Black Friday has nearly become a holiday unto itself, for both shoppers and retailers alike. For many retail brands, Black Friday is a crossroads: it can either pave the way to greatness or be a harbinger of disappointment for the year to come.
Preparations for the event start months in advance, from deciphering assortments and juggling trends, to developing communication strategies and fuelling shopper interest. The stores get stocked, emails and flyers are sent, the staff is mobilized and suddenly everyone holds their breath while feasting on turkey and dressing. The day arrives and it either works — or it doesn’t.
The most heartbreaking part is this: Because it is hard to change strategies during the holiday melee, if what is deployed doesn’t work, brands are stuck with waiting a full year before correcting their mistakes. I am consistently mystified by how quickly the numbers get assembled and how immediately the brands know what to expect for the rest of the season. All in all, so much work hangs on this single day in the life of a retail brand.
And that’s just from the retailer perspective. Each year, from the consumer perspective, the noise about Black Friday grows louder. Never have there been so many ways to reach a shopper as we have at our disposal today. From traditional media and print, to the digital and mobile realm, to the stores themselves, the customer is subject to a variety of branded messaging.
This holiday season, I have been bombarded with “Black Friday Now” emails, all trying to tap into a little of the authentic madness. Some are simply letting me know in advance of all the fun things they have planned — from doorbuster maps and coupons, to introductory prices. All brands are trying their hardest to posture for that must-have, better-get-it-early item.
The one thing the emails aren’t disclosing, however, are that pallets, racks, and boxes of all sizes and sorts have taken up store aisles. A trip to Kohl’s today was met by aisle spacing so close only a single person at a time could pass. Interesting that a day when you expect the most people in the store, you have the maximum amount of merchandise and the minimum amount of space for them. Queue lines snake away from cash wraps in anticipation of being completely overflowing. It’s madness — and perhaps the strangest part of it all is that some shoppers love it!
You probably know of someone who will rise at three on Friday morning, throw on some clothes and happily stand in sub-zero weather to get an additional five percent off a coffee maker. I know that some folks see this as their shopping Super Bowl of sorts: Their resolve and endurance is rewarded if they are done with their list by 8:45 a.m. that same morning. Some go for the event, and see it as the true kick-off to the holiday season — a time to go and catch the holiday spirit. Others go for the social aspects or traditions. Some go to watch other crazed shoppers in their natural habitats. Then you have the deal seekers, who show out in force. Regardless of the reason, the day has come to be as symbolic as Thanksgiving itself for many shoppers.
And yet, as important as Black Friday is to most retailers and many consumers, it is important to remember that just one day isn’t going to be the real dealbreaker. In order to make Black Friday and the rest of the season a success, retailers must focus on doing a good job delivering on their brand throughout the entire year — not just one day. That’s because a strong brand can overcome the deal mentality that is so important for that initial wave of holiday shoppers. If the brand has been taken into account all along, a retailer or item can become the one that consumers seek out, regardless of price.
All in all, Black Friday has become a complicated equation for many brands, with many factors and considerations to be met. I sincerely hope that this year’s retailers will reap the rewards of their efforts, the long planning sessions and the many meetings spent orchestrating the event. Let the madness begin!