The Customer Is The Channel

The customer-centric blog of Linc Global

All Posts

Can Black Friday Compete Against More Personal Year-Round Commerce?


Customers prefer calling the shots to standing in the cold

Is Black Friday becoming less relevant? It seems as if the biggest shopping day of the year is losing some of its appeal, at least according to the recent JDA Consumer Survey, which finds that 47% of shoppers plan to skip Black Friday 2016 and 73% say they prefer to do their holiday bargain hunting outside of the season itself.

The idea of lining up in the cold for eye-catching deals on big-screen TVs does seem almost quaint in the era of conversational commerce and the growing expectation from consumers that not only should they be able to browse and buy whenever and wherever they want and access the best deals with a click, but that brands should be creating personalized experiences across retail touchpoints to serve them more intuitively. Not exactly something you’re going to find huddled outside the door of a suburban mall at 4:00 AM on Nov 25, is it?

In fact, right before Black Friday 2015, Wired was predicting that technology, particularly the ability of brands to leverage shoppers’ data to improve customer experience throughout the year would be what ultimately signaled that Black Friday in its current incarnation may not endure much longer. As Roei Ganzarski writes:

“Already, the different players all along the chain from where a good is made to where it gets in a consumer’s hands are taking advantage of this proliferation of data to become more efficient. Delivery companies, manufacturers, retailers, and distributors all have a wider window onto consumer behavior that lets them trim the excess from their operations. The next step is to get all of the links in this chain operating in sync according to insights generated by this data, allowing everyone to work in concert to become more efficient—and profitable. That’s what’s starting to happen in retail now, and that’s what will make Black Friday a thing of the past.”

The bottom line math is compelling -- engaged customers buy more frequently and spend more money than the unengaged. If brands are able to use their growing body of customer data to increase engagement year-round, the need to bet big on Black Friday as a one-day sales extravaganza declines dramatically.

As is the case in many disruptions to the retail paradigm, Amazon is taking the lead in pushing the technological envelope in pursuit of a customer engagement experience par excellence. In addition to raising the bar when it comes to shipping and delivery, the ecommerce behemoth is celebrating the two-year anniversary of unveiling its voice-activated smart assistant, Alexa, which can now execute over 4000 tasks, including ordering products both specific (‘Bose SoundSport Wireless Headphones’) and generic (‘paper towels’) directly from Amazon. Amazon sees voice shopping via Alexa as both different from and more personal than online shopping and the natural evolution of customer engagement.

Keeping pace with Amazon when it comes to disrupting traditional shopping patterns is none other than Facebook, which has opened up its Facebook Messenger -- it boasts 900M users -- for brands to develop chatbots that operate within the app and offer a highly relevant channel for these brands to engage with customers. Big names including Domino’s and 1-800-Flowers have already jumped aboard. Personal shopper chatbots aren’t restricted to Facebook, however, with retailers such as H&M and Sephora launching bots on the Kik platform. These automated personal assistants can answer questions about products, help customers place orders and even remember the content of a shopper’s previous conversations with them. Here at Linc, our own ServiceBot platform helps fast-growing fashion brands like Taylor Stitch keep customers informed of their order status and assists shoppers with returns, exchanges and even reordering.

When Black Friday 2016 rolls around in a couple of weeks, there will still be plenty of eager shoppers stampeding through the doors of any given big box store, but the reality is that how customers shop and how they engage with brands is fundamentally shifting — and quickly. In a couple of years, voice-activated personal assistants, intelligent chatbots and personalized, contextual interactions with our favorite brands will be the holiday shopping norm, not standing in line the day after Thanksgiving. For the most forward-thinking brands, this is already the paradigm they’re embracing and scaling to. For example, outdoor retailer REI recognized that the type of customers it serves don’t want to spend their Black Friday combing the aisles for deals, so it launched its award-winning #OptOutside initiative in 2015, where it chose not to open on the holiest of shopping days and instead encouraged employees and customers to spend time with family outdoors. To date, over 1.3M Americans have pledged to #OptOutside instead of opting into bricks and mortar buying. REI also enjoyed a 26% boost in traffic over the Thanksgiving weekend and the company closed 2015 with a 23% year-over-year increase in digital sales. For other retailers that don’t want to be left holding the (empty) bag, the time to focus on customer engagement is now and, unlike Black Friday itself, delivering those experiences is a 365-day/year commitment.

