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Who Killed Black Friday?

I was never big on shopping on Black Friday. I don’t think it was just because I was a retailer. Many of my staff would be up before dawn hitting all the sales before coming in for their shifts. I knew other retailers who would also hit the streets looking for early-bird deals. Since I wasn’t a bargain hunter in general, it wasn’t a big attraction to me.

I also knew a secret. I knew that the same retailers filled with door-busters that day would have similar or even better discounts the week before Christmas. Such is the nature of the season year after year.

Image result for black friday doorbustersAccording to Wikipedia, “Since 1952, [Black Friday] has been regarded as the beginning of the Christmas shopping season in the U.S.” What most people don’t know is that it wasn’t the “busiest shopping day of the year” until 2003. The Saturday before Christmas regularly held that title most years.

If the new study from Market Track LLC is right, you might see Saturday, 12/23 reclaim the title as fewer people in their surveys say they will be out shopping Black Friday this year. Is this the end of Black Friday as we have known it? And if so, who killed it?

The easy answer is eCommerce. The article linked above is already calling it “Cyber Friday”. More people reported in the survey that they would be shopping online. The online sellers are no fools. Rather than give up on Black Friday and wait until Cyber Monday, they are going after the customers’ dollars all Thanksgiving Week and especially on Friday.

The other culprit is the big retailers themselves. In a quest to win the Black Friday customers, they started opening earlier and earlier until a bunch of them decided to do sales on Thanksgiving, which led to sales on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, too. You do all that and you take away the frenzy of Black Friday. The problem is most employees only have Thursday through Sunday off. Twenty-five states actually have Black Friday as a government holiday. Start offering your deals Monday through Wednesday and you lose some of your customers. They figure they might as well go online since they can’t get out of work.

Some want to blame the media. News reports of fights and people getting trampled will dampen any crowd. The reality is that those stories don’t match the experience for most people since those events are few and far between.

Last but not least, some are saying that American Express with it’s Shop Small Business Saturday campaign also had a hand in Black Friday’s demise. We certainly saw that in our last few years of business. Small Business Saturday beat Black Friday for us in 2013, 2014, and 2015.

Add it all up and you might think Black Friday is on life support. Before you pull the plug, however, think about this.

Twenty-five states still have Black Friday as a government holiday. Many corporations also give their employees that day off. That puts a lot of shoppers on the streets ready to get started on their Christmas shopping. Whether they shop online, in stores, Friday, Saturday, or Sunday doesn’t matter.

What does matter is one thing and one thing only—are you the store where they want to spend their money?

The big chains, in their race to the bottom to win the Transactional Customers, only have one tool in their tool box—the red markdown pen. You have a whole bunch of tools at your disposal to win everyone else, the Customer Experience being one of your biggest.

If you are a toy store you could have a whole bunch of toy expert stations with people ready to show off the hot, new toys and answer questions parents might have (many toy stores I know already do this earlier in November for Neighborhood Toy Store Day.)

If you are a clothing store you could have a fashion show with real fashion experts on hand to share tips and help people explore new wardrobes for everyone in their family.

If you are a shoe store you could have certified orthotic fitters on hand to do demonstrations and talk about foot health and the importance of proper support.

If you are a caterer you could partner with a local retailer and offer food to their customers creating a festive atmosphere for the shoppers that becomes a win-win-win for everyone.

There are many ways to win customers during Thanksgiving Week. You know already what the big box and online sellers are going to do. There are a whole bunch of people actually happy that Black Friday won’t be as mobbed with bargain hunters as usual. Go talk to them and show them how shopping at your store will be different, better, and tons more fun.

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS It might seem weird to talk about Thanksgiving already. It is only 6 weeks from today. I want you to have enough time to plan something amazingly cool to maximize your weekend sales. If you’ve already seen your sales shift from Friday to Saturday like we did, then plan something special for Saturday to win the Relational Customers. But if you can, plan something special for Friday, too. There are a lot of people not working that day that still want to go shopping.

PPS Don’t read too much into your Friday or your Saturday numbers. Look at the week as a whole. The retail world is changing. Black Friday is no longer the sole focus of the week. But attracting customers hasn’t changed. Go find a way to capture your share of the market.

Black Friday – Good News or Spin?

The reports in the media for Black Friday have a lot of good things to say.

Sales up 7%
Traffic up 5%
More buyers, more sales, economy must be good.

But as we all know, statistics can be misleading. For instance, Black Friday used to be from 4am to 12pm – eight hours long. Now it starts at midnight or even earlier.

