No, I’m not talking about poltergeists. That was last month’s problem. This month it’s all about the run-up to and official start of Black Friday. Known as the most frenetic shopping day of the year, (where retailers peg the bulk of their year-end profits) this is that special moment where the stars align so that even extreme couponers as seen on TV appear normal – almost.
This year some 147 million Americans are expected to partake in the shopping hullaballoo. And the reason they’re doing so is simple: deals, deals, discounts, and …you guessed it…. more deals.
That’s all well and good for a 24-36-hour stretch (as Black Friday creeps further back into the week) but what about loyalty? How can marketers use consumers’ increased contact with their brands of choice to inspire loyalty beyond the deep deals common on this exciting yet stressful week? Or, faced with such exuberance and intensity – remember last year’s 9 WalMart brawls? – should marketers and retailers check all forms of loyalty at the door and wait until lines lessen and tempers cool?
As you might expect, I’m not in favor of the second option, namely because I believe Black Friday loyalty done right can go a long way to cool tempers and calm hotheads. And thankfully, retailers are beginning to feel the same way. While many consumers are understandably bargain-based, Black Friday seems to be presenting a new type of loyalty golden opportunity.
A growing number of retailers have rightly decided to tie their once-in-a-year offerings to their loyalty programs. Some companies, like Lowe’s and its MyLowe’s card, are taking the “sneak peek” approach where loyalty membership is incentivized by providing coveted information on where to find the best discounts as well as their in-store location Black Friday deals. The downside: nothing can be purchased in advance. Others, like Sears, are taking full advantage of Black Friday’s bleeding into additional days of the week, offering its Shop Your Way members mega deals as early as November 18 – a full five days before the official extravaganza. Last, there’s Target with perhaps the most stringent approach. Beginning Wednesday Nov. 21, pre-Black Friday and eventual Black Friday deals will be exclusive to REDcard members.
The bottom line is that Black Friday can and should be the time of year when retailers demonstrate better than ever that the customer experience is about more than door buster sales alone. Both foot and web traffic will be high, so much so that some retailers even fear an increase in showrooming, (where consumers research a product in store via mobile only to buy elsewhere).
In fact, a new report by IDC estimates that 70% of shoppers will be engaged in such activity. Yet the report is equally quick to point out that showrooming can be as much as a help as a hindrance, provided a kind, personable and knowledgeable sales staff is helping steer customers’ mobile product research back toward the store they’re already shopping in. Properly managed, showrooming may well yet prove vital in driving loyal customers back to brands long after the season has ended.
Armed with these two tools, (Black Friday-linked loyalty programs and genuine and knowledgeable customer assistance) there’s no reason why Black Friday can’t begin the new season of loyalty as it helps retailers turn an end-of-year profit. Deals, discounts and loyalty are not mutually exclusive, even on this craziest, busiest shopping day of the year.