As news hits that Andy Street, a managing director of John Lewis, is reconsidering the chain’s part in Black Friday, I thought I’d share my own reasons for giving the “retail opportunity” a miss.
John Lewis reported a 1% drop in sales overall in stores and Mr Street thinks Black Friday is to blame. Personally, as an eCommerce digital marketer, but more importantly as a consumer, I’m inclined to agree with him.
On the surface there are many reasons why retailers may be enticed to jump on the Black Friday bandwagon. It’s a trend I hoped would stay in America as we need no encouragement to be annoyed with our fellow neighbour these days. In a time when offensive remarks are being reported to the police as a hate crime, it seems contradictory that we encourage and partake in physical pushing, elbowing and shouting just to get a cut price TV.
Some idealistic part of me hoped that if we did absorb the trend, we wouldn’t be subject to the mass hysteria that the Americans are. In my own silly bubble, I wrongly assumed that the Brits would be more polite. We’d queue and we wouldn’t resort to cheap insults or shoving to get what we want. How wrong was I?
We have not only taken on Black Friday as a nation, we’ve also taken on the hysteria, the rudeness and the stupidity that surfaces when we’re presented with time sensitive savings that make a rubbish accessory seem like a cure for a terminal illness. We fight as though our children’s lives depend on it, and act completely out of character, (I hope), in the vain hope we’ll save some fictional percentage on an item we don’t really need.
Now as a retailer you must ask yourself, do you really want customers like these?
Controversial Class Discrimination
Anyone of any class can be reduced to a gibbering wreck over a great sale price. Yet it’s usually those who live on bargains throughout the year that swap their own family pets for a big discount. I’m sure I’ll rile the professionally offended but as a consumer, the Black Friday customers, to me, are the ones that shop in Iceland, and swear at their kids in the aisles of Asda.
John Lewis does not appeal to this target market yet on Black Friday they turned tail and brought customers through their doors who would normally be those misspelling insults on the Overheard in Waitrose page on Facebook. All because they had X per cent off.
As we all know in eCommerce, the best customer is the loyal customer. Will these people return? Probably not when the see they can buy imitation quality crap from the local poundshop. Do you want them to return? I guess that depends on the profit Black Friday generated. The average basket value and the repeat custom generated. It will be interesting to see the figures during 2015 to find out if any of the new, temporary, deal hunters return (as there’s no doubt John Lewis is hoping a few newbies will translate into loyal customers).
Now it’s not just the lower classes that love a bargain. We all do, every single one of us but our views of how to seek out that bargain differ. It’s a certain breed that will rise at 4am to be first in the queue to seal a deal. The same who will wear elbow pads for the sole purpose of pushing people out of the way so they can get to a till.
Of course, we dream of thousands of customers fighting to buy our merchandise but at what cost to our reputation?
Are We Ready as Retailers for Black Friday?
The other question is, are we really ready for this? Shouldn’t the UK Black Friday have some USPs to differentiate itself from the American version? Why do we have to adopt this trend and the headlines that inevitably follow it and are we ready? The answer is, probably not. Many retailers faced backlash as those who shopped in the Black Friday sales online were left waiting an age for their goods to arrive. Yodel blamed Black Friday for their poor customer service, sloppy delivery and constant breakages in transit. With almost 80% of ceramic poppies arriving in such a poor state they left people in tears, (again), Yodel got it in the neck. Of course, the customer won’t blame the courier, they will blame you and so the cycle continues.
It must also be noted that at a time when couriers should be in high demand, City Link closes its doors.
Online many sites crashed and the usual shoppers became increasingly frustrated as without the patience of the determined bargain hunter, they found they couldn’t realistically shop online.
Argos, a store we usually watch with interest, performed particularly poor on the day. Already their website is unfriendly to users, (heaven knows how they ever up-sell or cross sell with it) but on Black Friday it disappeared altogether. It never did seem to recover as late deliveries and false stock levels caused many complaints (and still do today!).
In summary it may make sense to give Black Friday a miss for a few years until we really have a handle on it. Resist the urge to jump on the bandwagon and instead gain the upper hand by observing from afar.
Here are some quick pros and cons obviously open to debate to help you decide if Black Friday is right for you:
Do you really want to alienate the customer base you’ve worked hard to please by showing them you’re really a bargain bucket store at heart?
Do you trust your couriers to cope with extra demand? Are your servers capable of handling an influx of visitors concentrated into a short time frame? Do you have ample security in store should events get out of hand?
Christmas is still one of our most profitable times of the year. Can you really afford to mess up your strategy and plans with this one single day? Do you have the extra staff? Will it impact on Christmas sales?
4. Customer Service
We’re only just learning in eCommerce that great customer service is one of the keys to success. When we started trading online we assumed the customer service team in the bricks and mortar stores could take care of the extra demand. In order to protect your brand over Black Friday, you will need stellar customer service as it only takes one complaint to ruin what you’ve worked hard for.
Putting people on hold and leaving them without contact, while using the excuse that you’ve received “more enquiries than normal” will not wash. You chose Black Friday, it did not choose you.
One light at the end of the cursing, sweating tunnel that is Black Friday
Of course, you can eliminate most of the uncouth behaviour if your Black Friday sale is online. Amazon, always a leader in eCommerce, show how to do it right. Their customer service (which is consistently impeccable) never once wavered, neither did they send an influx of emails informing customers their items would be late. Of course, with their roots in US soil they’ve had plenty of practice, which is what we all need before we profit from this dark day without a pounding Christmas headache.
Ultimately we all want to sell more, and Black Friday seems like a perfect opportunity for this but to survive online and in store, we do need to look at the bigger picture and ask if this is really what our customers want?