Our take on the Black Friday debate

There is no shortage of question marks over just how valuable Black Friday is to retailers, especially in the UK where the sector is still working out the exact impact of what remains a relatively new initiative. Many retailers resent having to sacrifice margin at a time of year that was traditionally their most profitable period, but feel they don’t have a choice but to take part, for fear of losing yet more income to the web giants. Independent retailers, who lack the scale to offer deep discounts, can be forgiven for wanting to sit the whole thing out.

With this in mind, for those bricks-and-mortar retailers electing to persist with Black Friday, the question must become ‘how can we make this annual shopping frenzy less of an insufferable scrummage for customers?’ Look to the USA, where it all began, and there that you will find the answer.

A study by @EngageCustomer found that 74% of shoppers believe the use of technology such as smartphones, touch-screen kiosks and contactless payment terminals will make shopping on Black Friday a better experience by providing information and discounts along with a quicker and more personalised service.

With this in mind, US-supermarket chain, Walmart, which has invested significantly in creating a cohesive hybrid of online and offline since acquiring about two years ago, is shaping their in-store Black Friday experience in 2018 with a new mobile app feature, ‘Check Out with Me’. Using the app, customers with just one or two items will be able to check out with the help of an associate on the floor running special software on a smartphone. ‘Check-out with Me’ will be supplemented by Walmart’s item finder, which presents customers with an easy-to-see app-based map, pinning the location of Black Friday products in physical stores. Both are innovative solutions to Black Friday fatigue that hope to increase footfall by cutting-down queues and time spent shopping.

Black Friday is all about competing on price, but in that race to the bottom it is Amazon that will always win. If bricks-and-mortar retailers are to benefit from Black Friday, they need to focus on experience as well as prices. Discount deeply to drive footfall, but make sure the infrastructure and tech is in place to cope with the influx. We’ve all seen the videos of fights over selected products – a staple of social media at this time of year – but such scrums are unlikely to encourage many customers to make the trip to a physical store. Retailers need to step back, look beyond the price tags and towards the customers themselves.

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