Black Friday has finally outdone itself.
Over the past few years, it has extended its boundaries to the days before and after the third Friday in November as retailers and business slash their prices as early as mid-November.
Though Black Friday technically falls on 29 November, businesses can expect the competition for shopper attention to start early in the month.
You can also expect a healthy mix of online and in-store shopping. For Black Friday in 2018, more than a million customers visited Argos stores in person and 71% of customers visited via a mobile device.
And judging by the results of this year’s Amazon Prime Day, online shoppers are showing no sign of slowing down.
For retailers, Sage Pay chief executive Seamus Smith says the key to taking advantage of a big selling season such as this is employing technology for more efficiency.
He says: “Retailers have to create the capacity to quickly respond to the change in demand across all channels.
“Smart digital technology is more critical now than ever to predict how much additional support and inventory you will need to prepare for Black Friday in advance.”
It’s clear that 2019 has been especially saturated with business technology solutions for every productivity challenge.
What are the core areas of consideration for growing retailers looking to capitalise on what may be the biggest trading season in history?
Here is where you can leverage technology to create bandwidth and make Black Friday frictionless and profitable.
Black Friday shopper behaviour for stock management
Black Friday has quickly stretched beyond its traditional high-street roots as millennial and Generation Z shoppers gain more buying power.
While most baby boomers prefer the personal engagement of traditional stores when shopping, 68% of millennials demand the convenience of omnichannel accessibility.
However, younger shoppers still value the in-store experience from brands they love – and they expect a slick, frictionless experience.
You must be prepared to address the different shopping preferences of each generation and manage inventory at every point of sale this Black Friday season.
This means allowing shoppers to make purchases and pick-ups in-store and online interchangeably, and building the visibility into your stock levels to track returns and exchanges wherever they happen.
“This is an area where smart technology is critical,” Smith advises. “Smart stock management allows you to look at what your sales were last year and identify previous and new trends in terms of products, inventory, and purchase behaviour.
“Retailers can help themselves by looking at their own data for the answers to their Black Friday inventory strategy.
“Investing in that kind of insight is the first thing I suggest for creating the capacity needed to manage high demand during peak trading season.
“You can ensure you have enough inventory for the influx in demand during Black Friday and into the Christmas shopping season.”
Accepting payments for Black Friday sales
Generational preferences and how comfortable shoppers are with payment technology will also factor greatly into Black Friday this year.
Today’s customer journeys are increasingly varied and they can be immediate or extremely complex, especially in younger customers.
They can range from impulse purchases on shopping apps to lengthier, highly considered purchases involving multiple channels for product research and price comparison – even during Black Friday sales.
You must integrate the payment process into your omnichannel customer offering for a frictionless Black Friday experience.
To do so, you need to consider the expectations of your customers at each point in their journey and ensure your payment technology can accommodate any scenario of sale regardless of channel or preferred payment method.
Retailers of any size will stand out by offering simplicity, convenience and durable, well-defined value in their approach to payments.
One in-store example that has expanded among retailers is self-service technology like Zara implemented in 2018 to eliminate its infamously long queues.
For online retailers, a diverse offering of payment methods is critical to customer experience.
Smith says: “We know from a research we’ve done over the years that consumers generally can be up to four times more likely to complete a purchase if they see a wide variety of payment types presented to them at checkout.
“Demand for mobile payments and digital wallets is growing, so it’s critically important for retailers paying close attention to.
“Abandonment is one of the key problems for any online retailer because if you don’t have a smooth payment experience, with popular payment methods included, you lose the customer and the sale.”
Managing payments security during increased traffic
Merchants should also be considering the security of the customer’s financial and personal data, and protection against fraud.
“The other side of the coin is to be cognisant that as digital technology fuels e-commerce and other transactional activity is making sure transactions are secure and protected,” Smith says.
“The growth of online commerce will sadly continue to attract the interest of hackers and cybercriminals.
“But again, there are accessible ways that businesses can protect themselves from those issues during this busy time.
“One example of technology that supports this is tokenisation, which allows safe storage of your unique card details providing access to the original payment information regardless of the contact point.
Shoppers have grown more willing to use new payment technology, but they are still concerned about the safety of their personal information.
Research shows 62% are generally welcoming toward added authentication measures for online payment security as mandated by PSD2.
New authentication technologies will revalidate repeat purchases or return shoppers to the website and make their experience even more frictionless.
Hiring Black Friday staff
Even with everything else in place, you’ll still need to ensure you have enough staff coverage to restock shelves and assist with the extra foot traffic.
Insights from a business management solution can tell you how many additional staff you’ll need to hire. It can also help you with hiring and onboarding and managing schedules.
Adding more staff – either temporary or full-time employees – means more payroll admin of assigning employee types and calculating accurate pay and benefits for each.
Doing this accurately will be more challenging during the busy Black Friday season, especially if it’s done manually.
Payroll integration technology with time tracking and attendance functionality can make peak season staffing easier.
Connecting your time and sales data is important for reconciliation purposes, eliminating data errors and reducing payroll fraud.
Keeping track of this data can also help with planning for other peak trading seasons. A business management solution equipped with automation can make this easy and error-free for any size of team.
Black Friday is a fast-paced selling season. Even more so now than ever, if your customer doesn’t get the experience they expect, you might lose a future sales opportunity.
Utilise new technology for business management to stay on top of cash flow to purchase enough inventory, manage stock across multiple shops and online, manage staff coverage and scheduling, and keep things running smoothly at the till.