black friday online

4 Ways Retailers Should Adapt Their 2020 Black Friday Strategies Amid COVID-19

Before this year, Black Friday was largely considered the biggest in-person event for retailers. We’ve all seen news clips of people huddled together on Thanksgiving night in long lines outside malls, waiting to rush in and be the first to snag that big sale. Obviously, this holiday season, COVID-19 has completely upended these patterns. The pandemic has people avoiding large crowds and tight department store aisles and turning to digital channels to fulfill the majority of their needs. 

According to Acquia’s recent Global Customer Experience (CX) Trends Report, 40% of global consumers reported buying more online this year than they ever had before. While Black Friday’s digital equivalent, Cyber Monday, has been rising in popularity over the past few years, in 2020 we expect both days to generate far more online traffic than before, while the number of in-store customers will shrink. So how can retailers prepare to face this new reality of customer expectations for Black Friday and Cyber Monday in 2020? Here are our recommendations for retailers to adapt their online and offline customer experiences and leverage data in more strategic ways.    

1. Prioritize Your E-Commerce Experience 

Priority number one for all businesses is ensuring the safety of their customers and their employees. To keep people apart, stores need to lower the amount of in-person shoppers allowed inside and space out merchandise on the shelves. Obviously, this means making up for the loss in in-store sales with a push to online shopping. So businesses first must ensure that they have the robust hosting capabilities to support greater spikes in web traffic, not just on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but in the days before and after as well.  

Brands need to use technology creatively to replicate that same in-person engagement and customer service on their digital channels. For example, for clothing or home decor, companies may want to invest in virtual reality (VR) try-on experiences or video gallery content that allows people to get an up-close look at the items they want before they buy. Similarly, now is a great time to make use of things like live chat bots on your site to answer customer questions in real time. Some stores in warmer locations may also employ outdoor pop-ups or boutiques to display items in a more spacious environment. However, for areas where this isn’t possible, the best bet is to make the digital experience lifelike and engaging. 

2. Spread Out Campaigns and Sales Beyond a Single Day

Many people are expected to begin their holiday shopping efforts earlier because they’ve seen how the pandemic has slowed down the post office and delivery efforts over the past few months. For marketers, this means extending the length of many of their promotional campaigns to communicate with people earlier and advertise deals for longer periods of time. You can use a marketing automation solution that helps you determine your audience's messaging preferences — frequency, time of send, preferred channel or product categories — and build out targeted streams. The more you can do to build that one-to-one brand connection and catch a customer’s interest early on, the more you will be ahead of the competition. 

It’s also important to prioritize continuous communication to stay top of mind with customers who may receive far more digital messages this year than during previous seasons. Make sure your email campaigns are personalized and target people with the right content at the right time, whether that’s through targeting specific geo-locations, offering exclusive bundles or sending individualized product recommendations based on past purchase behavior. And for stores who are still encouraging people to shop at their location, they also need to be responsible and spread out their best deals over multiple days, so they can serve smaller groups of people. 

3. Earn Trust Through Customer Loyalty Programs and Flexible Return Policies 

When businesses are limited in capacity to only 25-50% of their usual threshold, marketers’ priorities must shift from acquiring as many new customers as possible to retaining and building loyalty with their high value customers. It’s likely stores won’t see as many one-time shoppers stopping by to purchase an item. Instead, brands should focus on rewarding customers who’ve demonstrated sustained interest with them in the past.

One method to do this is through personalized segmentation that identifies the groups of customers who are purchasing most often, are subscribed to your brand newsletter or are enrolled in a VIP loyalty program. After analyzing these customer profiles and using techniques such as cohort analysis to determine high value segments, reward them by giving them first access to the best deals a few days earlier than the usual holiday crowd. 

It’s also critical for brands to focus on retention strategies and hold on to customer trust if they cannot provide a “typical” Black Friday experience. Particularly, for older generations who may not be as comfortable with e-commerce, communicate clear and flexible return policies or give discounts for delays in shipping. This way, if a customer isn’t satisfied with their experience, they’ll still see that the company is considerate of them and their concerns.   

4. Don’t Over-Discount If You Can’t Meet Demand

Another major challenge hitting manufacturers and retailers hard this year is the extra strain and disruption to supply chains. With shortages and slowdowns in product supply chains around the country, many businesses worry that they won’t be able to meet the increased holiday demand for popular products. With limited warehouse space and workers to pack and ship items to customers, brands need to be cautious about aggressively discounting certain items as they have during previous Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales.

If you entice too many people to purchase a certain item and aren’t able to actually create enough of that item to get it to your customers in time for the holidays, you risk both the financial hit of having to reimburse buyers and the loss of customer trust and loyalty. Brands need to think strategically about their discounting and promotional strategies ahead of Black Friday this year, so they can anticipate the quantity of orders and control the supply and demand curve. By using technology like a customer data platform (CDP) to better understand all of your customer behaviors and employing predictive learning models to identify customers by their discount sensitivity, businesses can avoid over-discounting and save money and time sending out irrelevant promotions. 

Customer loyalty has never been more important than during COVID-19, but there are strategies brands can take to reinvent your retail strategy for Black Friday and beyond. For more on how you can understand and adapt to these new behaviors and buying patterns, learn about our COVID-19 Analysis Dashboard in Acquia CDP.  

Omer Artun

Chief Science Officer Acquia

ÖMER ARTUN, PHD is Chief Science Officer at Acquia.  He was formerly the founder and CEO of AgilOne. He aims to help marketers understand and predict customer behavior and make marketing personal again. He previously held executive roles in marketing at Best Buy, CDW and was a consultant with McKinsey & Company. He holds a PhD in Physics and Computational Neuroscience from Brown University.