Black Friday and the customer experience

So another month has passed, and yet another Black Friday retail moment (which began in the US in the 1950’s and has since spread around the world) has ended.

As the CEO of a technology company whose products drive customer spend , I have a unique perspective on how 2018 Black Friday activity played out.

Nearly USD$6.22 billion was spent online in the US by the end of Black Friday, an increase of 23.6 percent on last year, so it’s clear there’s still an appetite to buy.

The behaviour of online consumers means that despite the fact shoppers often research goods for Black Friday, then add items to their baskets, it doesn’t always mean they proceed with their transactions - until they’re sure they’ve found the best deal. 

There’s no secret sauce, of course, but retailers that focus on the full range of customer touch points (and considerations) are the ones that invariably prosper.

Amazon won big, enjoying its biggest sales day in history on Cyber Monday. Its customers ordered more than 18 million toys and 13 million fashion items on Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined, with the new Echo Dot Alexa device the top selling product on Amazon globally over the holiday weekend.

The overall traffic trend for big box and traditional department stores was down one percent in the U.S, according to ShopperTrak.

I’d suggest that the current construct of the average mall – whether in the US or around the globe – needs further refinement and that a "sale" just isn't enough anymore, to generate purchases.

Put slightly differently, if a retailer – regardless of the category - throws up a huge sale sign in its windows for Black Friday, does it make a noise? The answer is no. Even big sales, heavy promotional activity, amended opening hours and big advertising campaigns are not enough to differentiate one retailer from another. There has to be something else, something personal.

The customer experience sector is globally valued at around USD $20 billion, and is still seen by some as a separate marketplace or an add on, when in fact, it should be embedded into everything we do.

Put simply, customer experience involves accessibility, personalisation and reward, and brands need to recognise and respond to the correlation between customer experience and business performance.

As we know the momentum of e-commerce shows no sign of slowing down. It’s fast, accessible and therefore aids a better customer experience.

For example, this year’s Black Friday performance blew away the previous record of USD$1.4 billion in mobile sales from Cyber Monday 2017, and 33.5 percent of Black Friday sales were made on smartphones this year, compared with 29.1 percent in 2017.

Next year it’s expected mobile purchases will reach 46 percent, more than on any other device. In addition, approximately 70 percent of all the traffic for the holiday shopping season is likely to be sourced via a mobile phone.

Retailers that focus on developing their mobile engagement channels (apps, mobile wallet, mobile messaging) will be the ones that remain competitive. However, it’s not just accessibility, 89 percent of US marketers reported that personalisation on their apps or websites resulted in increased revenue.

Effective usage of customer data has never been more crucial, especially when it comes to raising the bar during major retail events such as Black Friday.

Customer data enables retailers to target shoppers with personalised offers and therefore guarantee an improved customer experience. A staggering 78 percent of shoppers will ignore a retail offer if it’s not personalised and 86 percent of US consumers said they would pay more for a better customer experience from brands they currently buy from.

With that in mind, individualised offers can then be coupled with rewards systems and loyalty programmes, including mobile wallets, to encourage brand preference and further drive customers in store.

Understanding your audience, targeting them early with individualised offers and ensuring the process is as seamless and rewarding as possible, will guarantee the customer experience is one worth returning for.

Although the shop window poster isn’t as effective as it once was, I have no doubt Black Friday milestones are set to be broken for years to come.