How should independents prepare for Black Friday?

Oct 24, 2017

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from The Retail Doctor’s Blog.

While many small retailers maintain that Black Friday is for the big stores, customers will be visiting for one reason: The deal.

After visiting the big boxes, the deal lovers will check you out, so you’ll want to have one table in the back of your store filled with “I can’t believe it!” prices.

To prepare, spend October going through your merchandise to find:

  • The orphans. Before re-ordering the must-have toy, accessory or tool, see if the market has moved on. Slash the price of the last few.
  • The misfits. Got a demo product or one that was opened and has a piece missing? Put it on your sale table with a sign indicating “missing a part.”
  • The returns. Didn’t get that otherwise fine item returned to the vendor on time for credit? Even without the cellophane or in a ripped box, slap a price on it and get it on the bargain table.
  • The dogs. Sitting on complete lines that you ordered in the wrong color? “Special Purchase 60% off” and move them out.

If you don’t have enough merchandise to fill up your table, call up your better reps to see if they have a doorbuster item. We’re not talking container load, but just enough to round out your other items.

Place on your counter full-priced, small items under $10 with signage like, “For the one you’re bound to forget” or “Great for pet sitters, gardeners or yoga teachers.” Your goal is to get back some of the money you may be eating on your big deals.

In addition, be brilliant on these basics:

  • Clean out your store. Down to the fixtures. Remove every box, bag or tag. Clean carpets. Mop.
  • Repair, repaint and relight. Fix the chipped paint, broken furniture, yellowed signage, etc.
  • Open up your floor. Create more space around items so they stand out.

Getting ready for Black Friday and the start of the holiday selling season isn’t hard, but it does take planning.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How should independents prepare for Black Friday and the deal-seekers that arrive during the holiday season? What Black Friday and holiday selling tips for smaller retailers would you add to those mentioned in the article?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"Put your best foot forward and feature all the products and people that make you better than your standard big box behemoth."
"...step back, take a breath (before you start planning on slashing prices) and define your objectives for the Holiday Season."
"The whole madness is about special deals, so who better to end it? Your local “cool” store, that’s who."

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19 Comments on "How should independents prepare for Black Friday?"

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Chris Petersen, PhD.
Black Friday has been a historical milestone that traditionally kicks off the final holiday shopping season. Its effect is fading. There are many projections that Cyber Monday will surpass Black Friday this year. So my first suggestion to independents is to realize that it’s four-day weekend event, not a single day event. Bob offers many fine suggestions for optimizing the store and the appearance of the store. All make a positive impression. Another real key is the attitude and training of the staff on how to optimize the shopper experience. People purchase in-store for reasons beyond price, and one of the biggest reasons is the staff, especially on the busiest days of the shopping year. Small independents cannot and should not try to compete with the likes of Amazon. But they can have a web presence touting their unique items, services and hours. Independents can also explore opportunities that extend beyond the single day. They can offer their own version of click and collect with “Buy Now” with the option to collect later. For some,… Read more »
Charles Dimov

I love the practical and tactical hints above, Bob! These are some great ways to get engagement for the small retailers. The most important selling tip addition I suggest is to get the word out on whatever ideas you put in place. These are great and customers will appreciate it — but you have to tell them. Surprisingly, in our research (Omni-1000, Oct 2017) we found that out of over 1,000 retailers with omnichannel capabilities only 52.7 percent actually called it out on their front web page. Lost opportunity. Make sure you tell your customers about your special offers — and they might take you up on them!

Neil Saunders

I like the ideas presented here, mainly because they are not about slashing prices at random and eroding margins. They are about using Black Friday as a tool to clear excess inventory or lines that are no longer popular. This combination of having something to offer but doing it in an operationally sound way is sensible and savvy.

Art Suriano

I think the independents should not attempt to compete with the bigger stores. So don’t be silly and open at 5 a.m. I would take an entirely different approach and promote “Black Friday Afternoon.” Put out refreshments and have it from noon to 4 p.m. after most of the chain store hype is over. Create promotions and offers that can work best for your business and focus hard on providing a different shopping experience than what customers will find at the mall. Come up with unique gift ideas that will appeal to customers. Be creative and offer what the big stores don’t. Most importantly, “wow” each customer with exceptional service and give them something they’re going to remember.

