Dan Hughes, Principal Product & Strategy Lead at digital product agency Beyond, outlines why brands should view these marketing events through a customer experience lens if they want to ensure that sales promotions result in lasting customer loyalty, not just a one-off purchase.
One of the biggest discount days of the year, Black Friday is just around the corner, and the last marketing push is on. Businesses spend 60% more on advertising in November compared to October to communicate their offers to entice customers in. What some businesses don’t realise is that getting people to shop with you on Black Friday is just the first hurdle, it’s what happens next that really matters.
Black Friday is a great way to boost sales at the end of the year but to keep customers coming back, you need to provide them with a good customer experience (CX) from start to finish. What’s the point of devoting a large part of your marketing budget to get people to shop with you if the experience they end up with isn’t a positive one?
For customers, the first contact with the retailer this festive season is typically through an advert. As people are spreading the cost of Christmas over a longer period, retailers should be clear and definite in communicating their offers to allow plenty of consideration time. There will be less impulse splurging and more careful planning, which can mean multiple visits to a store or website before the purchase decision is reached.
Many retailers have acknowledged this and are extending their Black Friday promotions. John Lewis has stretched its offers over a month, while Superdrug started its Black Friday sales two weeks early for its loyalty card members to help make Christmas more affordable. While extended promotions are good news for customers, prolonging the already hectic peak period puts additional pressure on retailers and their teams.
Bridging digital to physical
With competition rife, businesses can look to differentiate by leaning on their strengths. Consumers are also looking to interact with brands that are experts in their field, which can be an opportunity for smaller retailers, even when they come with a cost premium over large companies, if they offer a personalised, domain knowledge-driven experience that feels unique to them. For larger businesses, the key priority should be around the simplicity of the customer journey, as that’s an area their resources allow them to comfortably capitalise on.
That said, what a good CX looks like in practice can vary between online and physical stores. However, they all share one thing in common: the entire journey, from seeing the ad to purchasing the product and finally receiving it, has to be frictionless.
During busy times like Back Friday and Christmas, this can be even harder to achieve when businesses have to navigate challenges including seasonal staff absences, delays with delivery partners, and additional traffic on their website.
For online retailers, this means getting the digital customer journey as smooth as possible and ensuring that suitable assistance is available through chatbots, email or phone. In brick-and-mortar stores, especially if they also have an online presence, the CX has to seamlessly move between physical and digital.
There an increase in products being bought online and collected in-store, with click and collect expected to amount to 11% of the UK’s online retail sales by 2025. With this in mind, retailers should be looking at their omnichannel experience and continue to invest in both digital and physical aspects. Even if the transaction takes place online, the front-line employees will be bringing the brand to life for customers so it’s important to provide them with a positive in-store experience.
When potential customers land on the website following a well-placed ad, the next steps must be clear and easy to navigate. How easy is it to find their chosen product? Is there a fast-track route for busy shoppers, allowing them to complete the purchase with minimal clicks? What about delivery options? A recent study showed that a lack of satisfying delivery options is causing almost 25% of purchases to be abandoned at checkout.
As a large part of Black Friday traffic is triggered by specific offers, accessing them has to be easy. Will customers need to sign up to use their discount? If so, how easy is that process, and is it optimised for mobile devices? The purchase intent will quickly wane if this journey is more complex than expected.
Retailers understandably want to capitalise on these opportunities to build up their customer database and lay the groundwork for reaching out with future offers - but it shouldn’t bring down the CX.
Using EX to build a better CX
Employees, from in-store staff to the support teams at call centres, are crucial contributors to the CX – and they come under the spotlight during peak times. In today’s social-first world, bad news travels fast, and negative incidents can have far-reaching consequences. Mitigating potential issues is vital, and optimising the employee experience is integral to this.
Ultimately, EX feeds into CX. Staff need to have access to the right tools and data. Additional training focusing on the demands of peak time and incentives such as employee discounts can help provide better experiences on both sides of the cash desk.
Success beyond peak time
There are many points in the customer journey where the experience can fall flat, such as crashed websites, misplaced orders and unmotivated staff. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter where it goes wrong if it goes wrong. That’s why retailers have to take a human-centric approach and look at their offerings through a CX lens.
Cutting through the ad influx of Black Friday marketing is no mean feat. But if you want to make sure that people carry on with their purchase, you have to acknowledge where the potential CX pitfalls lie and proactively address them. A good CX is an asset not just for annual peaks like Black Friday and Christmas but for the everyday.
By Dan Hughes
Principal product & strategy lead