How to Make Black Friday Safer, Create More Buzz, and Generate More Sales!

Most people have probably heard about this years’ Black Friday events.  Unfortunately, there were a couple of shootings, a pepper spray incident, lots of pushing and shoving.

Realistically, I understand the revenue importance of Black Friday to retailers – it’s about 20% of their entire yearly retail store sales.  Additionally, it was obvious this year that despite the economy consumers were willing to spend at stores.  When you add in Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday to the entire Thanksgiving weekend, the revenue dollars are tremendous.  So, there’s no doubt the retailers want this to continue.  It’s even more evident when you add in impulse buying for items that the consumer sees, smells, or hears about while physically being in the store.

However, I still can’t believe that senior retail executives and their lawyers aren’t concerned about the increasing mayhem at their stores.  Unfortunately, a couple of years ago there were possibly two deaths from an early store opening on Long Island, NY.

I’ve never really understood the logic behind the mad rush by consumers.  The only concept that I do get is scarcity drives the consumer to extraordinary tactics.  So, if the electronics department had only ten $800 flat screen TVs on sale then there is a mad rush to the department at 5:00 AM.

I believe that there may be a better way to drive Black Friday business in particular along with Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday.  I’m going to propose some options for retailers to think about.  After all, the bottom line is to achieve results.  Now the best way to address this may be to divide the retail market into 3 categories: Large retailers and box stores, independent regional stores with perhaps 1 – 5+ retail stores in a region, and single store owners.  Critical to any plan would be good project management throughout your process and follow up.

Large Retailers and Box Stores:

  • Buy into the Macy’s Parade Event: By that I mean doing both TV spots during the parade and grabbing space in the precious hour after the parade ends. If you have budget, then consider a live TV commercial with a winning prize either during or just after the parade ends.  The Publisher’s Clearing House commercials come to mind – their staff arrives at someone’s house with a Grand Prize Award.  Think about the impact that would have in brand recognition for your retail business.  I talked with a buddy of mine in the retail industry.  Just so we understand – this is a TV ad strategy for large stores with large advertising budgets. Think Home Depot, Lowe’s, Best Buy, etc.
  • Celebrity Status:  If you have budget, see if you can grab a celebrity spokesperson role for both a live commercial and taped commercials around the Macy’s Day Parade.  Maybe that could be targeted by region so that different celebrities would be working commercials live or taped in your various markets.  So, here your potential talent pool is limited by only your imagination and budget.  NASCAR drivers, sports players, retired college coaches, Rachel Ray, Martha Stewart, or more.
  • Wrist Bracelets or Color-Coded Cards: Starting on November 1st, create and distribute wrist bracelets or color-coded cards with your company name and logo.  Each bracelet/card should have a serial number on it and make your bracelets/card color coded by department.  So now you are already starting the sales process with your customers.  Instead of a running mob on Black Friday you can now give every customer a potential winning lottery opportunity for that flat screen TV, iPad, jewelry, camera, dishwasher or whatever.  You can have your customer come to you and create pull through rather than push. Engaging the customer with a potential winning bracelet/card number takes the burden off being at the store by Midnight or 5:00 AM.  However, it stills keeps customers engaged and it can have a roll-over effect to their friends and family.  So, on Black Friday your winner is selected from the lottery pool of sequentially numbered bracelets or cards that were given out over the course of the month!  Now, you have a safe store environment without pushing and shoving but with a great buzz!  I always love the “friends and families” sales campaigns used by several wireless telecom companies to engage others.  Several retailers already use that concept.
  • Infomercials: I find it quite strange that major retailers haven’t used this great TV option more.  Again, budget is a major consideration but think about the opportunities for branding, co-branding, Co-Op dollars, and the visual impact on the consumer.  Retailers can make this into a Christmas season tradition that becomes part of a consumer’s traditional holiday planning.  Think about the power of 30 minutes showcasing your best products or vendors – without interruption.  Timing could be organized around Thanksgiving Dinner or as a late night event.  Bringing in experts in their respective field can add both respectability and knowledge for your consumers.  When the NBC Today Show does that it’s always an interesting segment whether it’s about home tools, refrigerators, or electronics.
  • Social Media: Use social media like Facebook, You Tube, Digg, and Flicker to create buzz about this process and showcase your store’s unique Value Proposition.  You want to combine blogging about your potential events, sales, and campaign that can be leveraged through Digg.
  • Websites: Make sure that your website has enough scalability to handle the Christmas season and Cyber Monday.  Especially make sure that your website has good usability and that there is a clear path to the Shopping Cart.  It’s amazing how many websites have flow-through issues that leaves the customer lost or addresses them with the wrong language.  Analyze where your customer is dropping off and why – then fix that on the website.
  • Radio: This is a highly underutilized media channel that if targeted right can bring results.  I would think about longer, live commercials that might use a store employee or brand manager who can have a conversation with the local radio host.  There has got to be a reason why talk radio and news is doing so well.  Follow your customers to where they are.
  • Cable TV: If you’ve already got a national TV advertising budget that you’ve probably got this base covered.  However, Cable TV with it market segmentation is a great way to add some zip to underperforming stores.  All the other elements I’ve previously mentioned can be added here in a more focused way by region, town, or even smaller. So, for an underperforming store you may want to use some celebrity book signing events, cooking events, or bring in some of the local college football talent / coach for a meet and greet.  A targeted cable TV spot (30 seconds) can create buzz in a specific region around your store.
    • Email Lists: Manage and scrub your lists to be prepared for the Christmas season.  Follow the principles for good, effective email campaigns that have a specific goal for the consumer.
    • Mobile Marketing: Place store signage around your store and in your aisles with an Opt-In code for text messages.  “Find out about our Christmas specials by texting 555 to (Company name).”  Make sure you use a double opt-in process with the consumer.
    • Facebook: Don’t underestimate the power of Facebook for both customer communication and brand recognition.
    • iPhone and Android App’s – Again, this may require some heavy spending but the rewards could be great.  Integrate an application with your website and add special sales perhaps targeted to those with the application.  That will drive more people to your application through word of mouth and a “Share with a Friend” pass-along function inside the application.