The Mall of America opened at midnight instead of 5am and had a 5% increase in traffic. A 71% increase in hours (from 7 hours to 12 hours) for a 5% increase in traffic. Toys R Us, Wal-Mart and Target are all touting record days, a few percentage points higher than last year. And all three of them were open anywhere from 50% to 114% more hours.

That means at least 50% more payroll, more security, more electricity than usual, all for a 7% increase in low-margin sales. Really?

Yes, really.

What you and I, as independent retailers, fail to realize is that Black Friday for the major retailers is not about traffic, sales or profits. It is all about winning the media.

Think about it.

Is it ever a good strategy to piss off your employees by making them give up a major holiday? Is it ever a good strategy to force your customers to wait in long lines for hours fighting crowds and surly employees only to get shut out because that store only got 12 items and you were number thirteen? Is it ever a good strategy to run an event that makes people pepper spray other people in your store, have fist fights in your aisles, and attract muggers to your parking lot?

No…

…Unless your goal is to get as much FREE publicity as possible.

Go back and look at the newspapers for one week prior to Thanksgiving and see how much press was given to the deals and the hours. Then grab the papers from last weekend and see how much press was given to the events of Black Friday. Who was pictured? Who was talked about? Who got the story?

Those are the winners. And that’s what Black Friday has become. A media grab. Every big retail chain wants to be New Hampshire and Iowa. What they pay in extra payroll, extra security, lost profit margin is more than made up by what they get – national media coverage.

So brace yourself. As far as the big box stores are concerned, Black “Thursday” was a rousing success. The media said so.

At least that is my spin on it:-)

-Phil Wrzesinski
www.PhilsForum.com

PS What does that mean for independents? Time to start planning for Small Business Saturday. Most of the independent retailers to whom I spoke over the weekend had better Saturdays than Fridays. We were one of those. Only the second time that has happened in the last 42 years. But I believe it will become the new norm for us. And frankly, I am okay with that. Gives me room for one more piece of pie Thursday.

Don’t Panic

You’re at sea in the middle of a storm. Waves are pounding you from all sides. First from the right, then from the left, then two more from the right. You never know where the next wave will hit. You brace yourself for whatever impact will come and hold on tight.

The only way out of the storm is to keep a steady hand on the helm and keep the ship pointing in the same direction.

Okay, captain?

Economic Storm
We are in an economic storm right now. Ups and down without any predictable pattern. Customers spending more, customers cutting back. Positive and negative news from the media. Positive and negative signs at the register. Sales up big one moment, down big the next. promotions that work and promotions that fall flat.

Want an example from the weekend?

Black Friday I put out some doorbusters – really good sales on some of last year’s Step2 kitchens. Even had a $10 coupon from the company to sweeten the deal. Didn’t sell a single unit all day! Customer count was exactly the same as last year, but average ticket was down 8%.

Fast forward to Saturday – Small Business Saturday as promoted by American Express. 5% decrease in customers but 10% increase in average ticket. You might think the Amex promotion helped. Yet we had less American Express charges that day than a typical lazy Tuesday in August!

Stay the Course
Some businesses, after a weekend like that, will start twisting and turning every which way thinking that they need to chart a new course with every passing wave. But doing that will never get you out of the storm.

Keep a steady hand on the helm of your business. Adjust the sales as necessary, but always keep heading in the direction you have plotted for your success.

One thing we have learned in sixty years of retail. Smoother seas are always just beyond the storm. You just gotta stay on course.

-Phil

Black Friday Deals – A How To

Okay, you’re gonna venture into the murky waters of Black Friday with some doorbuster specials at your retail store. You better know what you’re getting into. Do it right and you’ll see your registers ring. Do it wrong and you just might be borrowing trouble.

Here are some tips to help you navigate the seas of this retail extravaganza.

First answer this… Why are you having Black Friday doorbusters? Is it to draw traffic? Grow market share? Move out some slow sellers? Because your shopping center makes you?

Knowing this makes all the difference in the world.

Going After Market Share
If you’re trying to grow market share and draw in new traffic, you have to have a really good deal on a whole lot of good stuff. And you need to share that info with the whole marketplace, not just your fan base. Email and Facebook won’t help you grow traffic and market share. They are only preaching to the choir. You’re going to need a flier in the newspaper or an ad on radio or TV. And that deal better be a killer deal because you’re up against a whole bunch of killer deals from a whole bunch of deep-pocketed retailers.

Still not afraid? Good.

Now you need to make sure you have enough product to keep the momentum going. Run out of your best deals in the first few minutes and the rest of the day is sunk. You need to have enough merchandise to last the first couple of hours minimum, otherwise you’ll send away far more unhappy people than happy ones – not a good marketing plan this close to Christmas.

