What can online retailers learn from the Black Friday frenzy?

Each year I make a trip to at least one shop during the mad first hours of Black Friday. I believe this a pilgrimage of sorts. As online retailers we don’t get to see our clients in action. We’ve got analytics applications and other means to take a look at clicks. But to really sit and observe customer behavior is an activity we don’t get to do. Multichannel or brick-and-mortar retailers, on the other hand, can observe and learn a lot of things from their clients.

My Go to Best Buy

This past year I went to Target and thought the experience was incredible. This year I chose to go to Best Buy. The shop opened its doors at 6:00 p.m. Thanksgiving day. I knowwe call it Black Friday but most shops and promotions begin Thursday. Unlike last year where I had to stand in line for approximately 40 minutes to get in the shop, this season at Best Buy there was no line. I just walked . But inside the shop it wasn’t business as usual. The aisles were narrow and filled with people. There were lines in front of the cash registers. Walking through the shop was like walking through a maize, with areas blocked off by individuals with merchandise.

The energy and the determination of clients was everywhere. However, the mood was that of minor irritation. The staff did all they could and were patient and attentive to clients. There was, nevertheless, an interesting shift in dynamics. On most days, clients walking to the shop have the upper hand with sales representative, but on Black Friday the repetitions are in such high demand that clients lose their advantage. I saw workers creating orders and telling, not asking, folks where to go and where to stand in line. And there was a line.

How to Replicate the Excitement?

I started thinking why? Why do they wait in line? Why on Black Friday? Why would they go to the shops in uncomfortable hours? Why fight the crowds? However, the most crucial question in my mind was what would we online retailers do to replicate the excitement that has been generated from the big box retailers? Can we take advantage of the holiday rush and give an option that will carry the very same energies with the fuss?

Pondering on such questions can help us accomplish something special. So that is what I set out to do in writing this report. Hopefully, it will offer a frame of an idea.

I was looking at the eyes and the faces of the customers standing in line to pay for their new notebook or camera, I could just see distress and a mindset of if can I be done with this. On the other hand, for your customers walking through the shop there was a sense of”I am part of something,” and”What can I find for me personally or for a loved one?” Unlike other shops, in Best Buy it feels like lots of the consumers are searching for themselves. At Target or Kohl’s, I saw mostly customers purchasing gifts for others. So it occurred to me that the clients are excited as this is a party of sorts. They aren’t just out there to the bargains, they’re there for the experience. Generally customers today aren’t after things; they are seeking an experience. And being at the energy-charged surroundings of a big big box retailer once the doors open on Black Friday (even if it’s Thursday) is an adventure.

While for some the whole idea sounds crazy, for others it’s exhilarating. The people in the shops do not want to sit down in the comfort of their homes and avoid the crowds they’re searching for the energy they receive from the crowd. They might not acknowledge it or maybe they do not even realize it. However, the fact that they’re there speaks louder than poll results.

Online retail is definitely getting in on the action. Black Friday and Cyber Monday would be the biggest sales days of the year for virtually all online B-to-C retailers. Both days, and the whole weekend, are incredibly significant for us at overstockArt.com.

Benefits of Online Retailers

Online retailers have the benefit of enormous capacity without long lines. A fairly small retailer can hold 300 to 400 concurrent shoppers at an online shop without performance degradation and with no customers needing to wait at a digital line like the line in the Best Buy cash register. This point-of-sale line was accountable to the primary area of frustration for those customers since they have already gone through the excitement they were searching for and were forced to”cool down” in an awkward way. Another benefit of online retailers is the ability to be open for business anytime anywhere without needing to drag unhappy workers from their loved ones during the Thanksgiving holiday or another time. Last, online retailers can make their own excitement but clients do not need to brave the cold or suffer the pushing and shoving that can happen at some retail establishments on Black Friday. These benefits are contributing to the growth of online retail now.

Disadvantages of Online Retailers

There are however, four disadvantages. The first is that clients can not draw the energy from their fellow shoppers. The audience and the energy are creating a special experience that’s a huge driver for getting people to the shops. The second is that clients can not see their fellow shoppers loading tremendous quantities of stuff in their carts. The third is the absence of friction online. In the offline world a client must go to a shop, find a parking place, possibly wait on a cold day for the shop to start and then once the consumer is finally inside only buying the 1 door buster doesn’t feel right, or just like a great enough return for your effort. Therefore, customers frequently search for different gifts or items to get. In the online world the friction doesn’t exist they can just purchase the deal of the day or the so-called door busters and be outside of their online store and from other shops to get their special deals. The fourth part is the social part of, say, a mother and daughter going shopping together. This camaraderie in the real world isn’t being captured by the anti-social character of social networking and other societal solutions.

We identified both strengths and weaknesses, what can we do to catch more of these clients?

4 Strategies to Capture Black Friday Magic

The following four approaches can help catch the Black Friday weekend magical away from the brick and mortar retailers. First and foremost is mobile shopping. Consumers are connected now. They’re getting, reading, clicking and deleting mails. They are visiting websites, making purchases and performing research with their telephones and tablets. Consumers are meeting their friends, sharing pictures, updating status, emailing, tweeting, and purchasing from their phones. Below are a few of the statistics of the year over year growth of mobile over the Thanksgiving Black Friday Cyber Monday weekend for overstockArt.com.

  • Traffic was up over 80 percent.
  • Bounce speed up 10 percent.
  • Average page views around 60 percent.
  • Earnings up 25 percent.

We mostly see discounts in this significant shopping weekend, but we discovered that new product introductions around this time may have a significant effect. The other benefit of product introductions in this time is the debut generates its own excitement, which lessens the dependence on sales and discounts. The obvious effect is improved profit margins.

Another way to make energy to your brand is personalized product recommendations directly to your clients email box. Again these don’t erode margins and in that time of year when clients are searching for great gift ideas helping them locate it can pay massive dividends.

Inspire cart-stuffing behavior. Utilizing a technology tool you are able to show customer details like how many shoppers are currently looking at a product. What are the 5 largest cart sizes in the previous 24 hours. This should be a combination of numbers and images. Inspire your shoppers to feel as though they are a part of the event. In the interest of full disclosure we now don’t use a tool such as this but in the process of creating one.

Maintaining the excitement during the weekend and purchasing season is quite critical. Multiple email drops for multiple door buster type promotions assists with maintaining clients engaged. Using push notification via mobile apps is just another tool at your own arsenal. Using on site promotions may also help.

Finally and most of all, the holiday season is similar to the fourth quarter at a basketball game. A lot of the job should have been done in the prior quarters so you can capture sales from the fourth quarter, where the largest weekend is the Black Friday/Cyber Monday weekend. In case you’ve got a good deal on your client behaviour, what motivates your best customers to react to offers, why are customers shopping with you, than it is much easier to drive earnings growth.

The goal I had in writing this article was to inspire retailers to think of strategies to catch more of the magic of this season. I hope that I sparked some thoughts. I would like to hear what’s worked for you and what approaches have you developed this holiday season.