Black Friday and Cyber Monday: Looking beyond the sale

Zach Gerber, Marketing Director

When it comes to Black Friday, what comes to mind? People trampling over one another for discounted TVs and designer clothing sales? Or, in a world where you can shop from the phone in your hand, has it become more than that? 

At one end of the shopping spectrum are consumers who abstain from all Black Friday deals and opt to take their holiday spending online, particularly with deals happening on Cyber Monday. At the other end are those who enjoy a belly full of turkey and long lines at 4 am with a side of old-world nostalgia. 

According to a National Retail Federation survey, both types of consumers were active this Black Friday, with more than 154 million shoppers (online and in store) in total, and record Cyber Monday sales. Both nearly matched one another in total sales, with each hovering around $3.3 billion each.

As consumers continue to evolve their approach in order to get the most for their money and their time around the holidays, retailers continue to look for new solutions that register with both of these types of shoppers. Apple is back in the holiday spirit, Patagonia is saying “no thanks” to profits, and REI is giving its customers exactly what they want, for free. 

So what does all of this mean for brands and marketers? Are we looking at a future that goes beyond the sale?

Customer service meets customer satisfaction

“75% of online customers expect to receive personalized assistance within 5 minutes.”    -Customer experience: creating value through transforming customer journeys. McKinsey & Company, 2016

Dated models of customer service cannot be expected to meet the expectations of modern consumers. People want more than the opportunity to connect and receive assistance.  They want more personalized services, not just at a moment’s notice, but at this moment’s notice. This means more social media managers, more in-store staff, more web support, more attention to details, and ultimately, more humanizing touch points.

And if they don’t receive this level of sophisticated service, they’re more than happy to go elsewhere to find what they need.

“52% of US digital customers have switched between brands due to poor service; the estimated cost of customer switching due to poor service is 1.6 trillion.” -Digital Disconnect in Customer Engagement. Accenture Strategy, 2016

Knowing this, Target tastefully found their way into the Black Friday conversation by creating customized "surprise and delight" GIF responses to all shoppers who mentioned shopping at one of the brand’s stores on Twitter throughout the day, making them memorable and helpful.  

Traditional digital marketing finds a custom fit

TOMS is a brand best known for its shoes and philanthropic one-for-one giving initiatives. But its emphasis on customer empowerment came to the forefront over retail’s busiest weekend. 

One of their Black Friday email marketing initiatives showcases how even a plain, classic shoe can be transformed into something customizable and completely unique. 

Their design-your-own print option adds an element of fun to the personalization. And, the interactivity of these marketing efforts aligns the creativity of the company and its customers with a new opportunity for one of its staple offerings.

So, why was this push effective? 

TOMS didn’t place the focus directly on the Black Friday deal. Instead, it was aimed at the opportunity within the product itself, highlighting the meaningful experiences its customers care about most during the holidays. 

Philanthropic efforts going global

You may not know it, but Patagonia donates 1% of its daily sales to environmental organizations across the world. On Black Friday, they took it one step further, earmarking all of its Black Friday sales to charity, giving all of the revenue generated – which added up to more than $10 million - directly to environmental groups working in local communities to protect our air, water and soil. 

“We're just days from Black Friday, one of the biggest consumer shopping days of the year in America," said CEO Rose Marcario in advance of the weekend, "And, as people think generously about family and friends, we also want to help our customers show love to the planet, which badly needs a gift or two (and still gets coal every year).”

The move is a bold one, but likely will pay off in spades for the company in the form of credibility with customers, and, of course, extensive media coverage.

Customers are human first, digital second

How do you build brand equity for an outdoor lifestyle brand on Black Friday? Easy. Get them out of your stores, and unleash them into the wild where they belong. 

This year, REI renewed its #OptOutside campaign, encouraging loyal customers and employees to spend their Black Friday having real outdoor experiences, and not in a department store line. 

REI even offered a search functionality within their website that allowed visitors to look up outdoor activities in a city or state near them, offering guiding suggestions along the way. 

This type of initiative, while potentially quite costly initially for the brand, ensures that their customers know that REI considers the journey that their brand takes them on beyond its store entrances. 

What's Next? 

Brands and marketers are looking for refreshing solutions that not only increase sales during hot selling seasons like Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but also increase long term brand affinity – something that’s historically been perceived as largely mutually exclusive. 

But, this year’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday show how you can achieve both by really understanding your customer’s expectations and preferences and tailoring your plans to them. 

For some brands, like REI, it means enabling customers to do more, while for more convenience-focused brands like Amazon and Wal-Mart, it means understanding mobile purchasing habits.

For all brands, it’s a signal that going beyond the promotion has reached a potential tipping point, with the real challenge now being unlocking that mindset for their individual customers.




Zach Gerber

Zach Gerber Marketing Director