How customer identity brings the ‘wow factor’ back to Black Friday

Black Friday may be losing its luster among shoppers, but don't lose hope just yet. Columnist Mike Sands believes brands can regain their Black Friday mojo by using data and identity to make it more meaningful.

Chat with MarTechBot

Holiday Retail Shopping Mall Stores Trans 1920Anticipating the competition, debating game-day strategies, persevering amid utter exhaustion — the rivalry among Black Friday shoppers makes end-of-season college football matchups seem tame.

This year, however, looks to be a real game-changer for retailers hoping to win big on the traditional kickoff to the holiday shopping season. Only 35 percent of US consumers who plan to shop over Thanksgiving weekend will do so on Black Friday — a significant decrease from 51 percent last year and 59 percent in 2015, according to consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers. And this is at a time when personal income is climbing, consumer confidence is strong and overall holiday sales growth is predicted to rise as much as 4.5 percent, according to Deloitte.

It appears as if people have better things to do than shop. Outdoor retailer REI is banking on it. For the third year in a row, REI is shutting down its stores and website commerce on Black Friday as part of its #OptOutside campaign, demonstrating its commitment to its customers’ passion for the great outdoors.

So far, the play has paid off. REI sales and profits have increased year over year, and the brand tops C Space’s 2017 list of the most “human” businesses, an honor it shares with the likes of Netflix and Amazon — brands that say they put their customers at the heart of every business decision.

For REI, taking a day off to celebrate the outdoors is an authentic reflection of its brand’s promise. But for department stores, apparel retailers, gift shops or toy stores — businesses that typically get the biggest bump in foot traffic over Black Friday — shutting down would be a decidedly bad call, most likely pushing many loyal fans away.

Know your customers

You see, the story here isn’t about closing doors on Black Friday. The story is about how to effectively use a brand’s data to make Black Friday more significant to its customer base. And to do so, marketers must really know their customers, not as a demographic segment with thousands of attributes, but as individuals they can identify and relate to one-on-one.

An ever-expanding catalog of historical and real-time data fuels a customer identity asset that informs smarter, contextually relevant experiences, whether it’s Black Friday or any other day of the week.

Given that consumers can find a deal at their fingertips any day of the year, simply promoting Black Friday bargains may not be enough to spark their interest. Think about the allure of Amazon Prime Day: People know they’re going to get a deal — they just don’t know on what. It’s the thrill of the unexpected and the fear of missing out on this exclusive event that has shoppers counting down the minutes to go.

Equipped with identity, brands can discover key interests and trends beforehand and delight customers with individualized Black Friday offers once they hit their digital sites. They also can determine if the day after Thanksgiving is actually the best day to launch their Black Friday bargains; both Kohl’s and Target are offering Black Friday deals days in advance, and Amazon is promoting them throughout November.

By understanding the unique behaviors and preferences of its customers, brands also can make Black Friday more personally meaningful. If a brand’s customers are mainly millennials, for example, adding interactive displays and mixing in a social media component may make the in-store experience more of an adventure.

Or if a brand knows its fans are particularly socially conscious (like those of outdoor retailer Patagonia, which last year donated its Black Friday profits to environmental charities), it can engage shoppers with a higher purpose. And if a brand is catering to someone like me, just make it easy to find what I need, test out products, and send me on my merry way (so I can get back to watching football).

Because this most wonderful time of the year is also the most stressful, seamless, friction-free experiences are another must — and an area where most brands could improve. Sixty-one percent of millennials claim retail experiences are disconnected from channel to channel, and 59 percent want physical stores to know about their online research before they arrive at a store, according to a recent survey of holiday shoppers by Salesforce.

By being able to continuously identify customers as they move among touch points, brands can help make Black Friday as smooth as possible.

It shouldn’t take a Hail Mary to win Black Friday: The fan base for this holiday shopping tradition has long been established. It’s just that today, the game’s being played differently. With a strategic approach to data and identity, brands can go deep, truly know what fans desire and make Black Friday a genuine and symbolic event for its customers.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.

About the author

Mike Sands
Mike Sands is CEO of Signal. Prior to joining the company, he was part of the original Orbitz management team and held the positions of CMO and COO. While at Orbitz, Mike helped take the business from start-up to IPO, then through two acquisitions (Cendant and Blackstone). After Orbitz, Mike joined The Pritzker Group as a partner on their private equity team. Mike also has held management roles at General Motors Corporation and Leo Burnett. His work at General Motors led him to be named a “Marketer of the Next Generation” by Brandweek magazine. Mike holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Communications from Northwestern University and a Masters in Management degree from the J.L. Kellogg School of Management.

Fuel for your marketing strategy.