5 Holiday Wishes for Every Retailer This Black Friday

by Chris Walton, CEO and founder of Red Archer Retail and Omni Talk

Black Friday and the holiday shopping season are upon us. According to the National Retail Federation, roughly 30% of all U.S. retail sales happen between Black Friday and Christmas -- generating almost $700 billion in total retail spend. Last year, Black Friday and Cyber Monday generated over $11 billion in sales revenue.

Put simply, the next month is all about retail.

As you may know, I’m all about retail, too. I’ve run Black Friday crowd control in Cheyenne, Wyoming. I’ve spent time as an executive in the headquarter control rooms for multiple Black Fridays and Cyber Mondays. And I’ve even found the time each year to sneak away from the beloved family to enjoy all the great shopping deals the season has to offer. Jingle bells course through my veins. So when Uberall asked me to pen my thoughts for the upcoming holiday season, I jumped at the chance. 

As one of my favorite bosses used to say, “retail is detail”, and nowhere is this more evident than during the holiday season. Every retailer worth its salt should be asking Santa Claus to put an execution plan under the tree this coming season.

Here are my 5 holiday wishes for retailers this holiday season.

Wish #1 – Visions of Data Accuracy

A retailer’s ability to “dot i’s and cross t’s” during this critical time can be the difference of not just thousands, but millions in revenue. Data accuracy is important on many levels.

On the physical side, store operating hours can vary from the standard operating procedures retailers deploy earlier in the year, and they can also vary from store to store. Stores typically extend their hours during this period of time. In store promotions take on added dimensions, and, Santa may be in store some days but not others. Managing this chaos without extra help is hard. Stores must invest to ensure that customers see the accurate information retailers actually want them to see—as opposed to outdated store operating hours from July—whenever they search for said information on their desktops or mobile phones.

On the digital side, product search is the name of the game. When holiday shoppers know what they want, they go to Google or retailers’ websites in droves. If product data – pricing, descriptions, product dimensions, return policies, etc.— are not accurate, consumers will bounce from retailers’ websites like a penny off Brad Pitt’s abs and find the products they want somewhere else.

Then there is advertising. This season is all about promotions. Online, newspaper circulars, in-store card stock, etc. They all need accurate price, handle, and duration information or  customers may get confused—leading to lost sales, price adjustments, and the worst-case scenario, end-of-season returns.

Wish #2 –Disaster Prep Plans Tied up with a Bow

As famed NASA flight director Gene Kranz—famously said during the movie Apollo 13, “We’ve never lost an American in space. We’re sure as hell not going to lose one on my watch!”

Well, the reason Gene Kranz never lost a man in space and was able to bring Apollo 13 home was that his team was drilled, over and over again. They practiced, practiced, practiced for every possible situation they could face.

The same mindset is required for Black Friday. 

Whether in stores or online, retailers have to ‘scenario plan’ the things that can go wrong—and have plans in place to correct things quickly if they do. 

I have seen things go wrong twice in my life. Once it was from the online control room and once it was running crowd control in the field. In the former, the team was prepped, ready to go, and crisis was avoided quickly. In the latter, well… I failed the team. 

I just wasn’t ready to handle the throngs of people who’d decided to try and violently push their way through the line. Fortunately, a nice policeman with a big booming voice came to my aid and saved the day, but the situation could have quickly become dangerous.   

Disaster scenario preparation is not something to take lightly.  

Wish #3 – Holly Jolly New Technologies

One of the things we often forget during the holiday shopping season, with all its urgency and need for detail, is that this season is also a wonderful time to experiment and to try something new, to bring new faces into your stores.

As long as it is done thoughtfully, the holiday seasons affords retailers the opportunity to get their creative games on—both to attract new customers now, and to see what tactics might work for future promotions.

Here are the technologies to experiment with this holiday season: mobile, voice, and messaging.

Prior to the mid-1990s, no one knew what Netscape was. No one even knew what an internet browser was. Prior to 2007, no one knew what an iPhone or a mobile app was either. Some new commerce platform is coming soon. We do not know what it is yet, but my money is on the next commerce platform being some combination of mobile, voice, and messaging technology. 

Retailers need to start experimenting with these new channels or they run the risk of playing catch up. Now is the time to practice engaging children and parents via a Jack Frost-enabled voice platform or a North Pole elf-cobbler or spinning dreidel messaging system. 

It may sound strange and weird, but don’t think for a second Facebook, Amazon, and other tech companies are not already thinking this way as well.

Wish #4 – A Wonderful 12 (or 8) Days of December Cheer

Black Friday gets all the attention, but December 23rd and December 24th are still the second and third biggest days of the retail season. Retailers that can bring last-minute shoppers into their stores even as the holiday cheer is flowing—with killer promotions, great products, and incredibly accurate reference information online—stand to capitalize the most from the season of joy.

This also applies to digital retail. The second to last week in December is a key point of differentiation there, too, because of shipping. The so-called “ship cut-off” date from one retailer to the next can be a huge separator for companies. Smart retailers understand that extending the holiday season by granting faster shipping speeds at either no cost or at a cheaper cost to their customers can be a smart investment. No one wants to disappoint Timmy on Hanukkah, or Christmas morning.

Whether your play is free overnight shipping or extended store hours, you will want to clearly note it on product detail pages. Otherwise you’ll miss those last-minute moms and dads who didn’t have their acts together early in the season and who are pulling out all the stops to make Timmy happy.

Wish #5 – Seasonal Scrapbooking

Retailers often nail Wishes #1 through #4 but fall down on Wish #5. Wish #5 is about the post-mortem.

Great Black Friday and Holiday 2019 execution starts on December 26, 2018. 

Ok, maybe it doesn’t always start that early, but it should start as soon as everyone gets back into the office. Adequate preparation requires bringing everyone together—the engineers, the marketers, the merchandisers, the inventory planners, the store personnel—to rigorously review three things:

1) What went right? 
2) What went wrong? 
3) What do we need to do next year that we didn’t even begin to think about this year? (or, said another way—what the hell is Amazon going to do to us next year that we need to be ready for?)

Post-mortems are uncomfortable. Sometimes they outright suck. But those discussions have to be had. And they are best had when the season is fresh in everyone’s minds. 

Before you know it, it will be next Thanksgiving, and we can start all over again. 
Happy holidays!

Chris Walton

CEO and Founder of Red Archer Retail and Omni Talk

chris@redarcherretail.com