know the amazing impact you had on my life. Thank you.” Wow. Just wow.
I still hear the voices of the ones who were most meaningful to me, who helped me become the leader I am today. I continue to learn from trusted colleagues and mentors to this day. And I will keep paying it forward. I hope you will, too.
About Jess Blogs:
Jessie Jackson is an eCommerce leader, with a passion for making the websites we use better.
Better for customers = better for business.
Above all, stay kind.
March 14, 2020
As #Coronovirus charges around the globe, so many stories emerge. The give-you-chills kind, where people are helping neighbors and strangers, alike, and the make-you-boil stories, like:
- The profiteering guy in the NY times today, who took a 1300 mile road trip to buy out all the hand sanitizer stock he could find, and then sold it on amazon at a 7000% markup, telling his story of woe- how he got suspended from selling on Amazon (good for Amazon). There were, sadly, a lot of these. Last week, I saw a 5-pack of 1 oz hand sanitizers selling on Amazon for $98-just shameful.
- The guy who took the last container of clorox wipes out of my daughter’s hands in the grocery store, and walked away.
- Videos of people fighting over toilet paper (what universe is this we’re living in?)
- Pictures of people buying what looks like a lifetime supply of toilet paper (why???)
But there are bright spots too- lots of them. Check out #thekindnesschallenge on facebook. At first I thought this was a trite group- people humble-bragging. And it is, a little. But during a frightening times- it’s hopeful and encouraging to see people making an effort to help each other. Here are a few I’ve seen lately on facebook & twitter:
- Gena Rositano, a woman who stopped an elderly gentleman, who was in tears in the grocery store, and helped him get his shopping done.
- The person in the hospital who couldn’t afford the prescription, and the doctor filled it for him without a charge.
- Rebecca Mehra noticed an elderly couple sitting in their car outside the grocery store, and asked if they needed help. They were scared to go in. She bought their groceries and delivered them to the car. Her story has since gone viral, and was featured on CNN.
This gave me the idea to post on my community group on facebook offering to pick up food, prescriptions or other necessary items for anyone homebound/self isolating- and immediately got dozens of other volunteers to do the same.
These are the things that elevate us, lift our hearts, keep on going. There’s lots of scary, bad news out there. But there are bright spots too. Keep finding them. Be part of them. This is where a little humanity can go a long way.
5 must-do’s to improve site conversion
January 21, 2019
A few key things you need to know about improving site conversion:
- It’s about what NOT to do, as much as it is about what TO do.
- You have to know who you are (as a brand), and what your customer wants.
- You give it to them.
Sound simple? It is. Some of the most fundamental things you can do to improve conversion are the simplest. And yet, so many brands are missing out on fixing these key friction points in the shopping process. Here are the five key areas of focus you should get right before you consider anything else:
1. Navigation: This is where you need to take off your marketing hat, and put on your customer’s. Shop your own site. Make sure everyone on your team is doing it. Get feedback from everyone- especially real customers. A few must haves for your checklist:
- A prominent search box, with predictive results.
- Top navigation categories that are easy for a new customer to understand.
- Refinements and filters, to allow a customer to quickly drill down to what they want.
- Inspiration, by way of content, new products and/or solutions on your homepage to inspire the ‘browsing’ shopper .
2. Site speed: If your site is slow, it will hurt performance both from a conversion perspective (high bounce & exit rates), and from an organic perspective- a slow load time will affect your Google ranking, especially if your site is slow on mobile. A few checkpoints:
- Check your mobile site speed using Google’s free tool, here. It will tell you your average load time for mobile- and your estimated visitor loss based on load time. Now see how your competitors stack up.
- Use your analytics tools to see page load time for key landing pages, and look at your top exit pages. This will give you some priorities for where to start.
- Work with your developers to optimize clunky code, pixels and functionality to improve.
3. Product info: There’s a time and place for everything. Provide the right info, in the right steps along the shopping path, to enable the next click. A few for your checklist:
- Crisp images, with zoom and alternate views.
- Thorough product descriptions, with practical info about how to wear, how it fits, how to choose a size, how to use and care for.
- Links to ‘live chat’ and ‘shipping’ info.
- Price: clear sale or promo info.
- Prompts to remind customer of value-propositions that will inspire confidence, i.e. “Fast, free shipping” or “Our guarantee” or “Easy returns”.
