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Sunday Soundbite

Who’s the real enemy on Black Friday?

How’s the enemy, my father used to say. He was talking about time, and how it was always against us.

Trouble is, retailers often think that their customers have more of it than they do. We all accept that consumers are time poor, but has anyone stopped to think just how poor they are? In the search for the seamless, personalised, differentiated shopping experience, has the enemy been given its full importance?

Time is clearly a major factor in the growth of of online; shoppers will spend 15% more online during the Black Friday period this year than last, according to IMRG, or £7.42bn over the peak seven-day Sale period. But when retailers talk about convenience, in which we assume time plays the major part, how come they then talk about giving the consumer all sorts of features and benefits that are often very time-consuming.

Naturally, brand owners want to enable their customers to spend as much time interacting with and loving the brand, and often can’t recognise those customers that know what they want, and just want out as quickly as possible. Even where they make the process quick, it all falls apart at the checkout where guest checkout and guest login are equally onerous, particularly where a forgotten password is required. Then add delivery address, billing address, email address, delivery speed options, payment card verification, instructions for leaving item if you are out, add on live chat, rate my experience, share on Twitter … and that’s the ones I could think of… and the enemy is victorious.

I’ve only alluded to the payment process so far, mercifully cut short now by the likes of Amazon One-Click and Klarna with rapid approval for finance. Consider the difficulties that arise during search, browsing, re-searching, slow loading web sites, user experience on mobile, on line queuing, stock availability, is ivory white, or cream, or grey? And again the enemy is the winner.

Black Friday only makes things worse, but is it any better at other times in the retail year, which is now just an endless series of peaks and troughs? My point is that, has anyone yet run their stopwatch at the customer’s end of the bad bargain. I appreciate that the retailers are trying to optimise to the max at their end, but the consumer is surely the only party that counts.

Of course, it’s not an easy problem to solve. The whole process is all about enabling the most needy customer to get what they need, while everyone else has to suffer. Is there an answer to that? Will some retailers change their bargain with consumers by segmenting, so that the young, cool and trendy get the Buy it off Twitter option while the old shufflers will continue to be offered the written application form and cheque in the post for delivery within 28 days option?  Time we thought again about time.


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