And lastly, you have to make sure your staff is ready for the challenge. Do you have traffic flow under control? Is everybody up to speed on the deals and how to ring them up? Is everybody okay with the new hours? (especially if you’re opening up extra early) Are they trained for dealing with unhappy customers, unruly customers? It’s a given that you’ll have at least one or two.

That’s a minimum of what it will take to attempt to grow market share on Black Friday. (And there’s no guarantee it will work. The competition is pretty savvy.)

Moving Out the Dogs
Maybe all you need to do is get some slow movers off the shelf, make those dogs bark. You can give the appearance of having a Black Friday type event without all the expense and risk, just by marking down some merchandise that you were probably going to mark down anyway.

First, this is a good day to start those markdowns. The Transactional Shoppers are out in force and looking for a deal. Second, you won’t have as many unhappy customers, seeing that it was older, closeout merchandise in the first place.

Plus, you can advertise that kind of sale purely to your fan base and make them feel even more special because they knew what was happening before the general public who has to show up Friday to see what is on sale.

Doing Nothing At All
Then again, you don’t have to do much of anything to make Black Friday special. Put out a pot of coffee for those early risers. Dress up the store in your best Christmas spirit. Make sure your shelves are fully stocked & straightened. Put your happiest smiling faces on the sales floor and let them do their magic.

The day after Thanksgiving has always been a strong shopping day, and it wasn’t the discounts that always drove the traffic. Only in the last couple decades have we seen this day become the who-can-open-earlier-and-sell-it-cheaper event that it is. You don’t have to join that fray to be successful.

In fact, if you take the hands-off approach, make sure you staff your store stronger in the afternoon and evening, and be ready for another big rush Saturday. There are a lot of customers choosing not to fight the long lines Friday. To them, no deal is worth the hassles of long lines, unhappy people and early mornings. They’ll be out in force later and don’t want to deal with those been-up-since-three-don’t-bother-me sales people.

This Black Friday, whatever you decide to do, do it consciously and do it right!

Happy Thanksgiving!

-Phil

Don’t Make Your Customers Mad

Why would I want to make my customers mad? Apparently some retailers think it’s okay to piss off a few people.

This Thursday the fliers hit the door with all the early bird doorbuster specials for Black Friday, and some of them are going to make customers mad.

Look at the fine print in these ads and you’ll see what I mean.

Some of the best deals say “minimum 2 per store” meaning that stores in smaller communities (like Jackson) may only have 2 of those great items they’re using to draw a big crowd. If you’re standing in that line at 5am you gotta ask yourself… Will you be one of the lucky two? Or will you be one of the mad?

Some of those deals aren’t deals at all. Read the model numbers and compare them to what the stores currently sell. Some of those doorbusters are what we call derivatives or one-offs. They look the same as the original, but some features have been stripped out to make it cheaper. Will you be one of the shoppers who did the research and is happy with what you gave up? Or will you be one of the mad?

Some of you will give up sleep, fight crowds, and wait in long lines. Some of you will find that fun. Some of you will be mad. (If you ever wondered why some people love Black Friday and others hate it, click here.)

And think about the staff. They had to give up spending time with their families. They got too little sleep. They’re overworked (and underpaid). They’re on the front lines having to deal with all these unhappy customers. Some of them aren’t all that happy now either.

I’ve never quite figured out why these stores go through all this hassle knowing the outcome is that they will anger as many customers as they please, and not make many friends with their staff, either.

If you’re offering any Black Friday specials, do your customers, your store, and your staff a favor.

  • Make sure you have ample supply of anything you advertise.
  • Be honest about the deal. If it’s a derivative or one-off, let people know up front.
  • Train your staff to learn how to show empathy with unhappy customers and empower them with tools to solve problems and make the customers happy.

This Black Friday most every major retail chain will make a whole bunch of their customers mad by design.

You don’t have to play that game, too.

Happy Thanksgiving!

-Phil

Why You Love (Or Hate) Black Friday

Are you Relational or Transactional? Chances are, you’re probably both. You just don’t know it. And whether you’re more Relational or more Transactional tells you everything you need to know why you either love Black Friday or were part of the Buy Nothing Day crowd.

Let me explain.

A Transactional Customer (TC) is someone who has done all of the research, knows exactly what she wants, and now is on the hunt to find the best price on that item. And once the best price is found, the TC makes the purchases.

