• Comosoft LAGO | Multichannel Marketing Software Platform

The Future of Black Friday for Retailers

By |2020-10-12T08:24:11-05:00October 8th, 2020|

This year’s traditional, post-Thanksgiving mayhem has been spiked by the COVID pandemic—but retailers are regrouping. With more agile digital tools and strategies, they will continue to create special occasions to celebrate consumer spending.

By the time you read this, the immediate future will be painfully obvious. Most shoppers will have cancelled their post-Thanksgiving plans to pack themselves tightly into retail stores, no matter how big the discounts. It’s another American tradition rocked by this atypical, frustrating year. But all is not lost — not by a long shot. Despite the doom and gloom predictions, retailers have good reason to hope. Black Friday itself will never be the same, but other mechanisms will surely take its place.

Remember that Black Friday as we know it is a relatively recent thing. Yes, the day after Thanksgiving was historically the first day of the Christmas shopping season. But it became a media phenomenon in the mid-2000s, fueled by cable news channels’ hunger for footage of mayhem. (We’re convinced that YouTube and reality TV also had something to do with it.) Before COVID, Black Friday seemed more like a chaotic sporting event than a benchmark for retail profitability.

Like pricing, inventory data is stored in a secure database – sometimes separate from the retailer’s PIM system, but usually integrated with it. However, for many retailers, the “last mile” connection to a marketing automation or print production system is usually less than perfect.

For years now, the single-day event itself has been creeping forward, with stores opening ever earlier — or on Turkey Day itself. (Some retailers have gone further, with their “Black Friday in July” sales.) Many retailers have expanded the event to a week-long affair. More significantly, however, it has been eclipsed by Cyber Monday, Cyber Week, and every other retail online promotion you can imagine. More than anything else, the online trend itself is the key to retailers’ survival in the age of COVID and beyond, no matter what happens to the infamous media event.

The trend towards online promotion is the key to retailers’ survival, no matter what happens to the Black Friday media event.

Who IS the Typical “Black Friday Shopper”?

Before getting into the bits and bytes, retailers must have a sound idea of the person to whom they are appealing—on a literal Black Friday or its digital successors. Deep, holiday discounts are a given, of course, but there’s more, according to a July 2020 survey by Valassis. For example, in the wake of COVID, shoppers are significantly more price-conscious, actively comparing brand pricing through circulars, both printed (76% ) and online (71%). A high percentage of millennials (51%) and Gen Z (43%) scan receipts with their mobile devices for post-purchase points or cash back offers. Coupons and discounts figure more highly among all customers, inspiring them to try a new brand (61%), make an impulse purchase (54%), or speed up their purchase decision (60%).

  • Shoppers are more price-conscious comparing pricing in both printed & digital circulars

  • Millennials & Gen Z scan receipts for post-purchase points or cash back offers

  • Coupons inspire customers to try a new brand, impulse purchase, or speed purchase decision

The Valassis study also notes an increase in impulse buying in 2020, arguably due to the pandemic. Of all those surveyed, 35% considered themselves impulse shoppers, up from 28% in 2019, many of whom do so out of a desire to “treat themselves.” Despite the pandemic, 45% of those surveyed said they were expanding their budget to buy “fun things and experiences,” using coupons and discounts.

With that kind of shopper in mind, retailers must increasingly focus on the details and accuracy of their promotions, even as the current crisis accelerates the shift from in-store and print campaigns to their online successors.

It’s All About the Data

It takes a lot of preparation and foresight to manage the complexities of an online promotion. Simply put, it’s all about the data. Think about just one item historically associated with Black Friday mayhem: the flat-screen TV. There are many different SKUs, specs, options, and dimensions to consider. So, the Product Information Management or PIM database is a key player — but not the only one. A promotion also needs good, concise descriptions and pictures — the right ones, mind you — to grab the shopper’s attention. Enter the Digital Asset Management or DAM system. Sometimes, these two databases are well-integrated — sometimes, not so much.

We are not done. Another database — not always part of the PIM — contains pricing and/or inventory information. These can be enormously complex, including location- based variations for multi-store and multi-region retailers. Think about it. With COVID restrictions, it’s no longer just about stocking each store with enough flat-screen TVs. That was hard enough. Now, a promotion must account for a store pick-up and warehouse-to-customer delivery process.

We’re still not done. Marketing planning systems, sales history, and store brand loyalty programs all require hefty databases, not only collecting purchase information and tracking campaigns but also giving retail marketers the tools to plan and execute promotions. Some of these are well integrated with PIM, DAM, and pricing/inventory systems (as is the case with Comosoft’s LAGO) and can produce both print and mobile versions of retail campaigns. Other approaches to these complex data sources are more haphazard and less efficient. Before the pandemic, creating campaigns for printed circulars was tough enough, especially if it involved multiple versions). However, as 2020 events push us increasingly towards an online campaign focus, the challenge is even greater. Handling all that data effectively is more important than it ever was.

Hope For the Future

Some retail chains are already preparing new strategies for holiday season shopping, including refinement of the curbside pickup process, the revival of QR Codes, and even a lottery system for solo, in-person shopping. Some have already refined the process of migrating their data-intensive print circular campaigns to sophisticated, smartphone-based equivalents.

For the world’s largest home improvement retailers, Comosoft’s LAGO has already refined the process of migrating their data-intensive print circular campaigns to sophisticated, smartphone-based equivalents.

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Once the pandemic has passed, there may even be a revival of certain kinds of print promotions, although they’ll need to be more sophisticated than their pre-COVID ancestors. The possibilities are endless.

No matter what form these Black Friday-ish promotions will take, retailers must have a thoroughly reliable data infrastructure, coupled with tools that will keep their marketing teams agile and effective. When the colorful, Hall of Fame pitcher Lefty Gomez was asked the secret of his success, he answered, “clean living and a fast outfield.” For retailers, that “fast outfield” is the robustness of their well-integrated data — and the data professionals who give marketing pros the tools to pitch a winning game.

Black Friday will never be the same, but our ability to promote value will continue.

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