If you want to strike fear into the heart of any retail worker in the US, you just have to say two words: “Black Friday.”
Black Friday is a national sporting event–the Super Bowl of pro-shopping–where American shoppers wake up at 2am (or just camp out in front of Best Buy), to race to get the best deal on a TV (or other products).
This race can, and often does, include forgetting to eat Thanksgiving dinner, beating up fellow racers who may impede your stampede to the product, verbally abusing sales associates who try to help you, and completely and utterly trashing a store in much the same way Joe Walsh trashed hotel rooms.
You can imagine why sales associates shake in their boots at the thought.
All kidding aside though, Black Friday is a huge day for retail. Last year the Black Friday – Cyber Monday weekend brought in $50.9 billion dollars. Your store needs to be in on that, preferably without all the violence. So here are my tips on how to make sure you have the perfect deals, and your store and all its employees are prepared to facilitate the perfect Black Friday, where no one gets hurt and you have banner sales.
1. KISS: Keep Irresistible Sales Simple.
Ok, the acronym may not be perfect, but what I mean is: keep your sales simple and easy to understand. If your sale sounds something like this: “Buy 2, get 1 free. Buy 6 get 7 free. Also take 62% off of all products under 3.21lbs!” then your sale is too complex. When people get confused, they tend to not show up.
Try, instead, offering a certain percentage off your whole store, and perhaps a special on 1-5 clearly-marked items. For a larger store, you could always offer different percentages off different departments, but don’t get much more complex than that.
For instance, a shoe store might consider offering a pair of men’s boots and pair of women’s boots each for $25, and then run a promo on the rest of the store for 50% off everything. A saddlery, on the other hand, has more types of products, and so may want to offer a special on a type of horse feed, riding boots, and a saddle, and then offer a uniform percentage off the rest of the store.
2. Don’t put all your deals on top of each other.
You’ll be getting a lot of people through your doors, which can be a serious safety hazard. You want to spread these people throughout your store so that no part of your store gets choked up. Additionally, spreading your sales throughout the store guarantees that people will see other items that are not on sale and may consider purchasing them. On a day when your sales people are unlikely to be able to effectively sell to many customers, increasing the visibility of your full-price merchandise is vital.
However, when positioning your sales around the store, do make sure that all your specials or doorbusters are all immediately visible from the doorway.
3. Publicize, Publicize, advertise.
It’s the “Location, location, location” of marketing, so of course I wasn’t going to leave it off. You can’t expect people to know what your sales are unless you tell them.
The simplest way of marketing that all stores should do is simply telling your current customers verbally in the weeks leading up to Black Friday what your sales will be. Have your sales associates notify them, and make little flyers or coupons to send home with them. I even recommend having sales associates put things on hold for customers or telling them about “secret” sales.
Nothing makes a customer feel more special than thinking a sales associate is doing something especially for them. Have your sales associates say things like, “Well I’m not supposed to do this, but I could hold that sweater for you until Black Friday.” Or “Don’t tell anyone about it, but our special deal on Black Friday is X.” That last one basically guarantees they will tell their friends about it, especially if the sale is really good.
Don’t just verbally tell your customers, though. Make sure to utilize your social media accounts and email list. In the days preceding Black Friday, you may want to post a series of photos hinting at your big sale plans.
When publicizing, you do have to be careful that you don’t forestall the purchases people want to make today because they learned about your Black Friday sale and now want to wait on the purchase. As such, if you’re going to do a prolonged social media or email marketing campaign, you may want to release a special product that customers can only get on Black Friday, or put out your Christmas line on Black Friday.
Finally, if you have the budget, it may be worth doing some advertising on Facebook to get the word out to people who may never have shopped with you. I recommend Facebook for a number of reasons.
- It’s a very cheap platform. You can easily get the word out to thousands of people for very little investment. I’m talking $10/day.
- Facebook has some superior targeting abilities for B2C advertising. You can really hone in on your perfect potential customers (as evidenced by this one guy who was able to target his roomie – and only his roomie – with creepy-relevant ads).
How exactly should you target an audience on Facebook? I would recommend a number of methods:
- If you have an eCommerce site, you can send your ads specifically to people who have visited your website already. It’s called remarketing, and this type of targeting is one of the most successful because you’re communicating with people who already know your brand, and likely are interested in it. (AdRoll, one of the most popular retargeting networks, claims their customers earn an average of $10 for every $1 spent.)
- You can also upload your current email list to Facebook, which will then create a list of people to target who are similar in demographics to your email list.
- You can also go in personally and choose certain demographics you want to advertise to, like age, gender, interests, and location (as local as zip codes). You can layer all these demographics together to get very specific. I would recommend that small stores advertise as locally as possible, no matter what other demographics you choose to target by.
4. Schedule your best associates.
You wouldn’t call Inspector Gadget to take down an international crime ring when you could call James Bond. Similarly, you should make sure to put your best team in place on Black Friday. This day is a Seal Team 6 job, so you need to have your best people out on the floor.
Start with pulling reports from your POS software on Black Fridays past, to figure out when your peak hours were. (Peak hours are defined as the hours in which your store saw the most sales and foot traffic, combined.) Peak hours should and will vary for different stores on Black Friday. An electronics store with doorbuster deals may see peak hours between 12-5am, while a clothing store could see peak hours between 10am -2pm. It depends heavily on your customer.