4. Shipping: Free and fast. Don’t give your customers a reason to buy it on Amazon. Enough said.
5. Checkout: Don’t get in your own way. Take a look at the metrics around your shopping funnel to see which pages of checkout are seeing the most attrition. Consider:
- Clear, uncluttered first page of checkout that offers Guest Checkout as well as Registered user checkout.
- Mobile payments: if the customer has to get out their wallet while shopping on a mobile device- you’ll lose momentum- and potentially the sale.
- Standard, fast, and faster delivery options showing cost and expected delivery dates.
- A minimum of interference- don’t get in the way of a customer’s intent to checkout. If you’re up-selling services or products- keep it simple, and keep it outside of the customer’s focused path.
Keeping your shopping path frictionless will take on-going care and vigilance. If you’re highly focused on these, you’ll be more likely to capture new customer sales- and less likely to annoy your loyal repeat customers. The rewards are great- for everyone. Improving the shopping experience will always serve you, and your customers well.
Rating online grocers
September 23, 2017
Grocery delivery services are an absolute lifesaver when you just don’t have the time to get to the store. It is amazing what you can get delivered to your door: prepared foods that are actually good, meal kits, fresh produce, and anything you need for the pantry.
Early this year, I was living in a different city during the week, and coming home just for the weekend. I was beyond exhausted, from the driving, the working, trying to keep two places in order and living out of a suitcase. During these months, I tried all the online grocery options available to me: Amazon Fresh, Fresh Direct, and Shoprite. They all have their pros and cons, but overall, the state of online grocery shopping is not where it needs to be to make it my go-to during normal times. Not yet.
On the positive side, I no longer have to lug heavy water bottles, dog food or mega packs of paper towels and toilet paper from the grocery store. It’s Amazon Prime, all the way. I am very happy not to have had to visit a pet store in over a year.
Below are my ratings for Amazon Prime, Fresh Direct and Shoprite, across 6 key areas.
The waste factor
Amazon gets the F in this category. My last delivery came in huge insulated totes that were ridiculously under packed, and filled with excessive amounts of padding, cold packs, and dry ice (which burns if you touch it, as I found). It took me over 40 minutes to break the totes down- they are filled with hard sided padded panels to keep them sturdy, as well as bags and bags of dry ice and ice packs, all of which have to go in the sink to melt before you can empty them. When I had completely emptied the bags- my sink was full to the top with these packets. It was a ludicrous amount of waste. And worse, they’d sent an excessive number of totes. Three of them had only a product or two inside- with all that padding and cold packs on top. One had a single bag of frozen peas in it. Another had a bunch of asparagus. In another tote, they’d packed heavy 12 packs of drinks on top of cereal boxes, crushing them. When I called in about this, Amazon said that machines pack the bags, so sometimes the logic is a bit off. I’ll say. Below, a few images of the debris.
After this debacle, I actually called to ask Amazon to cancel my Fresh membership.
Fresh Direct uses cardboard boxes- bulky, but easy enough to break down and recycle. Shoprite gets the A for using regular grocery bags without any excess packaging.
Time slot availability
This is one of my pet peeves with all of them. I learned the hard way to check for delivery slots before spending the time to fill my cart. To achieve true convenience, these services need to make quicker delivery available, and more time slots available in general in the near term. The true convenience would be to realize on Friday or Saturday that I don’t have time to shop, and to be able to get a slot for the next day. In reality- the best case scenario on a Friday is to get a Sunday 8-10pm delivery slot. You really have to think ahead, which isn’t always possible- and if you’re out of food for the weekend, it doesn’t help. On the upside, if you do plan ahead- you can set a time slot by putting anything in your cart ahead of time, and then you’re given until a certain time the night before (11pm with Fresh Direct) to modify the order. Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to anticipate running out of time to get to the store. If these services could do same day or next day delivery on demand, that would be the A+.
Fresh Direct was the best on this. I never had to throw anything out. Sometimes I would get something a bit unripe, but it was never too far gone. With both Amazon and Shoprite, I’d actually have to throw things away or call them to get credited for bad produce. Not terrible, most of the time, but not consistently great, either.
Aside from produce and meat, for the most part, they’re all good here. Fresh Direct is the one I’m most comfortable ordering meat from, and they have by far the best prepared food options. I wasn’t impressed with Amazon’s- and the options weren’t great- often, the meat wouldn’t be available for the delivery slot. Shoprite’s was consistently ok. I find if I ask for the organic, it’s always best, vs. leaving the choice to them.
