My 2012 Black Friday Experience

My experience at Target on Black Friday. What can we, as eCommerce merchants, learn and adapt to our preparation to the Holiday shopping rush.As online retailers we do not get to see our customers in action. So every year I visit a few stores on Black Friday to observe customer behavior on this crucial day. This year I chose to visit Target and since they opened at 9:00PM on Thanksgiving day it was easy for me to be there when the doors opened.

My story begins as I make the short drive to Target. It is dark outside but from a distance I can see the movement of cars around the block. As I approach it becomes clear that the parking lot is full. This is amazing. I’ve never seen this large parking lot full, and I visit this specific Target often. So I drive past the store and park in a near by parking lot. I get out of my car and head towards the door. When I get to one of the two normal entrances to the store a police officer in uniform tells me that they are only letting people in from the other door and that the line starts behind the store. A line! WOW, I was impressed. I advance towards the line. The amount of people and the energy was staggering. It was cold and some were not so happy about waiting in line, but overall there was a surprisingly cheery mood in the air.

As a matter of fact it reminded me of waiting in line to get in to a hip night club. Only that this night club had a lot more women then men waiting in line, and there was somewhat similar energy and excitement in the crowd waiting in line. As we approached the store I saw the area where people camped out so they can be the first through the doors and “win” the best deals. I don’t know how long they were there prior to the doors opening. But judging by the trash some had their Thanksgiving dinner while they waited.

Once in the store, the energy increased. People were on task. Target built a nice scavenger hunt. There were deals scattered throughout the store. I do not know how good the deals were compared to prices throughout the year, but for the Target shoppers this was exciting.

People were walking from isle to isle looking for the best deals. Shoppers were picking up items not noticing what was the price hoping the person at the cashier will provide a good price for them when they checkout.

Customers were looking based on a list of items they knew were on sale but also the list of gifts they had to buy, hoping to find the right item. They were enjoying the excitement, the deal and the search.

Target having a full staff on hand to help with the early Black Friday trafficTarget did a remarkable job creating the scavenger hunt for people who are searching for gift ideas. The placement of the bargain bins were scattered throughout the stores. Customers searching for something specific had no way of knowing exactly where it was. Also customers looking to see what are the best deals had to search through the store. Wherever I saw the Black Friday bins I also saw a large crowd searching through, finding gifts and treasures.

What was also interesting is that in spite of the amount of people and the commotion of so many people trying to get around in the store, the mood was very positive. People seemed excited to be there and they seemed to be having fun. It is partially due to Target having a full staff and partially because people just celebrated Thanksgiving and were still in a cheerful holiday mood.

My take away as an eCommerce retailer is that when customers are in a buying mode you want them deep in your store. Target didn’t put all of the door busters by the door. As a matter of fact, you did not see any of the door buster bins when you just walked in. They took the customers on a trip or a stroll to find the deals they wanted. Target created a shopping experience that was fun and engaging. Customers got deals, found gifts, and were able to a good portion of their shopping done early in the season. This positive connection goes a long way for the chain as far as future holiday and non-holiday shopping goes.

It is harder to take people through a virtual tour since customers online are in a greater hurry. It is the nature of the medium. But if we can involve our customers emotionally and draw them in to the “scavenger” hunt. Looking, browsing, exploring and finding could be the result. And it is not always the items that are on sale. Using simple cross-sell features we can draw customers in with the promises of great prices but also show them full price merchandise.

The other take away is that Black Friday keeps getting longer. This year Black Friday started at 8:00 pm on Thursday, which means it was a 28 hours day. I do not know the official results, but this feels like the right move for retailers. By starting the Black Friday sales at a reasonable time all or at least many more customers can take part in the exciting opening of the holiday shopping season. Also it seems that for people across the US the Thanksgiving celebration ends on Thursday evening and this provides consumers who have been cooped up at home all day an opportunity to brave the cold and do something different.

For an online retailer, this is a good opportunity as well. We do not have the negative implications of making employees have to work during their holiday get together. But if we schedule the promotions we are bound to start our Black Friday early. The big box retailers do the heavy lifting of legitimizing shopping for Black Friday on Thanksgiving day and if we send our promotions on time we can benefit as well.

As the holiday shopping started I wish all retailers fun and success in the coming crucial weeks.

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