Black Friday, #YuleAWeen, REI… Which Will Win Over Shoppers?

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Oct 27 2015, Posted by Gary Lee
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Retail is a little confusing right now… In case you missed it, yesterday REI announced that all 143 stores will be closed on Black Friday, with all employees paid to spend some time outdoors. (Yes, you read that right… paid to head outdoors!) And while this could easily be dismissed as a clever PR stunt, we think it speaks loudly to how some brands and retailers are starting to refocus their shopping experiences around today’s modern shoppers.

Black Friday is still forecasted to be a huge event this year, holding the top spot as the #1 shopping day in the U.S. in 2015. But, as retailers like REI opt to close their doors on this day, it begs a few questions… What is the role of shopping experiences like Black Friday for today’s shoppers? How has it changed? Is this a lesson for how retailers and brands need to focus on the shopping experience?

Not too long ago part of the Black Friday shopping experience was stores revealing their holiday displays for the first time. On that day, malls and stores unveiled their lights, Christmas trees and festive music, and Black Friday signaled the close of Halloween and Thanksgiving and the coming of Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanza to shoppers.

Today, however, we have what some are calling #YuleAWeen. Stores are already ablaze with holiday lights, Santa hats, as well as, pumpkins, goblins and scary Halloween decorations. But, it’s confusing for shoppers to hear Bing Crosby singing White Christmas in the background while considering a purchase of blood and gore to scare the trick–or-treaters. That said, part of the Black Friday allure is slipping away, with many saying “bah humbug” by the time Black Friday rolls around due to the ever-presence of holiday decorations long before the traditional commencement of the shopping season. In fact, according to this recent study, 84% of shoppers plan to start their holiday shopping before Black Friday.

But enough about that… why is REI doing this? And, what can we learn?

Perhaps this move by REI is based on a real understanding of their customer base, which largely loves the outdoors, and maybe dislikes this kind of indoor hustle bustle. Therefore, REI is telling them to use their day off work on Black Friday to do what they love—be outdoors—and then come back and shop sales online or in-store on another day.

Yes, Black Friday has traditionally been all about “the deal”, with stores advertising great bargains, crazy hours and loss-leaders to get shoppers into their store first and spending deeply. But, with online shopping, this has changed. Shoppers can now get incredible deals on items from their shopping lists without the hassles of large crowds, long lines, parking brawls and 4AM fist-fights over the 2 jumbo TVs advertised for $1. And, they are now voting with their fingertips and choosing more and more to avoid the hassles of Black Friday in-store shopping in favor of convenient online shopping. In fact, one holiday sales forecast is stating that overall retail sales will increase 2.8% this year, with online shopping rising 16.2% and making up approximately 11.9% of all holiday sales.

So, while REI’s Black Friday may be a bit risky, but it’s also really smart marketing—especially, if REI supplements this plan with other ways to make holiday shopping easy, affordable and even fun. Here we’re seeing REI leverage a deep understanding of who they’re shoppers are, and what the purpose of their stores are really all about—providing great outdoor products at fair prices to their customers.

There’s a lesson here for all retailers and brands. Not only must shopping experiences change to meet a new wave of consumer needs and expectations, but the way we go about marketing needs to change as well. It’s no longer just about pushing the features of our products or promoting a sale, it’s about connecting with customers, being useful and offering real value. This kind of marketing will require a real understanding of your customers. Who are they? What do they really want from your brand? How do they use your brand? How do you encourage that use? What do they want from your shopping experience? If your answers to these questions are a lot of “we don’t know-s”, it’s past time to figure this out and adapt to new ways of marketing for the shopper’s new path to purchase.

Black Friday may be changing. It’s time for brands and retailers to adapt for this day, and every other day of the year.
Image Copyright: wayne0216 / 123RF Stock Photo 

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