Changing the Color of Black Friday


"Costume your instrument" was a clever exercise that my granddaughter, Kaylee, enjoyed as a part of her 6th grade orchestra class. It was the week of Halloween and her ingenious teacher created quite a buzz with the fun extra. Kaylee dressed her viola in the costume of a doctor in scrubs and won the class competition for best costume!

Black Friday is an annual event designed to ramp up the instruments of commerce whether they are products or services. During that day, restaurants serve more meals, ATM machines get more action, and parking garages fill up with shoppers pouring into stores for bargains stores priced to entice attention and elevate sales. Holiday buying represents 20-40% of a retailer's annual sales, according to the National Retail Federation.

The dark -- or shall we say "black" -- side of this annual event is the wear and tear on the frontline, often part timers brought in to accommodate the mob. Their stress does not end at the closing hour, often extended late to maximize sales. They are after hours of re-shelving, restocking, and cleanup caused by unruly customers too impatient to tidy up after themselves. The shopping experience can be equally chaotic, taxing and unfair for customers. Many witness the worst side of consumers who seem to check their manners at the mall entrance. How can we change the color of Black Friday?

Make Shopping Inclusive

When customers are treated as valued partners, they typically respond in kind; the same is true for employees. Begin early communicating the concept of "your store." A friend in NYC frequents a restaurant for breakfast. She refers to it with pride as "my restaurant" and reports sometimes tiding up their bathroom. The viola Kaylee uses at her school is one she uses but does not own. But, she thinks of it as "her viola" to care for. Her teacher's instructions were not "costume the instrument assigned to you," but rather "your instrument."

Seek your customers' input and feedback. The owner of my favorite adult beverage store frequently asks me for suggestions on everything from store arrangement to new wine offerings to what he should highlight in his monthly blog. When I suggested to the service manager at my auto dealership that he include K-cups of my favorite flavor for their Kuerig coffee machine in the wait area, he had my request added to my profile with a note to the service scheduler to follow-up on K-cup supply when I came in for service maintenance. And, remember: just as customers enjoy providing input, employees do as well.

The payoff is a cadre of customers willing to partner with you when their help is needed. They become customers who serve as guardians of your shopping experience willing to influence others around them. When my adult beverage storeowner needed volunteers to taste test a new customized brew for his store offerings, I was eager to help. My enthusiasm influenced two others in his store to join in. When my auto dealership's service scheduler requested I allow her to slot a physician ahead of me (creating a bit longer wait for me), I was more than willing to oblige. Customers will care when they share.

Make It Captivating

Store experiences that are largely functional and efficient create a production line shopping mentality. What customer goes to the typical fast food restaurant to be entertained? You go for a burger and fries with quick and efficient service. So, what makes people swoon about the Starbucks' experience? How do customers' characterizations of Chick-fil-A or In-N-Out Burger stores differ from those of McDonald's or Burger King stores? Enriching the experience can diminish the "feeding frenzy" nature that can accompany Black Friday shopping.

A captivating experience is more than glitzy decorations or holiday carols playing in the background. And, it goes beyond the smell of potpourri or the perfume counter. Those are seasonal store accouterments that have become as imperceptible as the wallpaper. We don't comment on the ornamentation of the setting but rather on the personalization of the experience. It means being the living antidote to monotony and routine, even in the face of long lines and impolite shoppers.

Kaylee's viola costume might have been inaccurately interpreted as just light green pajamas, except there was a photo of an x-ray of a rib cage attached. It captured attention in an unmistakable way and drew you into her creativity like a "can't wait to serve you" attitude. Look for ways to ramp up the decibel level on the passion meter for customers and employees. As Maya Angelou wrote, "People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." Make your shopping experience sincerely engaging not just swiftly efficient.

Customers often complain about the commercialization of holiday shopping. At one level it seems like a pointless assessment--it is suppose to be commercial. But, what customers are really fretting about is the dissonance between the holiday spirit and their shopping experience. Customers hear background carols with "peace and goodwill" themes accompanying interpersonal communications often limited to "credit or debit?" We get so immersed in the mechanics of shopping that we forget that the very impetus for our being there is the purchasing of a present.

We can change the color of "Black Friday" by bringing back the spirit of giving, the sentiment of thanksgiving, and the joy of generosity. Make your holiday shopping experiences invitational and captivating. Who knows, some day we may be talking about Purple Friday or "A day of shopping with sprinkles!"