Related Posts

Turning Touchpoints into a Journey

Every interaction with your customer is important, and maximizing the effectiveness of touchpoints has been a valid business concern for some time. Research from McKinsey, however, highlights the blind spot in this kind of thinking -- true leading brands have moved from a touchpoints-focus to a focus on the holistic customer journey.

Designing a Customer Experience Strategy for Conversational Commerce

When you master conversational commerce, you’ll deliver experiences that make your customers feel as if you hired a personal assistant to help each of them.  There are several key strategies, smart brands need to think about as they go about creating their conversational commerce strategy. Don’t Forget The Data If conversational commerce is the new paradigm of customer experience, data is the engine that drives all those delightful interactions across touchpoints. Your customers are creating data every time they click, swipe, and like --it’s up to you to find it, analyze it and use it to inform customer engagement. Nordstrom, for example, uses sensors and Wi-Fi to track who comes to the store, wherein the store they shop, and how long they stay. They also incentivize their Nordstrom’s credit card and rewards program to gather data about their clients. Target is also known for its data-collecting. The mega-retailer assigns every customer a Guest ID number, which is linked to their credit card, name, or email address. This Guest ID number becomes a repository of info on a shopper’s past Target purchases and any demographic information the company has collected about them and/or bought from a third-party source. Target’s data is so accurate and fine-grained that they were even able to determine a teenage shopper was pregnant (and send her the appropriate mailer filled with baby items) long before her father ever knew. Collecting relevant data, analyzing it and using your learnings to inform which conversational channels make sense for your brand and what types of experiences your particular customers seek to have on them is the foundation of your conversational commerce efforts. Focus On The Highest-Value Activities Put your energy toward meaningful services that customers already care about. Look at service-oriented features, such as notification capability and on-demand service and support capabilities, to guide the customer journey. Don’t just focus on the “Checkout.” The main benefit of service-oriented conversational channel offerings is the ability to organically drive usage into new channels. For example, a customer might place an order on your website and learn that she can subscribe to order status updates through Facebook Messenger. What she sees as taking advantage of a perk will benefit you by encouraging her toward a channel where your chatbot can take over. ChatBots are best for organic conversations with common use cases, but also provide a sense of personalization and convenience for the shopper. Customer service should be your core use for this technology to start. Be Prepared For Bot-to-Human Handoffs The great thing about a conversation handled over text or Messenger is that the customer doesn’t have to know when they might be switching from a bot to a human. Bot design in the future will focus on what they can do, knowing what they can’t do, and designing a bridge to employee assistance that feels seamless to the customer. It’s not just the customer that will be helped by the bot, but the employee. It will provide faster information and better analytics in real time, perhaps then parsing information to pass on to the consumer. The most important aspect of innovation is convenience for the shopper. They should never have to explain their request twice. Start Simple and Grow to Brand Management You can start with bots as a single voice in the chorus of messages from your brand. The long term will have bots as representatives of your entire brand, managing relationships with your customers. You can start conversational commerce, however, with just a single entry point. You can get your customers used to interacting with you on the same channels they use to chat with their friends. You can piggyback on the culture of quick and informal communication, but be ready to meet their expectations for highly personal and meaningful results. If your bot can’t meet that expectation, your customer could walk away disappointed or annoyed. As the technology improves, and it is, even as we write this, you’ll be able to put more and more of your brand management in the hands of the bots. Authentication Giving your bot a way to confirm the customer’s identity is key to a truly intelligent communication that can leverage data from across your other channels. If this isn’t done right, your bot will see each customer as a stranger, negating the opportunity to provide personalized service. Focus On Concepts Rather Than Solutions Your customers might be on Kik today but head over to Facebook Messenger tomorrow. Focusing on the concepts of conversational commerce rather than today’s hottest medium will help you keep your sanity and provide an agile approach that can be applied to meet your customers wherever they migrate. Try not to get bogged down with the details of how to build for one particular channel, and look instead to use-cases. You can learn more about conversational commerce and engaging your customers at every touchpoint by exploring Linc’s platform and solutions pages. Or take a look at how leading brands like Lamps Plus, and others are using automated conversational commerce strategies in their businesses today, in our resources page.