Mid-Sized Chains:

One of my favorite chains in the New York Metro region is P.C. Richard & Sons Electronics who has in actuality 67 stores from New York State down through Washington, DC.  However, most of their stores are in the NYC/NJ/Long Island area.  Firstly, they sell quality brands.  Secondly, they are known for keeping their stores closed on Thanksgiving while saluting all their employees and families though a full page newspaper ad.  So, they have figured out a way to keep customers and still not partake in the Black Friday craziness.

Here are some things that a mid-sized retail chain can do.  A lot of this may sound like the same bullets stated for Large Retailers which might be true.  However, market and customer segmentation should be different in your planning and execution.

  • Targeted TV Spots — if you have budget available then use the previously stated concepts for advertising spots that micro-target your store neighborhoods.
  • Business Organizations — Many towns have Rotary Clubs and other business associations whose goal it is to improve sales in a targeted area, city, or neighborhood.  See what these associations have going for the Holiday Season and get involved.
  • Radio — again, target where and when your radio ads will be most effective. Think about a live event at your store.  Radio stations can be very accommodating when it comes to schedules and impact.
  • Co-Marketing — see if you can find a small chain or single stores that compliment your product line.  Create an imaginative marketing campaign where both retailers can have a Win-Win situation.  If you’re a retail clothing shop then try linking with a clothes cleaning retailer in the area.  If you’re an ice cream shop with a Rock & Roll motif in the store then how about connecting with a chain of music stores.
  • Website – If you are not burdened with an overly heavy management structure or legal department you can get really creative here.  Just make sure to stay within the bounds of good taste, legal matters, and customer service.  Make sure you have a Black Friday Special Sale that featured prominently on the Home Page.  Start the process for Opt-In with a special that asks for the customer’s email and mobile phone number.  Remember get double-opt-in whenever possible.  With regional stores you may want to have specific webpage links or mobile reply text to start creating your customer segmentation process by region and store.  Next time you may want to target only a specific type of customer and you’ll need those demographics.
  • Be Thinking Local – Again, this should all be about how you can leverage local business groups, PTAs, Elk Lodges, Soccer Clubs, and Little League.  Try doing something that engages the customer starting around November 1st.  If you’re a regional chain then get involved with the local high school and college teams.  Place some ads in the local college newspaper or better yet their website.  Again, a great way to engage students and start getting OPT-Ins.

Single Owner / Mom & Pop Stores

Well, if the new economy has done anything it’s opened the doors for small entrepreneurs of all types.  Everything from candle stores to boutique clothing stores.  So as an independent owner you perhaps can’t compete with the “big box” chains and large retailers with a single discounted sale.  However there are some great steps that you can take.

