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Saturday, November 27, 2010

Black Friday Lessons in Experience Adaptation

Black Friday provides terrific lessons for anyone looking to see service businesses at their best and worst, given the extreme conditions for all involved. On Black Friday, no one involved in a retail service encounter is their normal selves. Customers and the retailers that serve them are stressed, tired, and have sky-high expectations of success from their respesctive points-of-view.

From midnight through about 10:30 am yesterday, I hit walmart, Target, Costco, Best Buy, Toys ‘R’ Us, Office Depot and Office Max to see how some major retailers changed their behaviors to cope with the demand extremes while staying true to their service promise.

In too many cases, retailers reacted to their highest-stakes day without regard to experience component of the event – unresponsive to the extreme variances in customer composition, behavior, and the volume of demand for every service a store offers.

Most retailers approached the experience with the strategy of doing the same thing they do every day, only more: placing higher stacks of product in the normal locations and employing the “throw bodies at it” method of handling demand increases for all service types. They used the same check out process, just opening the maximum number of checkout lanes, forcing customers into lines literally hundreds deep. A number of major retailers could have taken a page from an airport Starbucks, and at least changed their checkout routine.

But there were some examples where companies changed their everyday service processes to adapt to the environment they faced:
  • One retailer had premium product handed out through a manual control point. It instantly created an in-environment event, with the floor employee handing out high value electronics from a cage like he was Santa Claus himself. Reception to the tactic was so good, the retailer could have created an even grander spectacle. After all, he was already on a figurative stage; why not give him a literal one?
  • Another retailer created an in-store Disneyland routing pattern, cordoning off some aisles, sticking arrows along the floor and reserving the route for shoppers as they checked out. Once in the line, the rest of the experience was blocked out by row after row of product not on sale.

Most evident whether in the midst of a good experience or a bad one, was that delivering on promises is even more important in periods of high customer stress & expectation than it is every other day. More than a few brands that tout everyday reliability were conspicuously short of product when customer expectations were at their highest. Retailers that won hearts were those that had sufficient quantities of the promotional product to ensure that no one felt like they lost out.

In short, they didn’t disappoint on their core service promise.

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