What Black Friday teaches us about omnichannel behaviour

23rd Nov 2016

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are two rather bizarre US exports to the UK retail market. They make sense when US retailers open their doors, buoyed by the feel good factor of Thanksgiving Thursday, and sell items at discounted rates. It is often seen as the busiest shopping day of the year as the streets are filled with pre-Christmas bargain hunters.

Without Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday are both just another working day for UK shoppers. Many of us are working when the shops are open and only the dedicated few will take the day off. Most of us see it as another excuse for retailers to persuade us to part with our money. In our ‘Omnichannel Swap Shop’ study, the only awareness that many of the consumers we questioned held about Black Friday was that it was “the day where people fight over televisions”.

So Black Friday and Cyber Monday in a UK context tend to be less about people walking off their turkey and pumpkin pie in the mall, and more about us logging on from the office or from home to do a bit of bargain hunting. So the challenge shifts to managing online stress instead. Last year UK retailers took an incredible £1.1. billion and it was the biggest day for online sales ever.

When we look at omnichannel behaviours, both Black Friday and Christmas give us some interesting clues as to why we use the channels we do.

Black Friday is fuelled by the drive to get a bargain. Because convenience and “easy” tend to drive shopping choices, UK consumers tend to gravitate towards digital channels so we don’t have to leave our desk or the sofa. Our anxieties about getting the best deal may add to our frustrations if the website starts to creak under the demand. As one female interviewee in our research related: “I tried Cyber Monday [last] year. I couldn’t even get onto the website. By the time you get on, everything has gone”. Another female interviewee had similar issues: “We were looking for an iPad and the website just kept crashing."

Slow loading, site crashes and lack of stock visibility turn our positively motivated consumers into teeth-gnashing, angry ones (we call them ‘customers in crisis’). These are not the easiest customers to deal with – their instinct is often to pick up the phone, chat, or if they get really grumpy, turn to social media to vent. They typically want answers as to why they can’t do what they want to do – and they frequently want to talk to an empowered and informed customer service person in the contact centre or in store who can give them a solution fast. This is often a prelude to long hours on hold listening to Richard Clayderman play the same snippet of music again and again whilst a voice reminds you that “your call is important to us.”

CX challenges

These customer experience challenges shouldn’t come as a surprise to any retailers out there. The main challenge on the day is to boost customer service resources upwards to cope with it. This is one of the reasons why cloud contact solutions are gaining popularity amongst retailers as anyone with a browser and connection can become part of a network of experts. This cloud-based environment means you can rapidly increase the resources available to communicate with customers (especially if the physical store is relatively quiet), whether over the phone, video or through chat.

The next challenge is one that tends to rear its ugly head is “parcel paranoia” (when people worry whether their precious parcel will ever reach them). One of our female interviewees summed it up: “Online is easy, until you have to get something delivered!”

Online is easy, until you have to get something delivered!

Christmas tends to exacerbate commonplace delivery anxiety, given the definite deadline of 25th December – visualising Little Freddie’s disappointed face on Christmas day is too much to cope with. A creaking supply chain that is still catching up with Black Friday and Cyber Monday by mid-December can cause some apoplectic channel shifting behaviours.

Our research showed that Christmas shopping is often underway as the Black Friday deals die down, with many consumers de-risking their Christmas shopping by either doing it early online or doing it in the high street. This behaviour is summed up by one savvy female shopper we interviewed: “I’ve had bad experiences in the past about parcel deliveries – I was one of those people queuing outside my local Post Office on Christmas Eve one year, so I tend to do most of my shopping early online or late in town”. Another hyper-organised lady told us: "Sad to say that I've usually done my Christmas shopping by Black Friday because I don't like taking risks."

Essentially, consumers no longer approach Black Friday as just a standalone rush of discounted shopping. For most customers it marks the beginning (or for some, the end!) of their Christmas peak period. This combined with the fact that more and more shoppers are heading online, means it’s crucial for retailers to get their omnichannel contact solutions right prior to Black Friday. A cloud-based contact centre, coupled with a smart supply chain and well-informed customer service agents, can see organisations through the peak period and into the New Year.

Whilst customer in crisis can cause drama for retailers, it’s important that retailers are well-equipped to help them when things go wrong. This way, Black Friday is free from black moods and Christmas remains a white one.


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