Ease of use
Fresh Direct is the clear winner for ease of shopping. The navigation is clear and easy to use, the search is great, and best yet- I can fill my cart with the items from my last order and edit from there. Amazon’s navigation and search were good, but it always took me longer. Shoprite’s was terrible- every time I went to the site, I’d have to work at just finding my local Shoprite location to order from- it never remembered me. And they don’t deliver in my area-they shop, but you have to pick it up.
When something goes wrong- they are all responsive and customer centric- quick to credit you if something wasn’t good or right. Amazon went the extra mile, and put $ in my account as an appeasement when I called to complain about the ridiculous packaging and crushed groceries. The agents were always quick to answer, friendly, and accommodating.
So what’s next?
Ideally, online grocers will scale to accept orders on a shorter delivery window- this is what they need to do to make it a true convenience, and what’s needed to make customers like me return again and again. I don’t trust them to be there for me when I need them, because I can never get the time slot I want. This is the key reason I don’t use them except when I absolutely can’t get to the store. With Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods, I’m hopeful they will find a way to deliver locally more easily, directly from Whole Foods- competing with Fresh Direct on quality, and beating them on speed to home. I would also like to see them get more efficient with the packaging. To become my go-to, it can’t be a project to unpack and break down packaging and recycling. I don’t want to create that much waste, and hopefully they don’t either. Online grocery shopping is one of the most amazing conveniences of online retail, but there’s work to be done to get it right.
June 20, 2017
Everyone’s talking about the death of retail, and what’s next for eCommerce: AI, IOT, and so on. This, combined with today’s more brand agnostic customer, is enough to make a retailer despair. But let’s face it- people are still shopping. Retailers need to up their game to stay in it- and to avoid being eaten alive by Amazon.
While there are so many epic things on the horizon to do- there’s one fundamental opportunity that most online retailers haven’t figured out yet, and hardly anyone is talking about: immediate gratification. The impulse purchase. If we can figure out how to make that easier, faster and better- we’ll have something.
Apple pay is a step in the right direction- it makes it easy to buy from a compelling email in about two seconds. The first part of the impulse buy is there- but I still have to wait for that package to arrive.
Amazon has us all trained to expect 1-2 day delivery on everything. Forget paper towels at the grocery store on Sunday? Amazon can have those to you by Tuesday. Most retailers have followed suit with at least free standard shipping. But anything that takes 3-5 days is like waiting an eternity. I find myself thinking- didn’t I order that WEEKS ago? The new standard is fast. If I could have gone to a store to get it by now, it’s taking too long. But what if I want it today, and don’t have time to go to a store?
Back in the internet boom- Urban Fetch was a great start-up in NYC that would deliver anything within an hour- bagels from your favorite place, the book you need for your daughter’s English class by tomorrow that she forgot to tell you about…a present for a baby shower, etc. It was the best thing ever. But they didn’t survive- it just wasn’t cost effective. It’s surprising in all this time, that no one has figured out how to do this at scale for fashion- it exists for food- Seamless, Instacart, Uber-eats. But not for fashion.
If stores, every major brand, including department stores, could figure out how to deliver same day- within hours, this would create a huge paradigm shift for shoppers. Fashion brands need to be looking at how to facilitate this & stock the stores for it. If I have to go home, and think about it, or wait for it- I might change my mind. Yeah- it’s online in the end, but the stores become local points of distribution.
Everlane has it right: in NYC, they’ll deliver within an hour. BAM. I need a raincoat or a new bag? Instant gratification in 5 minutes of browsing on my phone. But who else? Even with online groceries, I have to set my delivery window 48 hours out (more on that in a future post). The model here has to change.
On a recent trip to the mall, I experienced the worst of mall madness- it was the day before Father’s Day, and it was mobbed. Every store was a mess- like Macy’s the week before Christmas. Even shopping in Nordstrom was so unpleasant, I couldn’t begin to find anything good, because the tables were a mess- it looked so junky and worked-through. I wasn’t shopping for Father’s Day, thankfully- so was able to bail, and just shop online without the stress.
Will people still go to stores? Sure. There will always be those last-minute shoppers, and the delight of discovery- finding something you weren’t looking for & didn’t know you needed ’til you stumbled across it. But stores need to get more creative about making the experience of shopping worth that effort. Burlington, VT is a great example of this- Church street is closed to traffic, and filled with retailers and restaurants- making it a great place to shop, eat, meander and discover. The nearby mall is empty. Malls are becoming a depressing and uninspired destination. But that’s a story lots of others are already telling.
For the time-being, people will continue to be pressed for last-minute shopping, and until online retailers can figure out how to deliver same day, those shoppers are going to the mall.