Black Friday Blues

My Black Friday was a bust!  A big let-down from all the hoopla about doorbusters and flash sales — a complete disappointment.  But more than a personal sob story, I think my experience holds some important lessons for retailers and e-tailers.

Let me start at the beginning.  I wasn’t sadistic enough to venture out to stores last Friday but I had decided to take advantage of all the online deals I had been hearing about and start my shopping early.   After all, Christmas shopping is quite an undertaking for me.  I have 11 nieces and nephews and 7 grandnieces and grandnephews to buy for – plus some adult friends, clients and business associates, and relatives, and of course, myself.  Which is where my sad tale begins.

I’ve been wanting a new computer monitor for my office, so my husband perused the 4+ pounds of FSI’s we received in our local newspaper delivery on Thursday (see above picture) and picked out one featured as a doorbuster on Dell.com.  Dell’s Black Friday sale started at midnight Eastern Time so we set an alarm for 9PT on Thursday and kept our browser open to the webpage.

As the bewitching hour approached, we took a pause from our holiday celebration and sat down at the computer.  At precisely 12:00ET, we refreshed the webpage and tried to buy the item.  No luck.  None of the links seemed to be working.  As my husband continued to refresh the page on the computer to no avail, I hurriedly tried to pull up the page on my phone and iPad.  After frantic searching for the correct page (thanks to confusing promotional links), I finally found it and the “Buy” link seemed to be working, but guess what?!  The deal had sold out.  It was 12:02ET.  I was pissed.  How could we have missed out on the deal when we did everything we were supposed to?!  We promptly closed all the Dell pages and shut down our devices.  The next morning, my husband found a comparable product on HP.com for $10 more – we purchased it with no problems and felt some solace.

Later on Friday, I decided to tackle buying some toys for the aforementioned Yohn clan.  I spent over 2 hours looking at a handful of sites including Sears, Walmart, Toys R’ Us, and Target since I had been reading so much about all the deals they would be offering.

But at practically every site, I hit a dead-end.  On one site, I found a doorbuster deal for one item I wanted but no other deals that fit what I was looking for.  On another, I found two items that totaled $49, just under the $50 free shipping cut off.  On yet another, I found several items I wanted but then noticed that I had somehow veered off the Black Friday sale pages and none of the products I was interested in was specially priced.  Disgusted with the inability to find sufficient bargains at the sites I had originally gone to, I ended up at Amazon.com.  I quickly picked out several similar items on Amazon that were at least 10% off and qualified for Super Saver Shipping (thanks to that site’s great filtering options) and made my purchases.  Easy peasy.

My last effort of the day was to buy gift cards for several of the kids.  Knowing some of them like to frequent the Simon mall in their city, I went to the Simon website and started the process to purchase mall gift cards.  When I got to the order confirmation screen for the first card, I noted a $5.95 shipping fee.  It seemed kind of steep (how much does it cost to ship a card?!), but since I was ordering several of them, I figured the fee was worth it.  Little did I know that the $5.95 fee was per card!  Once I discovered that annoying fact, I closed out the site and decided I would buy Amazon gift cards instead.

Then it was on to Sephora.com to buy a single gift card for a special niece.  But there I found Sephora only offers gift cards in certain denominations – and of course, the amount I wanted wasn’t available.  Amazon gift card to the rescue again!

Turning away from my computer for the day, I felt a mix of emotions:  relief that Amazon had managed to salvage my shopping pursuits; frustration at the time and effort wasted at other sites that seemed to hold so much promise just 24 hours earlier; and dread that despite my best efforts, I probably could have gotten better deals if I had just waited until Cyber Monday.

And here’s where the lessons for retailers and e-tailers begin:

  • Understand that people want to feel successful when they shop.  Running specials that sell out before people even have a chance to use them make people feel like losers – and ultimately they project this negativity on your brand.
  • Be easy to use — Too many banners and modules announcing various sales and prices make it difficult to find what we’re looking for.
  • Understand that scarcity may be a powerful motivation, but when combined with price promotion, it can be an even more powerful frustration.
  • Be flexible and reasonable – Things like limited options (i.e., predetermined gift card denominations) and rigid shipping policies are turn-offs.  I know enough about how retail works to know they can easily be avoided.
  • Understand that ease and simplicity can be as valuable as price promotion – and they build brand equity far more sustainably.
  • Recognize how easy it is for people to turn to alternatives.  You’re one click away from losing a sale.

If you’re singing the Black Friday blues, please share your experience — and your advice for retailers/e-tailers!  Comments open!

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