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Does Black Friday Shopping Have to Be a Terrible Customer Experience?

By Samantha Stallard, Director of Marketing & Business Development

This year, Black Friday was more like Black November. A late Thanksgiving meant retailers were eager to kick off their sales early (sales made during the holiday season represent about 20% of all annual retail sales) or face decreased revenue with only a few weeks left until Christmas.

Americans spent more money Black Friday shopping in 2019 than any year prior. Both online and in-store sales figures increased over last year as consumers grow more comfortable with shopping on their smartphones and tablets and brick-and-mortar sales were up 4.2% over last year, according to an annual holiday spending report from Fiserv.

Cyber Monday, the final day of the extended Thanksgiving weekend that traditionally kicks off holiday season spend, broke another e-commerce record with US shoppers racking up a total of $9.4 billion in online sales, according to Adobe.

In addition to the usual factors that influence Cyber Monday sales, this year’s shopping period got a boost from the bad weather (storms are currently swirling around different regions of the US). In extreme weather arrives, shoppers tend to stay indoors and shop at home. On Black Friday states that recorded more than two inches of snow saw a 7% bump in online sales.

Besides snowfall, consumers shop from their sofas to avoid venturing out into the retail hell of crowded stores, long lines, and overwhelmed (and exhausted) employees. While the holiday rush is inevitable, many brands are focusing on how to maintain a positive customer experience amidst the chaos. Sure, discounted electronics and BOGO sales are enticing, but consumers do not want to volunteer themselves for a bad shopping experience no matter how much they're saving.

Here are three ways retailers are improving their Black Friday shopping experiences, creating a less terrible customer experience:

1. Implementing interactive retail kiosks in-store

From automated smart lockers, self-checkout, and everything in between, kiosks are designed to drive efficiency, decrease wait times, and improve customer service. Endless aisle kiosks enable shoppers to quickly and easily browse and choose from the available inventory, both in-store and online, and pay for their goods — all from the kiosk.

Similarly, self-service checkout kiosks allow customers to quickly scan, pay for, and bag their items. They also enable employees to take on more customer service-centric roles, further increasing the number of employees available to help throughout a store and improving the level of customer service shoppers receive. 

2. creating Thoughtful ordering/delivery experiences online

With so many sales transactions completed online, companies need to make ordering as simple as possible. This starts with understanding who the customer actually is, remembering their past interactions, and pre-populating ordering data as much as possible to make the checkout process quick. Nowhere is this more important than with mobile. Customers want tap-tap-buy capabilities on their phones – and customers who get it, will keep coming back.     

According to Adobe Analytics, 2018 saw a 73% increase in customers choosing the BIOPIS (buy online, pick up in store) option – with 64% making a further in-store purchase while picking up. To excel in the delivery phase, brands need omnichannel visibility of customers, orders, inventory, availability logistics carriers, and more. Integration across all operations phases shows consumers that you remember them and care about them.  

3. Purposefully skipping Black Friday altogether, with a clear reason why

Modern consumers shop with their conscience. There have been overwhelming positive responses to the companies who choose to sit out the largest shopping day of the year to make a statement. By showing with their actions, instead of just their words, that they are active community members that care more about the wellbeing of their employees and the environment than mass sales.

This year, the outdoor retailer REI was once again closed on the Friday after Thanksgiving, bringing back its #OptOutside campaign for the fifth year in a row. However, for the first time REI added a clear call to action — or what the company is calling the "opt to the act". REI is asking shoppers and employees to sign up for a 52-week plan of "small steps" to reduce their respective carbon footprints. Chief customer officer Ben Steele said part of this year's campaign was inspired by the rise of discourse insinuating the climate crisis is outside of the hands of individuals, leaving them to feel powerless to change. 

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