With all the pressures on consumers this year, retailers will have to pull out all the stops to make sure that they have a bright Black Friday.
The original use of ‘Black Friday’ as the day after America’s Thanksgiving was coined in the 1950s. Back then, it referred to when workers would call in sick the day after the celebrations to give themselves a four-day weekend.
Today, of course, it’s one of the most important dates within the retail industry’s ‘golden quarter’ of lucrative autumn/winter shopping months. But in the current climate – with the cost-of-living crisis putting an enormous strain on wallets and consumers looking to spend less and be more selective, not to mention supply chain issues, inflation and geopolitical pressures – the fourth Friday this November may have retailers and shoppers alike thinking less about a healthy upswing in transactions and more about how much they might be suffering the next day.
Against the backdrop of a tough time that continues to get tougher, retailers seeking success on Black Friday 2022 will need to be more strategic than ever. After all, when the world’s largest retailer predicts weak holiday season sales, we’re clearly not looking at business as usual.
Responsibility in retail
In keeping with the worldwide trend, the UK is seeing sales volumes drop, with Retail Economics reporting that British shoppers are likely to spend £4.4bn less on non-essentials.
Consumers will be more likely to spread the cost, with buy now pay later (BNPL) set to be even more prevalent than last year – with all of its associated issues surrounding deferring payments that the customer may struggle to honor. This will, of course, be even more of an issue to the most vulnerable consumers, whose numbers continue to rise in parallel to the deepening of the cost-of-living crisis.
Retailers need to be mindful of who their shopper is and that person’s individual circumstances. They may wish to use customer data and spending history to create targeted email communications which take into account customers identified as potentially vulnerable, or those already experiencing financial problems.
Retailers aren’t required to identify vulnerable customers in the same way as regulated banks or utility companies, but this doesn’t mean that they don’t still have a responsibility to help shoppers keep on top of their finances.
Customer data can come into play again here. It can be used to personalise offers and products that are appropriately targeted based on what the retailer has learned about the customer. And in customer service, the same data can be used to create a tailored approach to support, with a focus on personalised solutions and empathy, along with appropriate payment plans for vulnerable customers that are based on their ability to pay.
In the customer service space, we must listen to customers’ emotions as well as much as their words – after all, only 40% of a person’s attitude is conveyed vocally through tone and inflection, with a mere 7% coming from the actual words that they are saying. One thing that can help is voice analytics software, going further than mere speech analytics to recognise the nuances of ‘paraverbal’ communication in real time: elements such as tone, pitch, pace of speaking, and the voice’s stress level.
Retailers should also be making it easy for the customer to backtrack if they quickly decide that they have made a hasty or impulse purchase. Requiring them to jump through hoops to cancel a subscription or change their mind about a BNPL deal could make them feel bullied into keeping a subscription or payment arrangement that they can’t, in the sober light of day, actually afford.
The importance of brands and CX
Shoppers are increasingly aware of retailers’ ethical standards, with a recent Capita report finding that 62% of UK consumers see a retailer’s ethics as more important to them now than they were two years ago. The most popular element of this from those surveyed was waste reduction practices, such as donating unsold items to charity rather than destroying them; this was followed by reducing the carbon footprint in-store and across supply chains, and then actively supporting the local community.
If you couple this emphasis on ethics with the fact that, during a time where money is tight shoppers are more likely to be sticking with retailers that they already trust, then it’s clear that having a strong brand is absolutely paramount.
Something else that brands need to make sure they get right this Black Friday is pricing. Econsultancy quotes Chris Slade, consultant at Wunderman Thompson Commerce, as saying that “peak sales periods have noticeably crept earlier and lasted longer over the past few years, so it’s not a surprise to see the same trend continuing in 2022”. And this is not just restricted to the smaller retailers: US giant Target started its seasonal deal seven weeks ahead of Black Friday and Amazon has been giving its Prime members early access to sale prices since October.
But it’s worth noting that consumers won’t be driven by price alone; the quality of the customer experience (CX) has a huge role to play. According to Slade, those who have built up strong CX are likely to be the winners this Black Friday; this point was also recently made by ecommerce customer loyalty and engagement platform LoyaltyLion, which found that in terms of factors motivating them to complete a purchase, “consumers listed free shipping (82%) and free returns (78%) over and above getting the best price (75%).”
Excellence with employees
Another ethical point that mattered to many participants in the abovementioned Capita retail survey was that retailers should give their employees fair pay and conditions.
During the golden quarter, retailers should consider using tools that allow for flexible payroll terms, so that shift workers can be paid immediately rather than waiting for the monthly payroll run. This is particularly important for those who might be living hand-to-mouth or facing immediate financial difficulty – after all, ‘vulnerability’ applies as much to employees as it does to the customers they serve.
Times are hard right now; we all know that. Let’s make sure that this Black Friday we do everything we can to create a better customer experience for all, doing our best to avoid a Friday-morning hangover and instead paving the way for long-term loyalty.