Success in business relies so much on delighting your customers (or yet to be customers) in unexpected ways. People want to be surprised by companies moving against the grain, but in their favor. Thanksgiving week/weekend provides multiple examples of innovative and wildly successful companies doing just that.
There’s no doubt that everyone hates Black Friday. Sure, hordes of people rush to stores to capitalize on the deals retailers offer, but they don’t do so because they love staying up all night waiting in line; they certainly don’t do so because they love boxing out retail rebounders on aisle four; they do so because they want or need the deals those retailers offer. But, I’d wager most Americans you’d speak to would lament the wanton consumerism plaguing this country, as demonstrated by the symptomatic Black Friday lunacy. It’s unbecoming and generally embarrassing, but at the same time, we can’t really blame people for pursuing the best deal they can find. Many Americans cannot afford to buy those items at MSRP.
From an enterprise perspective, you can’t really blame the retailers either. Black Friday is a massive sales day for brick-and-mortar stores, which have a hard enough time in today’s retail environment. We want the great stores of this country to succeed on a day that can easily determine the overall success of a company for their respective year. That said, though, their customers are not being served by the conditions in these stores on this day. Not for the vast majority of customers, anyway.
In response to the near universal hatred of this “American Pastime,” some retailers have turned the tables in the consumers favor.
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To appeal to the overwhelming majority of fans that hate Black Friday, multiple companies have taken a stand against it, which I’m betting will pay off big time.
First, we have Amazon. As a digital retailer, they don’t really have the same issue with rowdy and hostile shoppers mucking up their stores on the day after Thanksgiving. But, they do have to compete with every other online retailer during Black Friday and Cyber Monday. So Amazon chose to roll out all of their deals in a steady stream over the course of a week leading up to Black Friday. That way, you could order and receive your Amazon gifts without having to brave the abject psychosis of Black Friday in stores or wake up early on Cyber Monday to ensure you ordered before they ran out. This strategy put the customers at the center of the sales process, and I would guess it engendered massive success (I don’t yet know the numbers to corroborate or disprove that assertion).
In another example, REI, one of the largest outdoor gear retailers in the country, announced all their stores would be closed on Black Friday so that customers could spend the day in a national park or exploring or hiking, etc. This might be a suicidal impulse from a sales perspective, but REI has garnered so much media coverage and social media love for taking a stand against a day all of us secretly — or not so secretly — hate, they probably will come out on top despite the dip in sales on that day.
REI, understanding their customer base, made a bold decision that might hurt their bottom line in the short term, but will build so much brand loyalty from the millenial generation that it will almost assuredly be worth it.
Both companies show a willingness to buck convention in favor of actually serving their customers. That is a hallmark of 21st century employees working for 21st century companies serving 21st century customers.
Savvy enterprises can learn from the forethought exhibited by these two companies. Each was willing to abandon profitable convention in order to better serve their customers, and I can almost guarantee each company won more customers than they lost for the effort.