Black Friday is a phenomenon that arose because it was a bleak time for retailers. Starting in the 1960s, and sandwiched between a US public holiday and the weekend, it became notorious for traffic jams and shopper discomfort as people flocked to snap up
bargains. Cyber Monday, a much more modern invention, was introduced in 2005 in order to capture those shoppers who preferred to browse for deals online.
Interestingly, during those two days, consumers are seemingly far more forgiving of the retail experience that during other days of the year. Excessive queues in-store and clunky or frozen purchasing paths online are an acceptable inconvenience, rather than
a black mark for brands. Yet with Black Friday and Cyber Monday interest appearing to be cooling off, and technology rapidly changing the options and the pre and post-sale considerations for the shopping experience, are there lessons from the furore that can
be learned for the rest of the year?
Online vs offline experiences
Firstly, those two days of shopping frenzy highlight that retailers need to strive to provide a seamless shopper experience across online and offline worlds. Consumers will prepare for such a big day of discounts through online research and in-store purchases,
or vice versa. And when they decide to buy, they can ‘pounce’ for bargains, meaning retail systems must be extremely responsive to demands for volume and speed of transaction.
Mobile is an increasing factor in those experiences too. In the UK, where the day following Thanksgiving has no cultural relevance, data from IBM illustrates just how rapidly digital sales had grown last year, with ecommerce sales up 91.6 per cent versus
2013 and more than 20 per cent for the following Cyber Monday. And mcommerce sales on Black Friday were up by 36 per cent, with mobile accounting for a staggering 60 per cent of all UK internet traffic that day and mobile account for nearly half of all sales.
The holy trinity
The reality is that there are lessons that can be learned and applied to other intensive discount periods and to everyday shopping. Looking at the factors that can most frustrate shoppers around this time, and the variety of multichannel shopping options
now available, can form a far more positive picture of how browsing, selecting and paying might be improved.
At the heart of that quest for improved experience is a holy trinity that needs to be a constant consideration when planning technology systems and online/offline experiences. Convenience, security and speed are seemingly opposing forces around which a balance
must be struck. The logic is that the faster people can pay and leave, the more they compromise their security, and the more robust the security, the less convenient making the purchase is likely to be.
Improved technology that is better applied to a more connected form of commerce is confounding this logic. Contactless payments certainly opened consumer eyes to a new level of convenience that remained as secure as other payment methods, though transaction
limits remain in place. The rise of mobile point-of-sale, or mPOS, enables stores to reduce queuing for checkouts, something that has the potential to be an enormous relief to shoppers on busy sales days. Mobile payments methods such as Apple Pay have continued
the drive for faster and more convenient ways to pay for goods in-store that retain similar security authorisation protocols to paying by card at a fixed till point and using a PIN entry.
And while online shopping experience may have fewer of the physical discomforts, it comes with its own frustrations.
It’s who you know
Cart abandonment remains a major factor – this may be due to the checkout design on mcommerce sites or apps or processing capacity not meeting demand meaning shoppers have to take too many steps to confirm they’ve got their goods.
Again though, technology can make a big difference here, and bring omni-channel options to the consumer. A good example is tokenisation, which enables one-click purchases where the required payment information has already been entered, so the consumer can
skip the normal shopping cart data entry requirements and make a faster payment. Doing so not only increases convenience and speed, particularly when shopping on a mobile device, but also ensures the same security protocols are applied.
This ‘advance knowledge’ approach to knowing the consumer is a big departure from having to go through lengthy and cumbersome online checkout procedures of multiple occasions in a short space of time, as can be the requirement on Cyber Monday.
A more connected customer management in-store and online is now about data that enables better understanding of the customer, when it comes to paying for goods digitally and the principle of ‘who you know’ being all-important is beginning to benefit both
the shopper and the merchant.
Black Friday and Cyber Monday may long remain a phenomenon, but some of the bleaker shopping moments that they herald can now be better-tackled, both in the eye of the storm and on calmer days.