It’s somewhere between midnight and sunrise and as I pause my Black Friday research for another caffeine break [after more than a dozen destinations spanning two malls and three counties, there’s been a number of those], I’ve found myself asking one question: what is it that has propelled Black Friday to reach almost as much notoriety as the holiday it follows?
What it is that makes people line up 6, 12 even 24 hours in advance? Is it the deal? Being able to claim first in line?
Certainly price has always had a lot to do with it and even more so in this economy as evidenced by the degree of the deals being offered and the scrutiny they’re getting. But only a few get the $199 doorbuster TVs while hundreds more wait in line knowing they’ll be picking at far smaller deals – there has to be more. At the end of the day we’re talking about sacrificing personal comfort, a traditional Thanksgiving dinner [or at least a long conversation after it] for something that can often be matched online and savings that amount to just a few dozen dollars on items that are hardly necessities.
Great Deals + Sharing = The Black Friday Experience
If we put aside our brand / marketing hats for just a minute, pull out the social science degrees so many of us spent years working on, and put ourselves in the shoes of consumers I think we can see that the success of Black Friday it boils down to our social nature. No doubt the deal is essential but looking at the person to your right and left and realizing that you all share the same goal changes things from a deal into an experience, something you don’t have to quantify the measurable ROI from and are willing to do not just once but year after year. Add in the exclusivity — whether it’s a limited count doorbuster or making a “sacrifice” to just be there and it’s not surprising that many people find the whole event to be, well, fun. Seeing how Black Friday checkins, social comments and posts have grown even faster than the lines is certainly a testament to our desire to participate with others about what really amounts to nothing more than shopping.
As I talked with people tonight and heard their excitement, even saw a few faces walk out the store after hours of waiting without a purchase or disappointed look, there’s no doubt that for businesses to thrive in this market means going beyond the price war and building on the sense of adventure, chance … of the Black Friday experience. In the race for the customer, the bottom price is not where you want to try and make your stand and yet without offering anything but a deal, its where so many have ended up to the point that 30% off no longer feels special.
As Black Friday Becomes an Event, Success Will Depend on More than Price
But this year with the big transition towards 12am openings, I saw new ideas being tested out there. Best Buy ran movies at select locations; Food Trucks were called in by malls, and straight giveaways like free water are becoming more and more common. It’s personal too: I watched security guards and store employees spend hours outside chatting and standing alongside the crowd when they could have just as easily remained inside their warm stores. All of these actions speak to the link between our customers and our brands – you can call it an incentive, a hook, but the result is that its building community and giving people a sense brands are relatable.
As we see more consumers take part in this communal shopping event, more stores will get into the early openings and offers will increase making it even more important to be seen in the right light, to be more than just a place looking to take people’s money but instead offering up a little empathy, some excitement and perhaps soon a free cup of coffee in exchange for 12 hours of someone’s time.
Of course 8 hours in line are quickly forgotten as the doors open and people rush as fast as they can “walk” towards that big offer – but as I watch people filtering out of this store and back to their cars, it’s clear that the experience is as much a part of their excitement as the savings that exist at 3:30am.