Like any entrepreneur, Justin Ball knows that Black Friday represents one of the make-or-break moments in his company’s year. He also knows he’ll be competing as much on customer experience (CX) as on the products he offers.
The founder of HammerHead Showers and The Shower Head Store in Florida, Ball will no doubt be offering special promotions to entice Black Friday shoppers. However he has also noted the way in which customer expectations around the post-Thanksgiving retail frenzy are changing.
“For one, everyone expects a fantastic deal on products,” Ball told 360 Magazine. “However, some have become skeptical that a Black Friday sale will really be the lowest price they’ll see all season, so many will wait it out.”
From a CX perspective, Ball said ease of making purchases is a particularly important expectation. That’s why Hammerhead Showers last year upgraded its checkout process to include more ways to pay, which he said led to a lower cart abandonment rate. “We have updated it this year again to reduce the rate further,” he said.
From increased traffic to a potentially deeper relationship
According to recent research from Coveo, retailers are starting to see Black Friday as more than an opportunity to drive foot traffic. The firm’s report, Black Friday to Cyber Week Evolution: What Are the Winning Strategies, Now? found 60 per cent of higher-performing retailers want to increase average transaction values, and the same percentage want to sell-through inventory before products reach end-of-cycle.
Some of the tactics Coveo’s report outlined include changing online search categories to make their products more discoverable and tweaking return policies.
Andrea Polonioli, Coveo’s senior manager of AI Product Marketing, suggested retailers also conduct a thorough analysis of what he called “zero result” pages — those that tell consumers the products they’ve searched for aren’t available on that site.
“Often that happens when products are available, but they don’t show up as a match for their query. Unfortunately, these pages frequently become a dead end, where users get stuck, lost or confused,” Polonioli said. “Make sure to go through your analytics before Black Friday to identify zero result pages that are due to poor handling of typos or synonyms, and address these problems to provide customers with the outstanding experience they deserve and demand.”
Technology, of course, is also promising to play an increased role in personalizing the way brands engage with consumers during peak periods.
“The most successful retailers will be the ones who are integrating more personal, digital experiences into their stores and are marrying the online experience with the in-store experience,” said Jen Jones, CMO at commercetools.
Jones said one of commercetools’ customers, Ulta Beauty, finds three quarters of its loyalty program members drive 95 per cent of the firm’s sales. These consumers may prefer to shop in store but use the retailer’s digital platforms for new product discovery, virtual try-ons and inspiration.
“The future of retail is ‘phygital’ – physical and digital,” Jones said. That’s why Ulta ensures loyalty program members stay happy regardless of the touchpoint they use by getting early access to new product launches, an extra birthday gift, and free shipping on purchases over $25.
Getting the fundamentals right
Of course, a great loyalty program won’t matter if customers struggle to use your web site. Yet peak periods like Black Friday represent a time when traffic surges lead to serious performance issues.
Guillaume Quintard, director of technical enterprise accounts at Varnish Software, helps brands avoid those problems with edge caching and content delivery software. He said being proactive about web site performance is particularly vital as Black Friday and Cyber Monday draw near because many brands are so focused on personalizing digital experiences.
“We have the means to say, ‘I recognize that this request is different from this one, because its headers or parameters,'” he said. “But I think there is some education that needs to be done about designing systems that are more customizable.”
Part of the secret is looking at how caching can make use of what a brand has already put into a web site, rather than throwing more money at it by buying additional cloud computing services, Quintard added.
The customer journey leading up to Black Friday (and what happens after)
While those best practices are probably a good idea at any point in the year, CX leaders should think about how to turn Black Friday and Cyber Monday more than dates on a calendar, said Dawson Grant, vice-president of store partnerships at Ecom Authority. This could be as basic as adding something big to your existing inventory.
“We’ve seen new product launches work really well,” he said. “While most brands or retailers are competing on price or discounts, launching a new product or offering during Black Friday and Cyber Monday can cut through the noise and make Black Friday feel more like an event for the brand.”
Joshua Uebergang, the owner at Australian Shopify agency Digital Darts, said managing the customer journey for a peak period like Black Friday needs to start well before then. He said brands should ensure they’re in the best position to succeed by connecting with their existing audience once a week or even daily via e-mail.
“The last thing you want to do is land in an inbox cold and have customers unaware of who you are because they purchased something from you two years ago and you haven’t contacted them since,” he said. “You need to warm your lists up now. Tell people what’s coming.”
These marketing efforts should be based on urgency and even scarcity to really work, Uebergang added. Instead of “30% off Black Friday!” subject lines, for instance, “Sorry, sold out” or “I can’t believe I’m doing this” might stand out more.
Once Black Friday and Cyber Monday are over, meanwhile, the customer journey continues.
“Running contests or sweepstakes will bring people in, but one thing to keep in mind is the post-purchase experience,” Ball said. “For us, we have installation tutorials to help our customers with DIY shower head installation and also have discounts available on their filter cartridge replacements.”
Shane Schick tells stories that help people innovate, and to manage the change innovation brings. He is the former Editor-in-Chief of Marketing magazine and has also been Vice-President, Content & Community (Editor-in-Chief), at IT World Canada, a technology columnist with the Globe and Mail and Yahoo Canada and is the founding editor of ITBusiness.ca. Shane has been recognized for journalistic excellence by the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance and the Canadian Online Publishing Awards.