What does Black Friday represent?

by | Nov 19, 2012

While “Black Friday” was originally used in context of the 1869 financial crisis, most people associate it with shopping on the day after U.S. Thanksgiving.  The term was first used in this context (and not in a nice way) in 1966 by the Philadelphia Police Department to describe the huge pedestrian and vehicle traffic which would descend on the city.  However, retailers eventually spun this term to mean a period during which retailers are turning a profit, or “in the black.” (Thank you, Wikipedia).

Back in my days of supermarket management, Black Friday brought one of the longest weekends of the year. While the malls and department stores where packed, we in the supermarket industry cooled our heals and watched the clock slowly turn as we cleaned turkey freezers and hung holiday decorations. All of the customers were involved in the Black Friday frenzy elsewhere.

Over the last decade and a half, I have been able to spread my wings and see much more of retail than just the supermarket vertical, and learned that Black Friday meant so much more than just struggling through the 48-hours after Thanksgiving. Customers began an onslaught of retail that is amazing. Even as we speak, Black Friday is being redefined to something more akin to “Black November” with retailers playing their hand on ad merchandise on the first of the month.  Creating “buzz” around Black Friday is an art form.

I always look at any situation and try to learn from it. What can we glean from Black Friday that has not been learned before?  How can we use this great benefit to further advantage? Well, one thing we can do with/learn from/strategize over the period of time after  Black Friday and into the holidays is to look at it as an opportunity to focus on our customers in a way that is a little different from people in the industry that are trying to expand the customer experience. I look at the time period after Black Friday (or Black November) as a perfect time to initiate a customer service measurement effort.  What better time to observe customer needs than the weeks after Black Friday?

Normally, when I speak to a retailer about this it is agreed that customer service is a matter of degree, not inclusion or absence of policy. By that I mean a retailer “stands for” something; The Friendliest Stores in Town”, “The People Place”, “We Serve You”, whatever. With that in mind, there should be Customer service policies in place; take the customer by the hand, “GOTTChA: (Go Out To The Customer’s Automobile), SLL (stop, look, listen), etc. That is why we always insist on a workshop about customer service in Workforce Modeling to pull this out in the open when we do service studies.

Changing replenishment strategies (night stock only, stock only before opening at 9 am, etc), queuing concepts (theatre ropes, expanded queue areas, moving the queues), are all tactical decisions that affect overall customer service delivery for sure. What we seek in a Customer service standard definition study is the time the applied policies take to execute customer service. That being said, the holidays increase the number of instances due to higher traffic and allow for more data in a short period of time.

It is my firm belief that no labor model is complete without an accurate measurement of the time an employee needs to address customer service.  As I have stated in the past, if we only measure employee task time in a labor model, we develop a model that is inadequate in terms of representing workload.  If an employee does not have the time to service the customer in their daily workload either the tasks to be done suffer or the service suffers. There are only 60 minutes in an hour, not 60+ so an employee can only accomplish one hour of work in an hour. Make sense?

When we measure customer service and selling time, we need a valid sample to accomplish the job. Therefore we have the great formula: n = z2 (1-p)/p*h2 Where: n = the required sample size, z = 1.96 for a 95% confidence level, p = estimation of the service time, and h = acceptable error rate. The result is a baseline, minimum number of service observations needed to have a valuable study. Impressed?

Well, the object here is to discuss how many observations it really takes to measure service time.  I am not trying to impress anyone with a complicated equation, but there is some science as to how we come up with valid service numbers.

Why go through this formula when we started off asking “what does Black Friday represent?” What it represents is an opportunity to observe numerous instances to customer service brought on by the spike in sales activity brought on by Black Friday merchandising and advertising. In simple English “lots of people, lots of service, lots of observations”.  Black Friday represents a golden opportunity to determine your service needs based on your service policies and procedures, and extrapolate the time it will take throughout the year to address service in your store. The rise and fall of customer count through the year dictates the hours it will take to service customers, based on a Black Friday induced study of observations.

Contrast this idea of observation during the peak sales time of year to a non-peak time like, say February. Can you get “n” statistically valid samples of observation in February? Yes, of course you can. However, it may take you the entire month to do so and quite a few resources.  How long will it take in late November and December? Quite a bit faster I would imagine.

So, what does the time period after Black Friday represent? It represents a great opportunity to observe your customer service needs and parameters in a very concise fashion. It represents the opportunity to get you arms around the time your employees need to take care of your customers. It represents a window of opportunity whereby a retailer can effectively study their customer service processes and include them in the overall labor model using statistically valid data.

Black Friday sure does represent much more than cleaning turkey freezers and hanging holiday decorations!

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