  • Personalized Customer Service – Make your customer service a year-round experience.  Start contacting your customers once a calendar quarter by phone for a personal conversation.  Remember what products they bought and always ask how that product is working.  This is a great opportunity for “friendly third party” stories to enhance your next sales campaign.  Take that good story and ask the customer if they wouldn’t mind giving you a positive quote or personalized reference for your next mailer or website.
  • Website – Make sure that your website has good flow-through and is easy on the eyes.  Create an event around both Black Friday and Small Business Saturday sponsored by American Express.  If you can get the Small Business Saturday logo for your own website to show people that you are participating:
  • Free Food – Again, you can personalize your store’s experience with small portions of cookies, coffee, chocolate, or pies.  If you’re in the retail food business, offer a Free Dinner using the same concept as the wrist bands for Large Stores.  Start collecting business cards on Nov. 1st for the give-away using the tried and true, “Put your business card in the bowl” method.
  • Facebook – Get yourself a Facebook page for your store and engage customers with content.  Great opportunity to collect info about how customers are using your products and satisfaction levels.
  • Blog – This is especially important if you’ve got any kind of retail product(s) that might require some technical expertise.  It’s a great way to show off your understanding of the market and best uses of your product(s).  Also, a great way to get feedback and some great uses from customers.  More product ideas come from customers than from any other source.
  • Co-Marketing – Get active with the Rotary and Chamber of Commerce.  Find business partners for co-marketing and local events.
  • Signage and POP – Here you are the king or queen and control your own destiny.  Get creative both inside and outside the stores.  Just remember that if your do anything outside the store you have to remain within your town/city legal requirements.  However, even the old fashioned sandwich board outside a store can get some eye share.  Also, this is your opportunity to get and engage customers so include your phone number, website, mobile marketing text call, or blog on your sign.
  • Hire Locally – Nothing spreads the word about your store like a good employee and their family!  If they like you and your products they will tell others.  It’s especially great for high school kids looking for seasonal work.

Well, those are my thoughts.  Feel free to comment below by clicking on the “Reply” tag or you might see “1 Reply” – click on that for the Comment box to open.  Please use this method so we can build a discussion right here using varied comments.

Regards – Dom

Dominic J. Frúges

Company Recruiting: Missing out by not using Skype

Company Recruiting: Missing out by not using Skype

I’ve had a couple of experiences with Skype and found it to be very rewarding so I wanted to share the experience and get some feedback from you. One was with a recruiter and one with a VP of a firm.

Here’s how Skype can make a difference in your company’s recruitment effort.

First, it’s a much warmer experience between parties. It’s a much closer relationship by seeing body language and facial expressions.

Second, if there were only a phone interview scheduled, how do you know the candidate hasn’t got that python tattoo up to their neck?

Third, if the candidate has a piece of reference material they can show it during the Skype session. You can’t do that in a phone interview.

Fourth, it saves the candidate money. I had recently submitted my resume through a recruiter for a Marketing Manager position. The original job requirement was very “vanilla” without much “meat and potatoes” so to speak [a future blog topic]. So, I got a call back from the recruiter on a Monday morning that he might be able to get me an interview. I really don’t put too much faith in that until a concrete date and time are arranged.

Fortunately, I monitor my email via my BlackBerry all day long. About 3:30 PM I received an email from the recruiter’s office (not a phone call and not the same contact I originally spoke with), advising me that I had two date options that week for a face-to-face interview. Well, here’s the rub – my options were either Tuesday or Wednesday for a F2F interview in Herdon, VA. Now, I live in Central New Jersey and I had a couple of other items possibly scheduled for the week. So, I chose Tuesday and left my house at 7:40 AM for a 2:00 PM appointment in Herdon, VA. I had to spend $131 in gas and tolls for the trip. None of that was reimbursed or even offered for reimbursement.

I get to the office and first meet with the hiring manager. Within 10 minutes, she says to me that I’m overqualified for the position. I actually know why she didn’t see that from my resume and I’m going to address the job description issue in another blog. The bottom line is that the opportunity was for a major communications company. So I’m hard pressed to understand why they didn’t consider Skype as an alternative in the first place.

Fifth, it’s called “intangibles”. Sound is only one of our senses. Seeing is the next important sensibility and in the context of both a sound and sight interview something magical can happen. Enthusiasm is something that is better seen than heard. I’ve had lots of people tell me I’m enthusiastic in an interview but in a phone interview it’s harder to impart.

Sixth, company managers are more hard pressed for time than ever before. They should be looking at the best possible tool to make the hiring process both quicker and easier. Human Resources should be moving their managers toward Skype because of all the reasons I’ve mentioned. However, managers ought to be thinking about their time in both short and long term logic. In the short term a phone interview may seem the easiest and quickest way to talk to a candidate. However, taking a long term view – you want the right candidate and a Skype interview can get you there quicker.

Using Skype as an interview tool can create positive outcomes for hiring managers and save them time. That is unless you’re really into python tattoos.