The driving force behind a TC is the fear of paying too much. The TC sees all the research and price-shopping as part of the transaction, and each transaction is a single event, a conquest to beat the system. Transactional Customers love to brag about the deals they found and are great at word-of-mouth. But TC’s are loyal only to the price, not to any particular store or brand.

Black Friday was made for Transactional Customers. The newspaper flyers are the research. The early bird deals are the attraction. Finding the right item at the right price and getting it before anyone else is the conquest. And making it to five or more stores by 9am is the Mount Everest of Transactional Customer shopping.

The Relational Customer (RC) is a different breed. Unlike the TC, who believes she is the expert on the product, and only needs to find the best deal, the RC knows she is not the expert. In fact, the driving force behind the RC is finding that expert that she can trust, the one that will help her make the smart purchase, because an RC’s biggest fear is buying the wrong item.

Relational Customers don’t tend to brag as much (they don’t want to show their lack of knowledge), but their loyalty to a store or particular brand is especially strong. Once an RC finds that expert, all other stores disappear. If you’re second on an RC’s list, you’re just first loser – there is no second. The Relational Customer sees each transaction as one in a long line of transactions – a relationship between herself and the store.

A great example of the difference between the TC and the RC happens in the arena of auto repair. If you always take your car to the same mechanic, even if it means waiting an extra day or two, you are probably a Relational Customer. You’ve found the expert you can trust. But if you call around just to find the best price on an oil change and take your car to a service station you’ve never visited before just to save $5, you’re probably a Transactional Customer.

Wait, you cry! Do i have to be one or the other? Can’t someone be both? Aren’t there people who get all major repairs done by the same mechanic who also drive around looking for the best price on an oil change? Yes! You can be both.

In fact, we are all both TC and RC depending on the item in question.

Studies also show that not only are people both Transactional and Relational, every category of product is also split quite evenly between TC’s and RC’s.

The big theory (and myth) of the Internet is that it is all about price. Students from MIT once did a study to prove this theory. They studied the buying patterns of people who shopped for videos and DVD’s through DirectLink – a website that helps you locate items available for purchase online. You type in the item, and DirectLink pulls up all the places that item can be purchased online and lists them from cheapest to most expensive. The students theorized that if you were not the cheapest price, you wouldn’t get the sale, that 99% of customers would probably click on the first link.

To their surprise 51% of the customers they tracked did NOT buy from the cheapest website. Instead they spent about $3 more per item buying it from someone other than the first site listed. Why did they spend more? Because they didn’t trust the websites offering the lowest prices. The vast majority of those higher price purchases were done at websites like Amazon.com, WalMart.com and other recognizable names. Final Score? Price 49%, Trust 51%.

Here’s another example as told by Roy H. Williams, aka Wizard of Ads. Roy was speaking to a roomful of marketing directors for grocery stores. When Roy asked how many believed that price was the major driving force behind their sales, 290 of the 300 people raised their hands. Roy then asked how many offered loyalty cards, discounts for people who swiped or scanned a special card at the checkout. About half the room raised their hands. When asked how well it worked one person stood up and explained that 43% of his customers used such a card, higher than the national average for such programs. Did each customer get asked if they had or wanted such a card? Yes, the cashiers were well-trained to ask everyone. Yet, 57% of the people in that store basically said “No thanks, I’ll pay more.” When Roy asked again how many thought price was the driving force behind their sales, a lot fewer hands were raised. Final Score? Price 43%, Trust (or convenience) 57%.

Yes, everyone of you is both Transactional and Relational. Yes, every category has both Transactional and Relational customers. You’re probably trying to figure out right now in what categories you are RC and TC. Me? I’m mostly RC. The mere thought of getting up early to fight crowds, wait in lines, and have no chance of finding a clerk to answer my questions is downright frightening. Then again, I would never want to get in the media’s way of hyping up Black Friday into the shopping day it has become. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

If you’re still puzzled, here’s a quick quiz to help you figure it out.

Do you drive all over town to save 3 cents on a gallon of gas or always stop at the same convenient station on the way home? Do you top off the tank every time you see the price drop, or do you fill up only when you’re empty? Do you grocery shop at five different stores based on what’s on sale, or shop at only one store because you know the layout? Do you decide to do without something because the only store in town that has it is one you wouldn’t be caught dead entering? Do you continue to shop for a better deal even after you’ve made your purchase? Do you believe you know more than the sales staff or do they know more than you?

The fun thing is that there is no right or wrong way to be. You just are what you are. And it’s interesting when we understand why we do what we do.

And now you have a better understanding why you were out early Friday morning (or why you thought all those people were crazy).

