By Tom Paquin
Starting in High School, I worked a cascading series of retail jobs. While the day-to-day operations of sales and service were actually something that I quite enjoyed, I’d always have to to shut off all higher brain function from the end of November through January 3rd. The numbing din of massive crowds, low, low prices, and verbally abusive parents chiseled me down into a fine paste by the time the ball dropped in Times Square. This slog of exhaustion and inescapable noise always kicked off with the darkest of dark days: Black Friday.
While Black Friday is typically honored by charging a $300 laptop to a credit card at 4AM and parking lot fistfights over Tickle-Me Elmo, this year will likely look more like Black Friday’s little sister, Cyber Monday. Perhaps this year is an opportunity to reset people’s expectations about Black Friday, and retail in general. Perhaps now is the time to look beyond brute forcing predatory pricing, towards a more holistic reimagining of what makes compelling retail. Is it time to servitize Black Friday?
This was literally the first topic I wrote about after joining Future of Field Service two years ago, and given my personal background, both as a rank-and-file retail person, and then working for two analyst firms with a large swath of retail customers, it’s definitely something that I feel compelled by. 2020 has exacerbated retail’s challenges by advancing digital adoption and channel disruption, accelerating our natural progression away from traditional retail by five years or so, according to some estimates. This time last year, your mom wouldn’t know an Instacart if it bit her on the face, but now she’s getting two deliveries a week and hasn’t seen the inside of a Tesco since February. Unsurprisingly, this is also something that I wrote about within the context of service. But Black Friday itself is a slightly different animal.
Black Friday has the unique and bizarre dichotomy of offering deals while enticing people to spend exuberant amounts of money. It if frequently and inaccurately referred to as “The busiest shopping day of the year,” which, again, means that the average shopping mall usually smells like the inside of the average High School locker room by 3PM or so. This year, though, a large quantity of those sales have either been stretched over the course of several weeks or will take place in large part online.
For businesses ready for the ecommerce boom, that’s great. For smaller shops that don’t have the infrastructure or tools in place, things are a little more complicated. Since we’ve long since cleared the Black Friday Event Horizon, we’ll have to think about most of this in the hypothetical, but it’s useful to think about this in the longer-term as well. Here are some thoughts:
Making Retail a Service Operation
This in many ways is the Instacart-ization of service. While it’s certainly fun to browse aisles and look for the perfect tchotchke for Auntie Roxanne, as a crowd-averse person, I appreciate the idea of getting access to Black Friday deals with a quick drop-in rather than a lengthy stroll through the store. By creating a buy-ahead system, you get a little bit of crowd control, you get a new spate of emails with which to market to, and you get some new customer loyalty. Some of my local bookshops are doing that, and it’s fantastic. I’d much rather give them my money and go pick up a book than feed it to the website equivalent of Smaug that Amazon has become.
The Service Upsell
The other benefit of a digital storefront, and moving more commerce onto it, is that it makes upsells to service products much easier. I used to work for a company wherein we had a service bundle that we wanted to sell the customer. We also had self-checkout machines. When tabulating the metrics of who sold more service bundles, the self-checkout machines beat the honest-to-goodness humans every week. Why? Because the self-checkout machines asked every customer, and presented a lot more information on the screen than their meaty colleagues behind the counter bothered to. Selling online already requires a certain amount of information be surrendered. Therefore, a service sell is that much easier. They’re already locked in! For that reason, if your looking to servitize your business, your online portal is an ideal way to reach customers.
Thinking About Next Year
Thinking ahead, we now have a more empowered consumer who is much more amenable to doing the bulk of their shopping through digital channels. How do you get them back in the store? For businesses balancing the cost and benefits of a physical presence, the answer should include a service appointment. Do you create a personal shopper-type service appointment that matches clothes to people? Is there a technical support hub that you can build for customers? Is the answer gift wrapping? Is it an experience that allows parents to entertain their kids for a few short minutes during an incredibly stressful day? No matter what—service can be the conduit back into the store.
Listen, here’s the deal—Retail is in a weird spot right now. The demand is there, for businesses looking to capitalize on it Perhaps this fake holiday is an opportunity for us to reset our expectations.