Commentary

Black Friday, Black Hole For Retailers: How To Fix It

When it comes to Black Friday, there are two kinds of people: those who wait in a parking lot at 3 a.m. to get a deal on a flat-screen TV, and the rest of us.

For the rest of us, Black Friday is a phenomenon we watch on TV or YouTube. A 2018 poll showed that 68% of consumers plan to shop online on Black Friday rather than take part in one of the day’s bloody melees.

But imagine for a second that Black Friday shopping was actually pleasant. In addition to deals, shoppers got an experience. Instead of seeing a retailer as a necessary evil that they need to engage with to get discounted items, consumers might be lured to come back later.

Does this sound like a holiday miracle? It’s not. Here are five ways retailers can vastly improve their Black Friday experience in 2018:

Make it a family-centered activity. Black Friday isn’t just the biggest shopping day of the year. It’s also the start of that time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s when people spend more time with family and think about the year that's ending.

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One way retailers can turn Black Friday into a family-centered time is by offering free holiday photos that customers can use in Christmas cards.

Or, give the kids something fun to do in-store. Set up VR demonstrations, cooking demonstrations, live readings -- whatever will make the shopping experience more like fun and less like drudgery.

Make the experience relaxing. Handing out cups of hot coffee is awkward at retail, since there’s a good chance customers will spill it on themselves or someone else. But offering a sit-down café or food experience can turn a transactional experience into a relaxing one.

Some retailers have taken this idea pretty far. Restoration Hardware’s 70,000-square-foot store in Chicago, for instance, has a courtyard café, an espresso bar and a wine room.

Reward loyalty. The idea behind Black Friday is pretty backwards. Even if a consumer has never visited your store before, you’re going to reward that person merely because she got in the door first.

Why not use Black Friday to reward the customers who have been faithfully visiting your stores the other 364 days of the year? Use your email connection to your loyal consumers to entice them to visit your store on Black Friday for a discount or personalized gift.

Create unique experiences. Consumers don’t just buy things, they buy experiences, too. Black Friday -- a day when many people have the day off from work and are often looking for something to do -- is a prime opportunity to get them to come into your store.

For instance, stores that sell running gear can host a Black Friday run to work off all that turkey. Bookstores can offer “holiday story slams,” contests in which people compete to tell the best stories.

Limit long lines. Maybe in a few years, sensor- and camera-based checkouts like Amazon offers in its Amazon Go stores will be the norm. Until then, the best alternative is to hire swarms of cashiers to offer tablet-based checkouts a la the Apple Stores. That will greatly cut down on those long cash register lines that make Black Friday so unpleasant.

The Bottom Line

For most retailers, Black Friday is designed to maximize sales. But most retailers can’t undercut Walmart and other big-box retailers on price.

That’s OK. Apple never has sales, and its stores are packed on Black Friday. That’s because people find it fun and pleasant to shop at an Apple Store. Retailers can follow Apple’s lead and capitalize on their physical stores’ ability to act as meeting places rather than warehouses for cut-price merchandise.

Either that, or follow REI’s lead and take the day off.

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