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Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Digital Musings

My latest guest post for Sage SalesLogix is up at their community site. You can see all the glory there (Sage deserves the traffic), or you can read it here, after the jump and some comments I’m about to make which are not related to that.

At this moment I am busily finishing up the chapter I’m writing for a joint-effort book about so-called Digital Natives, those people who never knew a world without cellphones, Internet, and other technological marvels of the modern age. (I don’t know what the title is yet, or I’d point you to a preorder link.) It’s been more difficult than I expected, because I’ve had to do a lot of relearning about how things are different with that mindset.

I’m not technically a digital native, but I was naturalized at a fairly young age (hey, that’s a good line; I think I’ll use it) because of my nerdy youth and the degree to which the school system and my parents catered to it. Still, I remember when every phone was attached to a wall or sitting on a table, except for pay phones on the street (which people actually used). I remember when high-tech home electronics included the Atari 2600 and the microwave oven, and cable TV remote controls were switch boxes hardwired to the cable box.

More importantly, I remember what customer experience was like before the data revolution, and even for some time afterward. Having this perspective is good for my work, but it also makes it a challenge.

The lesson was reinforced this afternoon at a visit with my doctor. I needed to renew a fistful of prescriptions, and she offhandedly suggested I could save some copay money and get a little extra convenience by using my insurance’s mail service. I know plenty of people who use such a program, but it had just never occurred to me. It’s so natural for me to take my paper scripts to the local pharmacy, wait (or leave and come back), and interact with the pharmacist directly, that I don’t think to do it any other way. I still haven’t decided which way to go this time. It’s not an issue of the digital age, at least not directly, but it reminded me of just how much we’re conditioned by what has become habit.

Anyway, enough of that. Here’s the Sage guest blog I promised:

I hope you’ve all had a good couple of weeks since Sage Summit. This was the first week back in my home and office since starting my guest blog for Sage just beforehand, and already it’s after Thanksgiving. That means we’ve just been through Black Friday and you’re likely reading this on its younger sibling Cyber Monday.

I’ve always been confused by Black Friday; so much importance is placed on one day that it could be its own holiday. Apparently, Black Friday is the Groundhog Day of retail, as one can predict the success or failure of the holiday shopping season by looking at the results. Retailers sweeten the pot by launching progressively larger discounts and special promotions that day, after teasing us with Christmas advertising starting sometime in mid-September.

I don’t see how it works. Sane individuals should avoid Black Friday like the Black Plague. Named after the chaos surrounding the U.S. stock market crash in 1929, Black Friday references the current shopping day’s murderously hectic pace and impossible crowds. Between that and the post-Thanksgiving food hangover, I don’t want to be within three miles of a shopping mall. Most years, I don’t even leave my home.

In terms of customer experience, Black Friday should be the disaster it sounds like, but shoppers keep on showing up and the lines grow ever longer. Maybe there’s something about walking into a retail war zone that stimulates our primitive hunter-gatherer instincts (hunting for deals and gathering merchandise). Or maybe it’s that the experience of fighting through crowds is what we’ve come to expect—it’s not a bad experience if it’s the one you’re planning on. An easy shopping day might be unsatisfying for such people.

Which brings us to Cyber Monday, the e-commerce equivalent to Black Friday. Unlike Black Friday, though, Cyber Monday is mostly fictional. (Economists will disagree with me, but I can handle that.) There are reasons to shop early if you’re doing it in person, because it’s hard to predict how and when shops will restock. (There might also be some gamesmanship in betting more shoppers will be like me and stay home.) There is no similar incentive to shopping online on any particular day. As long as you place your orders 10 days before Christmas, the items are pretty much guaranteed to arrive in time. No fuss, no muss, no risk of car accidents or brawls over the last Malibu Stacy Beach Bungalow in the store.

Some of you are retailers, but just about all of you work for a business that sells something, complete with sales incentives and projections. How are you managing your customers’ expectations of dealing with you? Are you subjecting them to a stressful Black Friday experience when you engage with them? Do they feel no urgency to close the deal, a la Cyber Monday? Or are you providing them with an easy, pleasant sales process that keeps them coming back no matter the time of year?