Dick Seesel

If your promotional strategy the other 364 days of the year is not to “give away the store,” don’t compromise it on Black Friday just to appeal to deal-seekers who may never return. That being said, it pays to have some key items or categories on sale and (importantly) to execute the other basics as Bob suggests.

But if the long-term goal is to build a bigger contact list or more loyalty among your best customers, think of Black Friday as a chance to “surprise and delight” — maybe with a higher level of customer service than the shopper is finding at your competition.

Lee Peterson

I think the indies should take the opposite tack and go regular price. They’re right; the whole madness is about special deals, so who better to end it? Your local “cool” store, that’s who. Put your best foot forward and feature all the products and people that make you better than your standard big box behemoth. Go for it. Bring back the “black” in Black Friday.

Jasmine Glasheen

I would also encourage small retailers to make sure they continue to clientele during massive sale events like Black Friday.

It’s true that Black Friday is dwindling in popularity, but the people who trek it to your store and endure the madness for a deal on your wares are seriously interested in what your store has to offer.

Make them part of your community on email and social media and make sure they know about upcoming sales and in-store events.

Tony Orlando

For me it is a horrible day, as customers are eating leftovers and we close early with a limited staff. Thanksgiving week profit-wise is traditionally not good, as we give the turkey and most of the trimmings away at cost or below. Christmas week for us is profitable, but not Thanksgiving — with one exception: our deli/bakery. We clean up the place and get ready for December.

Rich Kizer

Independents most frequently do not open at 4 a.m. on Black Friday, but the big boxes do. We call that “first dollar capture.” Crowds of customers hoping for the best deals, overcome with excitement for more deals inside. Independents know it is hard to beat that promotional effort. We recommend that independents promote Black Friday and open at a time that is more conventional, when the early shoppers decide to venture elsewhere. Bob’s ideas are good for that. We also suggest that independents hand out bag stuffers well in advance of Black Friday informing their customers of a special in-store event for the day. Utilizing Bob’s suggestions and then offering free coffee, foot massages (from a local salon that wants to promote itself), contests, free gift wrap for a local charity — and the list goes on and on.

Most independents cannot win at the Black Friday price game, but can certainly compete with extraordinary customer service, in-store experiences and promotions that are right for the store, the season and most importantly, the customers.

Ryan Mathews

I really couldn’t disagree more with the author. So customers have been shopping big boxes for hot Black Friday deals on “must have” products, and the counter offer from independents is to display, “orphans, misfits, returns and dogs?” Why not throw in the soiled and damaged? Let’s look at successful independent promotions like “Record Store Day.” Is it successful because independent music stores bring out those old polka 45s from the late 1950s? No, they have special releases by the hottest artists which are only available at independent stores! That’s how you compete with Black Friday discounts — by being unique, innovative, creative and giving customers something special — not offering inventory nobody else wants, at any price. As to the other suggestions, one hopes independents know enough to paint and repair as needed and not wait until Black Friday.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.

Do not put items that are damaged or missing pieces on the discount table. The discount table should have working products.

Retailers need to do something special on Black Friday. Talking with suppliers may identify an item that could be used as a blockbuster to attract customers, something could be done in store to provide a holiday experience, an expert may be available to answer questions, loyal consumers may receive a discount. There are lots of ways to do something special for consumers.

Lyle Bunn (Ph.D. Hon)

The shrill and shill of Black Friday is a craziness any way you look at it. Independents best serve their interests by playing their game. Sustained, everyday value based on knowledgeable, helpful staff who can bring fair and reasonable value to their ongoing customers. Take advantage of the consumers’ desire to shop by showing the value you bring. Offer some deals that you can afford (outdated inventory, returned items, slow movers, etc.) and focus on relationship building. Black Friday for big box is about getting the sale that day. Black Friday for independents is about traffic and conversion at every future opportunity.

