Black Friday - are you prepared?

We’re fast approaching one of retail’s busiest periods, and both brands and retailers alike know they must be prepared for the demands of the season. If 2014 figures are any indicator however, the average Christmas shopping day will pale by comparison to another US-inspired major retail event, set to send us spending-crazy once again.

Black Friday in the UK

In 2014 the UK was hit by Black Friday fever. On Friday November 28th, a reported £810m was spent by UK shoppers - helping retail sales to grow at their fastest annual pace for 10 years. John Lewis celebrated its biggest sales week of all time; generating £179 million worth of sales - a record for the partnership - with sales of household electrical goods up 32% in comparison to 2013.

  • According to Barclaycard, consumers spent 18 per cent more than they did on the same day the previous year.
  • Shoppers in the UK then went on to spend an estimated £720m on Cyber Monday.
  • Subsequently, a reported £16.2 billion was spent on Christmas presents.

So what makes us crazy for a bargain?

It may seem a symptom of modern times, but according to consumer psychologists the lure of a bargain speaks to something primal in our nature. The limited-time-only nature of Black Friday triggers an innate fear of scarcity that drives people to buy while they can. The instincts that have kept us alive since cave-dwelling times have found a new quarry – and if retailers keep providing, it seems we’ll keep hunting.

Like it or not – and the phenomenon isn’t without its downside for retailers, with acute demand exerting great pressure on supply and resources - this particular American import is undoubtedly here to stay. But while the predicted spending frenzy for 2015 looks promising for sales, one thing that a key discount event like Black Friday does not deliver is the promise of a good customer experience in-store. We’re all familiar with the next day headlines, featuring festive feel-good keywords like ‘stampede’ and ‘grappling’ – alongside images of attempted maiming over the last flat-screen TV. Experience doesn’t traditionally rank high on this agenda...

(Anyone spot an opportunity yet?)

Black Friday is quite the counter-manoeuvre from retail giants, who have seen an alarming portion of their festive market share bitten off by e-commerce. But while consumers will continue to flock to Amazon, certain elements of the ‘live’ retail experience remain irreplaceable. These are the qualities that keep loyal customers visiting bricks-and-mortar stores for their important purchases.

It may be vital for brands to create standout - but it’s even more important that customer experience remains at the heart of their strategy. Forget at your peril that shopping is still a leisure activity, not just a transaction. It may seem elementary, but there’s nothing more off-putting for a frazzled shopper in a busy store than rude customer service reps who lack the time and / or expertise to help them identify the right products.

As consumers buckle on their armour and prepare for a skirmish on Black Friday, surprise them. As footfall increases, there’s no reason for the quality of service to deteriorate. (Furthermore, the right approach in-store will impact online sales later – don’t forget, Cyber-Monday isn’t far away.) Consider the potential impact of e.g. a live demonstration  - or an in-store product expert to reassure customers that they’re making the right choice.

To savvy brands, Black Friday is more than just a lucrative bun-fight. The winners will make the most of a captive audience; seeing a golden opportunity to turn guaranteed footfall into lasting brand awareness.