Closing Early: A (Hopefully Helpful) Little Rant

Today I want to go on a little rant about a certain business practice otherwise known as closing early.  I’m talking about when the business closes for the day, a few minutes earlier than what its hours are.  Believe it or not, in the last few days, I have encountered this phenomenon not once, but twice–so I just had to blog about it.  I think that closing early is something that should be avoided, because it sends all sorts of negative messages to customers (let alone potential customers that hear about it via word of mouth, or by simply driving by!).

 Let’s put ourselves in the business manager’s shoes for a minute.  Let’s say the business’ hours are 9 to 5.  It’s 4:45 and it’s as quiet as a church mouse all throughout the store.  In fact, there are barely any cars driving by on the street.  And it’s been like this for the past half an hour.  The chances look pretty good that no customers are going to be showing up in the next fifteen minutes.  No harm in turning the lights off and calling it a day, right?  Wrong.  Here’s a few reasons why:

  1.  There is no way of knowing what could potentially happen in those last 15 minutes of the work day.  The phone could ring with someone asking a question that could lead to more business in the future.  Someone could be rushing to try to get there before 5:00–and who knows what they are planning on buying.
  2.  If and when someone does show up between 4:45 and 5:00, and they see that the lights are off and the business is closed, even though their hours say they close at 5, that person is going to make a lot of conclusions about that business–and none of them are positive.  They could easily start thinking that the business isn’t doing well and has given up trying to do any better.  Or perhaps that the business is doing so well that they don’t care about making themselves overly available to their customers.  Both of these could cause the person to logically conclude that they should take their money elsewhere.
  3. Availability and flexibility speak volumes about a business.  When customers feel like their time and money are being valued, they not only continue to use that business, but they also talk about their positive experience to their friends, family, and co-workers.  Conversely, when people feel that their time and money are undervalued, they may feel insulted and just downright turned off to that business–if not forever, then at least temporarily–and that message can quickly get around just like a positive one can.

Look, I’m not trying to be insensitive here.  It’s a tough spot to be in if you are that store manager, or the one making the call about when to close down for the day.  And granted, emergencies happen as well that can warrant an early close.  But on a regular day, under ordinary circumstances, I think it is extremely important that a business stick to their hours.  If, over time, it becomes apparent that those hours are unreasonable, then perhaps they should be changed.  A business’ hours of operation tell people when they can expect to be served by that business.  And people have every right to expect that the business will be available during those times.

One last point.  I think it all comes back to long-term thinking on the part of the business and its workers.  Rather than being annoyed when a customer shows up 5 minutes before closing time, see it as an opportunity to show your business’ true colors.  Show that customer how much you appreciate that they came in and patronized your business.  Maybe they will buy something, and maybe they won’t.  But if not, it’s still not wasted time.  Because when they walk out those doors, and they go home or to work and talk about their day, guess what?  They will have something positive to say about your business.  They’ll be marketing for you for who knows how long, helping build or add to your business’ good reputation, and all you had to do was stay open until they left.

Maybe I’m being naive, and maybe it doesn’t hurt to warn customers that you are going to be closing in the next few minutes.  In my opinion, that sends an entirely different message than when the business is actually completely closed 15 minutes early.  So next time you’re on the “other side of the door,” and it’s up to you to either close early or stay open until the scheduled time, I hope you give it a second thought–and stay open.