Customer Experience

How retail brands are adapting the Black Friday shopping experience for 2020

Brands will have to adapt to a very different Black Friday this year, with safety a key priority. Find out the steps businesses are taking to navigate one of the busiest seasons of the year.

If you think of ‘Black Friday’, you think of crowds of customers snapping up products at amazing discounts before Christmas. This year is different. In fact, for some brands, ‘Black Friday’ has already begun. Two weeks early. With social distancing measures still widely in place, retailers have a tough job ahead to prepare their employees, protect their customers and keep sales coming in.

The good news is that shoppers are still traveling to stores where allowed to do so, and across the United States, retail sales are on the rise. With employee health and safety at the forefront of minds, this is how brands are adapting to Black Friday in 2020.

Supporting employee safety in retail stores

Employee de-escalation training specifically for Covid-19

There are plenty of videos on social media showing customers fighting with employees who are policing mask-wearing in-store, with some news stories reporting customer violence. Since employees are on the front-line, how can we help them deal with these scenarios?

The National Retail Federation, the world’s largest retail trade association, has recently created Covid-19 training for employees. One training course helps employees understand the virus and spot the signs, so they can remove themselves and respond appropriately, thereby reducing the spread of the virus to other colleagues and customers. Another course deals with customer-to-customer fights and what to do if someone refuses to wear a mask.

Workplace safety measures

Despite a large move to online shopping, some retail stores are remaining open to offer in-person shopping under tighter safety precautions. Some of the new employee guidelines to create a Covid-19 appropriate shopping experience are:

  • Conducting customer temperature checks on entry to the store
  • Enforcing strict social distancing policies between people
  • Keeping a limit on the number of in-store customers at any one time
  • Providing access to sanitizer for all to use
  • Encouraging customers to use cashless payment instead of cash with till-side employees

Retail brands are also getting updates on retail safety rules from government authorities, who are providing information on opening up America again and the CARES act. The OHSA recently provided crowd control safety tips as well, to prevent crowd related injuries and added stress for your managers.

Real-time employee check-ins

While customers are nervous about coming into stores over Black Friday, employees will be equally worried about the risks.

Promoting an environment for two-way conversation and creating channels for employees to provide feedback are two ways that show your employees you care. This helps the store managers understand the situation on the ground too so they can take action quickly to resolve any problems.

In fact, employee feedback pulses can help you get ahead of problems before they arise, too. Listen to your employees in the run up to Black Friday to get a sense of sentiment amongst employees, and use your managers too to make sure they’re not overwhelmed or worried for their safety. That way you can allay any fears, and answer questions before it’s too late. On the day itself, set up regular breaks and flexible shifts to avoid overload and give employees a chance to recharge.

Learn more about how you can do more to protect the health and safety of your on-site and frontline employees

Keeping customer interactions to a minimum

Curb-side pick-ups

Black Friday is the perfect time to encourage curbside pick-ups to minimize employee and customer contact, without disrupting the customer experience. In fact, quick pick up and less people might even improve their experience. As of August, Coresight Research found that 76% of the top 50 store-based retailers in the US offered curb-side pick-up, so it’s definitely here to stay.

Brands can run a humble operation or be more grand in integrating this into their operations. During the first wave of the pandemic, Dick’s Sporting Goods set up a curb-side pick-up using a simple sign for their phone number, before successfully progressing to using email and text alerts. On the other hand, Target created the ‘drive-up’ service on their mobile app, which requests employees to bring goods to customers’ cars.

Limiting in-store time with click and collect or Buy Online Pick-up In-store (BOPIS) services

62% of respondents are “more likely” to use Buy Online Pick-up In-Store (BOPIS) services during the pandemic. Brands are using this as a way to limit customers’ time in-store, by giving them more ways to shop with the brand.

Omni-channel experiences increase customer spend 15% more and create greater loyalty.

Complementing in-store sales and support with online experiences

Diverting people online with early-bird discounts

The pandemic drove 63% of consumers to buy more online, with health concerns being the main reason for their decision. Digital retail brands are able to capitalize on this with online experiences that still meet customer needs, albeit in a different way.

Amazon delayed this year’s Prime Day weekend to October 13-14, to offer exclusive deals for its signed-up members and early-bird discounts. Not only does this shift unsold stock from the Summer, but Amazon increased their Prime subscription rates, so members can take advantage of free Prime delivery and other discounts. They’re continuing the momentum from Prime Day Weekend and using these tried-and-tested methods again this Black Friday, providing ‘Early Black Friday Deals’.

Rapid digital transformation has meant that businesses are having to get on board, in order to thrive. Whether they were created as a “digital” brand or not. Today, everything is digital. With tempting online-only exclusive deals and free shipping, customer’s get convenience at their fingertips, without setting foot in-store! Sales are generated either way, but online orders mean your in-store employees encounter less face-to-face interactions.

Offering online personal shopping appointments

Nearly two-thirds (63%) of UK and US consumers say that, between a choice of queuing to enter a store or pre-scheduling an appointment, they would opt to secure an appointment.

Brands offering appointment booking this Black Friday, like Saks Fifth Avenue, will let customers schedule fixed time-slots to receive personalized service or support. There are customer options on which store will best help with their requirements and whether they want to do their appointment online with a video call.

Moving interactions with employees to video calls keeps services working effectively and removes the risk of employees’ increased exposure. Where the appointment happens in-store, employees can prepare by sanitizing areas and changing PPE in between. If customers choose other stores, the appointment load can be spread out across stores so your employees won’t feel under pressure.

Brands are keeping track of customer numbers in-store

Extending Black Friday dates to manage customer levels

Brands are getting creative with the date of Black Friday, which falls on November 27, to stop crowding in-store and maximizing their sales-revenue window.

The majority of retail stores are extending the duration of the event, though the times differ between brands. Walmart is offering three days of events instead of one with Black Friday Deals for Days, while Home Depot is extending Black Friday over two months.

The bright side is that an event that would have been a rush centered on one day, now has the potential to bring in customers until Christmas. The knock-on effect for employees is they can look forward to calmer and more manageable workdays in-store.

Introducing virtual queuing or sign-in kiosks

Where customers want to physically visit stores on Black Friday, queues could get very long. Customers will find this worrying - 47% of customers are worried about contracting Covid-19 when queuing in line and 35% also found standing too long was uncomfortable.

To prevent time waste and added risk, brands have started to use virtual queuing. This Summer, Office Depot Inc launched a virtual queuing system across 600 of its retail locations. Customers can view wait times, join a queue remotely and manage their position through the retailer’s app. Brands can also replicate this system using tablet-based sign-in kiosks at entrances.

This has the added benefits of providing information on expected traffic flow through the store, so employees can control the entries or prepare themselves for busy periods.

Retail workplace safety during the shopping season

Retail, customer service and HR managers are planning for new shopping interactions and models, due to Covid-19’s impact on employees and customer behavior.

The challenge in the run up to Black Friday and beyond is how to manage expanded customer sale touch-points, including inside stores, outside stores, online and mobile app channels.

This makes the digital experience more important than ever, if brands are to future-proof themselves moving forward.


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