Once you’ve pulled the data on your peak hours, you can sit down with your scheduling software, and use its algorithms and your knowledge of best sellers to get the perfect team for the job. Make sure your store is stacked during your peak hours – but also make sure you have a good clean-up crew to come in for the final shift. You may sell very little for the final hours of business, but you will spend all of those hours picking up the mess.
5. Trust your sales associates to make good decisions.
Black Friday is utter mayhem. Streamline it as much as possible by giving your salespeople as much autonomy to make decisions as possible.
In particular, allow them to make decisions about selling items at a discount that aren’t necessarily on sale. Giving your floor employees the ability to do that not only streamlines purchases, but actually provides a failsafe for a confusing sale. If your sale is complex enough that people are thinking certain items are discounted that aren’t, a sales associate can actually simplify the sale for them right there in the moment.
Not giving your associates this autonomy can seriously back you up and cause other people to get angry. Case in point: One Black Friday I worked, our store offered 40% off the whole store and 60% off one item to anyone with a particular coupon.
It seems like a pretty simple sale, but never underestimate the creativity of your customers. One woman had somehow gathered seven of these coupons and insisted on getting seven items at 60% off. I explained to her that coupons were just an announcement of 60% off one item/purchase. My manager also swooped in to say that she couldn’t grant an exception to this woman. The customer was not happy with this and was determined to have her seven items at 60% off. So she lined up six other members of her family, each with one item, and forced me to ring seven separate purchases. This backed up our line so far, angering other customers who were forced to wait.
How could this have been fixed? Very simply: if the manager had allowed me to make a single exception, without calling her over. Had I been able to make the call myself at the register, I would have been able to do it discreetly, so the rest of the customers in line wouldn’t know. At the end of the day, when a customer is going to get her discount one way or another, you need to let it happen in the least disruptive manner possible.
6. Make sure your technology is ready.
One Black Friday, my store’s entire POS system decided it had had enough. It took at least SIX minutes to ring each customer, something that typically took between two and three minutes at most. (To put it in full context: A six minute ring/customer means the fifth customer in line is waiting for 30 minutes!) The lines at our register grew out of control; customers got frustrated and some went home without purchasing. It was an absolute nightmare. You never want this to happen to you.
Avoid this by making sure your technology is ready to deal with the highest amount of use possible. You can check in with your software vendors to ensure your POS is capable of ringing sales even if the Wi-Fi goes out, or that you are capable of ringing an unlimited number of sales.
Additionally, you should consider using a mobile POS to ring people up throughout the floor. This will cut down dramatically on lines and help ease customer tensions.
7. Have a back-up plan.
Something will go wrong. Your POS will stop ringing sales; your perfectly stacked sweaters will (and I do mean will) be thrown allll over the floor; your fitting room lights will go out. There are infinite possibilities, but if you have a back-up plan, you’ll be ok.
In the case of the failing POS, you have quite a few options. Most simple, if your POS is just going slowly, ease tensions in line by providing refreshments, and potentially an extra special discount. Continually communicate to your customers that you are deeply sorry this is happening and you are doing the best you can to move them through quickly.
In the case of a totally failed POS, you can do transactions in cash, or take their card numbers for later, and just send them home with their purchases. Many people feel uncomfortable about giving their card numbers out like that but, honestly, the vast majority of people could not care less.
8. Go the extra mile.
Black Friday shouldn’t just be about surviving. It should be about thriving. Most stores throw the idea of good customer experience out the window on Black Friday, with the intention of just staying afloat. Don’t be one of those stores.
Because a good customer experience is not expected by customers on Black Friday, nor are most stores trying to provide it, it won’t actually be that difficult for you to surprise and delight your customers. Little things will go a long way. Some ideas:
- Offer complimentary water, hot tea, and coffee for your shoppers. They’re cold, and they’re more than likely tired because they woke up at o’dark-thirty to join in the chaos of the Super Bowl of Shopping. Offering them some caffeinated, warm refreshment shows you care. (Bonus: It’ll help keep your staff awake too!)
- You could even offer snacks to keep your customers going. This particular ploy has several upsides, like keeping your customers in your store, instead of them leaving to get food. Plus, hangry customers are the ones who beat up other customers over products.
- Staff your fitting rooms and floors heavily with sales associates who are ready to help. Your customers will be doing a lot of waiting all day – the more you minimize their waiting at your store, the happier and more memorable your store will be.
- Take your experience to a whole new level and offer a personal Black Friday event for your very best shoppers. The Wednesday night before Thanksgiving, take a page from Taylor Swift’s playbook and invite 50 of your biggest spenders to have an exclusive Black Friday preview to get all the best sales without having to venture back on Black Friday. Rewarding their loyalty will make them raving brand ambassadors.
9. Treat your staff.
At the end of the day, your store is nothing without the staff manning it. Reward your employees big-time. Here are some ideas to make staff happier:
- Set up a buffet in the back, so they can eat whenever they want. It’s the day after Thanksgiving, so you could do a leftovers potluck, too.
- Pay time and half for working Black Friday. Costco does this, and they have the happiest workers of any major retailer.
- Run a staff contest to keep things fun. The contest could be KPI related, or it could be something fun like customer bingo. (Customer bingo is regular bingo, but the boxes have to do with who and how the sales associates helped. For instance, one box could be “opened a store card,” and another could be “helped someone with a red shirt.”)
Black Friday should be the greatest day of the year for everyone in retail, from the lowly store employees to the suits of the boardroom. These nine tips will help you achieve that. Do you have any tips to add on how to prepare your store for Black Friday? I’d love to hear them, so leave them in the comments below!