Charity sale turns into a big headache for some Belk customers at SouthPark mall

ofortson@charlotteobserver.comNovember 10, 2013 

Belk department store’s Charity Sale this weekend was filled with great bargains to benefit good causes.

But the overwhelming success of the sale at its SouthPark mall store turned out to be a headache for some customers who arrived at the store Saturday and Sunday to pick up their items.

There were so many bags of presale selections waiting to be claimed that some customers reported waiting for an hour or more for their items to be located and brought to them. Others gave up and vowed to return another day.

“I love Belk, but this is the pits,” said customer Delane Curlee on Sunday afternoon as she sat in a folding chair outside the lower level entrance to Belk in the mall’s parking garage, waiting for a runner to find her purchases in a nearby holding area where thousands of Belk bags were lined up in neat rows.

Each bag had a number and was sorted by a color code based on where the item was bought. For example, a yellow tag indicated purchases from the children’s department. The runners brought the bags to the area where Curlee and about 75 other customers were waiting to hear their numbers called.

“I waited an hour yesterday, and I gave up. I came back today, and I’ve been waiting for an hour and a half,” she said.

Another customer, when asked what he thought of the process, said, “I’m really crabby right now, and I don’t want to talk.”

Upbeat store employees and volunteers from the Charlotte area charities that benefit from the sale, including the Girl Scouts and the American Cancer Society, tried to keep customers’ spirits up Sunday by offering them juice and doughnuts.

Twice a year – in the spring and fall – all Belk stores host the charity sale. Nonprofits in Belk’s markets sell $5 tickets to the event, which is always held on a Saturday from 6 to 10 a.m. before the store opens to regular customers.

The nonprofits keep all the ticket sales. The day of the event, Belk also sells $5 tickets, and that money is donated to the charities. In return, customers get 20 to 70 percent off merchandise, including rarely discounted items, such as cosmetics.

Because the stores physically can’t handle the number of people who buy tickets, they allow ticket-holders an option to choose their items before the event. Those items are set aside and then rung up the day of the sale so the discount applies. Customers can pick the items up on the day of the sale, or for up to 10 days afterward.

The Belk store at SouthPark mall had so many presale items it couldn’t physically hold them in the store. So for the first time, the company set up a system that let customers wait in an area outside the store and have their bags brought to them.

But the new system, and a steady flow of hundreds of customers coming to pick up purchases, resulted in long waits and some unhappy customers.

Belk officials apologized for the delays.

“We recognize that we were not fully prepared for the high volume of sales, and we want to thank our customers for their participation and their patience,” said Jessica Graham, Belk’s vice president of communications and community relations.

“At the end of the day, it’s all about the charities; and although we don’t have our final numbers yet, we do know the charity sale raised at least $5 million (companywide).”

Customer Norah Raynor said she felt sorry for the Belk employees who were dealing with the crowd. Raynor was there to pick up some clothes she had selected during the presale.

“It’s a beautiful day, so it’s too bad we’re all standing here. But for a 60 percent discount, and to help charities, it’s worth it,” she said.

Thirty minutes later, her bag was located, and she was on her way home.

Fortson: 704-358-5222

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