Mark Jamroz
Mark Jamroz
December 19, 2017
The Twelve Days of…RETAIL. Part 1

Usually at this time of year we reflect back on the previous twelve months. The new and the old. Successes and failures. Events that we will always remember…and things that, frankly, we’d rather forget.

As they say, our greatest competitive advantage is the ability to learn. Here at Telegraph, in that spirit, we’d like to take a little time to reflect – not on the past twelve months, but really the past twelve days; The period that encompasses the ramp up to, immersion in, and the aftermath of Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

We hope you enjoy!

KEEPING THE DOORS…CLOSED?

One of the first trends we witnessed this year is a continued backlash against the Launch Creep that has seen in brick-n-mortar retailers opening earlier and earlier and earlier over the past ten years.

Costco, Guitar Center, H&M, Ikea, Marshall’s and Patagonia are just a few retailers who opted to remain closed all day on Thursday. Interestingly, we’ve also seen select retailers opt for less availability on Black Friday, too. Target and Macy’s, for example. While still open on Thanksgiving evening, both chains closed for several hours on Friday morning ostensibly to re-fit and give employees a much-needed break.

Some took it further. It’s one thing to valiantly defend the sanctity of Thanksgiving or the mental welfare of our fellow humans. It’s something more (and arguably more authentic) to connect it to the core of your brand. For example…

  • For the third year in a row, outdoor co-op retailer REI remained closed…and did not process online orders…on both Thanksgiving and Black Friday – pushing back against what the company called “a playbook of promotion and consumerism that isn’t working.” Instead, management encouraged staff and consumers alike to "Opt Outside."
  • Following that lead, L.L. Bean went a step further this year with "Be An Outsider" running a full-page ad in the New York Times, welcoming consumers to all the great stuff to be found “outside.” There was only one catch: The message, printed photochromic ink, could only be viewed by actually taking it outside into UV sunlight. Talk about driving consumer behavior!

Here’s a takeaway: Maybe brands are just following Apple’s original example, standing against “Big Brother” IBM and shifting from just selling computers to, instead, liberating human creativity. Or maybe it’s just a symptom of the political divisiveness we’ve seen over the past ten years, driving consumers toward brands that stand for…or stand against…certain issues. Whatever the cause, today’s shoppers are finding new ways to balance pop-culture consumerism and conscience. As much as consumers are seeking products and services, they are also looking for greater depth and humanity, both in their brands and in the different ways they engage with those brands.

E-commerce…Efficiency is Thy Name!

There’s also another potential layer here. We’re not going to call out these brands for duplicity. Pushing back against “commercialism at all costs” maybe isn’t a bad thing. It’s certainly consistent with the attitudes and values shared among emerging Millennial consumers. And it’s a wake-up call to the rest of us who have regularly obsessed over what we’ll buy next. At Telegraph, most all of us worked those Black Friday retail jobs when we were younger. Given the number of underemployed and hard-working people in that space today, we agree:

Employees deserve a full Thanksgiving Day off, too!

At the same time, shifting to a greater share of eCommerce isn’t just a way to attract younger, more sympathetic (and tech-savvy) shoppers. It’s an absolute windfall for most retailers. By 10:00 am this Cyber Monday, Americans had spent nearly $14 billion online since Thanksgiving Day. Just think about the operational costs that would go into generating that same $14 billion in the brick-n-mortar space! Transportation. Warehousing. Storage. Not to mention, shopping bags, cart maintenance and the employee hours needed to accomplish all of these supply chain activities. Website optimization, targeted SEO and building pre-season relationships are far less costly than floor planning and management and potentially represent huge marginal gains for traditional retailers. 

“We’re closed on Thanksgiving,” says “We’re smart,” as much as it says, “We care.”

Black Friday isn’t so black-and-white anymore!

Discussions about the future shouldn’t be just two-dimensional (foot traffic vs. eCommerce). Can we expect the very concepts of Black Friday and Cyber Monday to stick around? They are, after all, constructs of a bygone age - a time when consumer shopping behaviors were limited by time, distance and a retailer’s distribution plan – limitations that scarcely exist for today’s multi-screen, tech-empowered consumer. In fact, for decades Black Friday / Cyber Monday has been considered the great equalizer; the opportunity for all retailers to euqally compete for ravenous consumer attention. But today’s tech-savvy brands are realizing that e-tail success is not simply capitalizing on calendar days, but instead is a culmination of developing and optimizing customer relationships the other nine months out of the year.

Just this past summer, for example, Amazon held “Prime Day,” boosting company sales more than +50% year-over-year. This was more than 2016 Black Friday and Cyber Monday revenue, combined. And those Prime sales carried with them a required $99 membership (less than Costco or Sam’s Club, and far more relevant to the consumer’s needs). We now know that the 2017 Black Friday / Cyber Monday weekend delivered Amazon their best sales period in history - surpassing, but undoubtedly building upon, Amazon Prime’s success.

Being first to market. Boosting membership-driven loyalty. Expanding services to conquer unmet needs. These are fundamental CRM and demand-generation principles that go to the core of customer lifetime value. Don’t forget, this subscription / membership / relationship evolution has been taking place right in front of our eyes. Uber, Air BnB, Blue Apron and Dollar Shave Club. None of these existed ten years ago. Today, they’re worth a combined $61.5 billion!

When it comes to seasonal-driven sales, the next generation is not going to wake up early to bust a door when they can score great bargains from the comfort of their mobile phone. The lines are blurring more and more every year as technology, consumers, retailers and society collectively evolves. Perhaps the greatest threat to retailers across the board is not brick-n-mortar or click-n-order, but a lack of willingness to prepare for the inevitable stages of evolution that are coming next.

Think about this: What if Amazon declared the day before Thanksgiving “Prime Wednesday?” How would that change the paradigm for Black Friday or Cyber Monday?


Stay tuned for Part II – Kicking it Old School!