Black Friday this year is 25th November. For anyone yet unacquainted, it is the day after Thanksgiving Day in the US and the Friday before Cyber Monday. Retailers slash prices and queues form around corners. It is both a tradition, a crazy shopping day, and a public holiday in many US states -- it also signals the starting whistle for the Christmas shopping period.
In the UK, at least up until a couple of years ago, the British Christmas shopping period started at a much more leisurely pace. Hardly anyone had heard of Black Friday or Cyber Monday. However, that all changed as Amazon and Walmart (Asda's U.S. parent company) decided it was about time to share some of the retail love and run promotions in the UK.
Over the last few years, we've started to see more UK-based retailers clamour for a piece of the Black Friday action. John Lewis, Argos, Currys and ToysRUs, to name but a few, all compete fiercely alongside online marketplaces like Amazon and eBay. Last year alone, UK retail sales reached £3.3bn over that weekend. However, many retailers, whilst wanting to cash in on this new trend, weren't prepared for a sharp increase in shoppers. There were significant problems both in stores and at online checkouts as servers couldn't cope with demand and in-store bandwidth issues meant that checkout transactions were slow (sometimes impossible) to process. Scenes shown on the evening news were far from the image of traditional British shoppers forming an orderly queue!
Retail companies often spend most of the year preparing for Black Friday. It is often a means for them to make massive financial gains in an otherwise challenging month. Moreover, the high level of competition means that businesses need to invest significant time, effort, and money to ensure everything from product delivery, marketing campaigns and customer WiFi works smoothly and efficiently.
So whilst you wait in the queue this Black Friday, bear in mind that however bad (or good) it is, the retailer will have been doing its utmost to get it right this year.
The big differences I hope to see in-store this year compared to last are:
Free customer WiFi giving you a connected customer experience
The way we shop is constantly evolving. Retailers recognise as customers we now walk into stores already informed about the products and services we're interested in. I predict smart retailers will be providing free guest WiFi to more easily research potential purchases in store. After all, they get to reap the benefits from providing this service by serving up splash pages, ads, and collecting customer data. This, in turn, enables them to enhance the customer experience while also connecting consumers with information about the items they are most likely to buy.
Reliability and speed at the tills
Modern cash registers and card terminals depend on internet access. When a retail store's internet connection is down, so are profits -- and morale. Black Friday queues are already notoriously long and slow; having them stop altogether can be devastating on multiple fronts. When sales are lost, the staff becomes stressed, and customers lose trust in the company.
Even companies that are able to process and approve credit card purchases offline beneath a certain purchase amount, or "floor limit," during a network outage may not have the security mechanisms necessary to keep checkout data safe.
I expect to see that retailers have already researched, implemented, and tested reliable backup plans to ensure transactions run smoothly, even amid the hustle and bustle of Black Friday.
Consistency between the physical store offerings, websites, and mobile sites
There's nothing worse than spotting a deal in a store, planning to buy online later, only to discover that same deal isn't running online. Or vice versa. So far, there hasn't necessarily been consistency when it comes to all the potential channels you could access promotions through. However, many retailers I've spoken to this year realise their relationship is no longer with just the customer; it's also with the customer's devices. So they are adapting. This Black Friday I expect to see that they have improved time and money-saving features that span across websites, mobile sites and Facebook in their stores.
Keeping your personal and financial data safe
The last thing you should have to worry about on the busiest shopping day of the year is your financial or personal details falling into the wrong hands. However, in the last couple of years we've seen huge data leaks from high-street consumer brands and retailers such as VTech, Mattel, Home Depot, and Carphone Warehouse. Retailers are well aware of this and should be doing all they can to put in place secure and reliable systems. After all, the financial and reputation damage of a high-profile breach is difficult to overcome.
Many are turning to cloud-based networks and security management, which means off-site IT staff can handle security problems instantly -- providing immediate solutions to urgent needs.
So, as you stand (or sit) in line this Black Friday weekend, I really hope your wait is a short one. If for any reason it is longer than you'd like, at least you know what your retailer should have been doing behind the scenes to try to avoid the situation.