Mark Nicholson

Promote your door-crasher loss-leaders online and offline in advance and talk to other retailers (including competitors) about exchanging stock like car dealers do for a wider variety. Also ensure you have a way to capture customer information/email addresses to build your list so you can continue marketing to them all year long.

Ed Rosenbaum

Let the independent smaller retailers make a point of staying closed Thanksgiving Day so their employees can be at home with their family. Promote this to separate them from the big boys who “don’t consider their employees.” Then promote what it is that makes you different. It could be special items at slightly reduced prices. Or it could be the orphans Bob mentioned. Don’t be intimidated.

Todd Trombley
One of the most compelling advantages independents have is their potential for establishing meaningful relationships with customers and getting them back after the holidays as return customers. As human beings — so likewise as consumers — we all seek gratifying relationships. Customers respond to being recognized, treated warmly and shown appreciation by becoming a loyal client of that retailer or salesperson. Take advantage of increased traffic over the holiday season to start building relationships. For the holiday season, independents should prepare to leverage this reality by being prepared to engage warmly, demonstrate some appreciation for the customer’s business and start the process of getting to know that customer. Don’t let the hustle and bustle of the season overwhelm. Suggestions: Build a display or table featuring moderately successful products you carry. Make this display a focal point separate from your blow-out or door-crasher merchandise, put a slight discount on this merchandise (10 percent), and point out this merchandise to every shopper that you can. You will move some merchandise and increase transaction value and multiple unit… Read more »
Georganne Bender
Sometimes it’s more than how to prepare, sometimes it’s being there. Every year we hear from independent retailers who want to close their stores on Black Friday. That makes no sense, Black Friday is the kick off to the holiday shopping season and they need to be there. If you want to be a contender for your share of the holiday pie, you need to play the game. Opening the doors at 3 a.m. doesn’t work for every independent, but a creative event does. We know indie retailers who run a “Black Friday Tea and Sympathy” open house so harried shoppers can relax for a while. Product demos and “make-it and take-its” entice them to stay and buy. Others run different kinds of promotional events, like a bag sale or a create your own coupon promotion that lets customers decide what’s on sale. The retailer chooses the percentage, customers choose the items. Participating in Black Friday is important to independent retailers. The trick is to do it differently. Competing with the big boxes with deep… Read more »
Ralph Jacobson

The basic tips in the article should be standard operating practice all year long for any good retailer. Beyond that, step back, take a breath (before you start planning on slashing prices) and define your objectives for the Holiday Season. Most independents can’t win on price alone. Think about more service-driven promotions that are most likely the last potential differentiators. What could be the best promotional tie-ins for the hottest items this year? What could be those compelling reasons for shoppers to shop your stores/websites rather than your competitors’? That’s what you have to define.

Julie Bernard

The comment below, citing research that shows nearly half the retailers with omnichannel capabilities to be omitting callouts around special offers — this becomes a significant factor in this story. Independents must get the word out to their customers, or else Black Friday is just another day. They don’t need to go regional or cast a wide net, however. Budgets may only allow for a focused and targeted approach, and so leveraging location data to target and cherry-pick best prospects is a critical strategy.

Furthermore, independents can work together in ways the majors often do not: something like a Black Friday block party that creates a rising tide, one that lifts all boats — an organized event that attracts people to a focused collection of local businesses, extending the impact of each participant’s advertising spend. From the consumer’s vantage, these moments also speak to experiential and emotional connections, and we know that emphasizing meaningful moments primes shopping events such as Black Friday for stronger outcomes.

Brian Numainville

Be unique! Try to copy the big stores and you just get lost. Do what you do and do it best … offer interesting items, deviate from the norm, be different (and differentiate) yourself. Not saying that you shouldn’t pay attention to all of the basic blocking and tackling, but that won’t be enough!

"Put your best foot forward and feature all the products and people that make you better than your standard big box behemoth."
"...step back, take a breath (before you start planning on slashing prices) and define your objectives for the Holiday Season."
"The whole madness is about special deals, so who better to end it? Your local “cool” store, that’s who."

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