By Viresh Harduth, vice president: New Customer Acquisition (Start-up & Small Business) at Sage Africa & Middle East
The retail industry is gearing up for the busiest time of the year, with Black Friday and Cyber Monday fast approaching. This year, 24 November kicks off the holiday season shopping frenzy, as consumers hunt for bargains on Christmas gifts and stock up on holiday essentials and consumables for the year ahead.
Traditionally a retail holiday, Black Friday is quickly spreading to other industries. It’s an opportunity for Fintech companies to attract more customers, who want to buy on credit, and for services businesses to bundle their offerings or sell them at reduced rates to grow their customer base.
With a little creative thinking, any industry – from mining and manufacturing to agriculture, construction or even the local bakery – can take advantage of consumers’ appetite to spend.
Economists expect this year’s Black Friday to be the biggest yet, despite a depressed economy. Last year, the event boosted local retail sales by 3.5% – and by 10% year-over-year – but also negatively impacted December sales as consumers got all their holiday shopping done in one fell swoop.
Stats SA data shows that, in 2016, December retail sales increased by just 0.9% year-on-year as consumers changed their holiday purchasing behaviour.
This suggests that those businesses that don’t participate in Black Friday could experience cash flow problems during the subdued December and January spending months.
Here’s how you can prepare your small business to take advantage of – and survive – the rush:
1. Start early and market
Consumers start researching Black Friday deals weeks in advance to ensure they know where to find the best ones. With less than three weeks to go, start advertising your specials now – and include daily teasers. Black Friday is an opportunity to gain loyal customers and your marketing should be optimised around this goal. Think of it as an advent calendar that gives customers something to look forward to every day, in the run-up to the main event.
Consider creating a unique hashtag and reward customers who submit the best product selfie, for example. Or offer discount vouchers on future purchases if shoppers sign up for your newsletter. Create cart abandonment emails to encourage customers to return to check out.
How to: If you own a gift shop, you might have excess stock that you’ve been struggling to move. Advertise your discounted rates in the local newspaper, on your website, your app and on social media (which is great for targeting specific groups of people), and email your regular customers so that they hear the news from you first.
People are already talking about Black Friday. Tune into the conversation to understand what your target market is hoping to find deals on and how your products and services meet these needs. Ask your customers to “write to Santa” and submit their Black Friday wish-lists, so you know what they want.
How to: Twitter is the best platform to monitor real-time conversations. In the search box, type your product – e.g. cakes – and ‘Black Friday’ to get an idea not only of what customers want (you might come across someone hoping for a bulk deal on a cupcake order, for example) but also what your competitors or bakeries in other countries are planning, and get some ideas. If you’re not getting great insights from Twitter, run your own poll to get feedback from your regular customers about what they hope to see on your promotions list.
Stock will fly off the shelves over the Black Friday weekend so it’s important that you are able to update stock levels in real-time, to avoid disappointing customers at check-out.
How to: Adopt an online solution that tracks inventory and sales and gives you insights into the products that sell well. This buys you time to adequately stock your shelves with in-demand products in time for the festive season.
Make sure your website can handle the expected increase in traffic. Black Friday is all about speed and nothing will send customers away faster than a slow website.
How to: There are hundreds of free website speed test tools available online that let you test the performance of your website and provide tips on how you can make it faster. Consult with an IT professional well in advance to ensure your website doesn’t cave under pressure, resulting in lost sales and customers.
Bolster your resources to cope with the high demand. Ensure your logistics partner can handle increased deliveries and, if not, outsource the surplus. If you’re a distribution company, create your own Black Friday deal for customers, offering discounted rates or round-the-clock deliveries on the day. And, if you suspect you might be under-staffed, hire unemployed youths and give them work experience to put on their CVs.
How to: We live in an age of instant gratification and customers who make purchases on these high retail days expect fast delivery. If you run a delivery business, prepare your drivers for the busy weeks ahead and consider giving them a survival kit to take with them on the road. Service your vehicles well before the rush so that your operations aren’t affected if one breaks down.
6. Focus on the experience
Small businesses can offer a more personalised shopping experience than large businesses – especially on Small Business Saturday – an offshoot of Black Friday and Cyber Monday that encourages people to visit and support small businesses in their areas. Create a relaxed shopping environment amid the shoving and elbowing that is synonymous with the day – even if that means limiting the number of customers in your store at a time. By delighting customers, you win their loyalty.
How to: With so much foot traffic in your store, now is a good time to let customers sample your products. If you own a candy store, get Santa’s elves to dish out sweets to people waiting in line. Word of mouth is a powerful marketing tool. When you create a memorable shopping experience, customers will tell their friends about it.
7. Offer a variety of payment options
On Black Friday, customers want to bag their specials and move on to the next store as quickly as possible. Your payments system needs to be able to handle higher transaction loads with minimal delays – whether customers decide to pay online or in-store.
How to: When accepting payments in-store, the goal is to minimise queue wait times. Hire more staff to serve more customers or adopt a wireless POS system that takes the checkout counter to the customer – like right outside the change rooms of your boutique clothing store. When it comes to e-commerce, confusing or non-functioning payments pages are one of the biggest reasons why shoppers abandon their carts – and why businesses only close 3% of online sales. Create online payments shortcuts and ensure your website is mobile friendly. Adopt a payments solution that accepts a variety of payment options.
Remember this: if you’re going to do Black Friday, do it well. It is an opportunity for you as a small business owner to grow your business and get the most out of the festive season.