And now you also know that while some stores only play the Price game, we’re going after that 50% plus who want an Expert to Trust. Yes, we’ll win some and lose some in the Transactional Customer game (our prices are more competitive than some people think), but you can guarantee that we’ll always be here to answer your questions, help you make great choices, and share the joy you have watching your children grow. That’s the RC in us, and part of the reason why we had such a big Black Friday that continued all weekend long.

The other stores went after TC customers. Once their sales ended, so did their traffic. The TC’s were off to look for more great deals. The RC’s, on the other hand, avoided the Friday early morning crowds and filled the stores Friday afternoon, Saturday & Sunday. Unfortunately, their presence wasn’t recorded in any of the major media stories because they typically don’t shop the big box chain stores and discounters where those numbers are gathered. But ask your neighborhood retailers, your local independents, how they fared. According to Michigan Retailers Association, more than half reported better than expected sales.

The other factor driving this is that there isn’t that one “must have” toy driving Christmas sales this year. No Tickle Me Elmo or Cabbage Patch Doll causing a retail frenzy. So without a “hot” product, the advantage goes to the stores that know their products best, the stores that cater to the RC’s.

As Paul Harvey would say, “Now you know the rest of the story.”

Good day!

-Phil

Happy Black Friday?

Sometimes I wonder if we are taking Thursday off to celebrate Thanksgiving or the beginning of Christmas Shopping.

It seems that there is more talk about Black Friday in the news than the turkey celebrations on Thursday. In fact, the only time I see the word “Thanksgiving” is when they announce another store like K-Mart planning to be open that day.

Has it come to be that the thing for which we are most thankful is getting up at 3am to grab a doorbuster special?

I hate to be the mythbuster, but I’m going to let you in on some little retail secrets. My fellow retailers might not be happy that I’m sharing these. They might blackball me like those magicians that gave away their secrets on Fox TV. But here it goes…

Black Friday Myth #1: These are the best deals you will see this shopping season. Reality: Yes, there are some big bargains, but most of those were carefully orchestrated to make you think you are getting a bigger deal than you actually are. These “deals” are planned months in advance. The true deals are the “panic deals” that happen when stores panic because sales aren’t as strong as they hoped. Usually these start the week before Christmas. This year, they’ll start as early as December 1.

Black Friday Myth #2: This is the busiest day of the year. Reality: Although it is a busy shopping day, the two Saturdays before Christmas always outpace Black Friday in terms of actual dollars being spent. Don’t ever underestimate the power of the procrastinators.

Black Friday Myth #3: This is the day that all retailers get back to profitability. Reality: Some retailers won’t ever get back to being profitable this year. And with the price-slashing we are seeing, there may be some serious casualties after the dust settles. It’s hard to make a profit when you give everything away below cost.

Black Friday Myth #4: The earlier a business opens, the more business it will do. Reality: Where you shop has less to do with the hours, than with the products. If Kohl’s doesn’t have what you want, you won’t be there at midnight. This whole notion that K-Mart by being open Thursday, or some of the stores opening at 3am or even midnight will gain some big advantage over the competition is ridiculous. The stores that will have the best Black Fridays will be the stores with the best products, services and values. And service is hard to do when the staff is tired and grumpy at missing out on their own Thanksgiving festivities. Ever wonder why the stores that open the earliest have the highest staff turnover rate? I love my staff way too much to ever do something like that to them. We’ll open at our regular hours and do plenty of business without any gimmicks or stunts, just smart products, good values, and great service.

Speaking of early hours…

Black Friday Myth #5: The early hours are always worth it. Reality: If you like waiting in long lines, fighting huge crowds, getting pushed and shoved only to be one person too late to get the item you wanted, then more power to you. I like to calculate the cost of my time versus the price of an item.

I hope I haven’t burst anyone’s bubbles. It’s not like I’m trying to convince you that Santa Claus isn’t real. (He is real. Want proof ? Click here!) Despite what I have said above, I love Black Friday. It is a fun day filled with wonderful customers and experiences and, oh yeah, a whole lot of business. But there is so much more for which we should be thankful.

So as I tuck in for the night this Thanksgiving day, I will tip my hat to those of you who plan to confront the cold, blustery pre-dawn darkness to fight the coffee-starved crowds for deals, contrived or otherwise. Many of you brave soldiers tell me that it is the thrill of the conquest that drags you out of bed while others slumber peacefully. To you, I say go forth and conquer.

My staff and I will be well-rested and waiting here at the Toy House at 9:30am with a fresh pot of coffee brewing just for you.

Happy Black Friday and Thanksgiving, too!

-Phil