(This column originally appeared in Entrepreneur)
Black Friday — the day after Thanksgiving — is the biggest shopping day of the year and the start of the holiday season, which, for many retailers, can contribute as much as 30% of their annual sales. So it’s a big day. But if you think Black Friday is just about the holiday season, you’re wrong.
Of course, the day is important for the holidays. Black Friday was the biggest day for in-store shopping in the U.S. in 2022, reaching 72.9 million consumers, up almost 15% year over year. But it’s just as important for after the holidays. That’s because Black Friday isn’t just about sales. It’s really about data.
My smartest clients know this. And they make it a priority to leverage Black Friday as a way to collect as much information as they can from everyone entering their store. Why? Because the data they collect will help drive sales long after the holidays have ended.
Retailers of all sizes face a significant drop-off in sales after the holidays, and it’s always a struggle to generate demand. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The data you collect from your Black Friday traffic can boost your sales in those slow winter months. So, how to do this? You need a reason for the customer to stay engaged.
For starters, collect an email at checkout. Asking for a “like” or a positive online review is great, but you’re not collecting data that way. Asking for an email is a way for you to control the engagement. It’s true that sometimes some won’t want to share, and that’s fine, too, because people have to opt in if you’re going to market to them online. So encourage them. Say that you’ll add them to your special “VIP Customer Club,” which will make them eligible to receive future discounts and special promotions. Some retailers ask if a customer would like a receipt emailed, and that’s another good way to collect that information.
Another strategy is to push your visitors to your website. Hopefully, you’re selling your products not just in your store but also via an ecommerce platform. If you don’t, you really should because my most successful clients sell products through multiple channels. On Black Friday, offer a special promotion for customers who choose to purchase products online or special products that are only offered online. When someone buys from you online, you’re collecting their data, and you can give them the option to have their email added to your VIP club at checkout. At the very least, you’ll be collecting physical shipping/ordering data that can be used for future postcard mailings.
Consider a raffle. It’s simple and old school, but it’s an effective way to collect an email address or physical mailing address. Have them drop a business card or fill out a form to get a product or service for free and, of course, ask on that form for permission to add to your VIP Club. Your cost of giving away free stuff is minimal compared to the benefit of using that data for future marketing.
Many of my retail clients do events. These are the businesses that generally offer experiences or lifestyle products, and they enjoy doing in-store events to further educate their community. The pandemic taught us that doing these events online can also work. Schedule an event for January or February and promote it in your store. People would need to sign up for this event, so have an online or physical way to do this in order to capture their information.
Partner with others. All of the above activities can be replicated by friends of yours on the Main Street. By offering co-promotions with some of them, you can pool your resources and share your data. This way, you can potentially double the amount of information you’re collecting on Black Friday.
Finally, use a loyalty program. The suggestions I’ve made above would incur minimal cost. But if you want to step things up – and pay more — you can subscribe to retail loyalty platforms like Clutch, Recharge, Smile.io and others. These platforms — which are mainly designed for mobile use — allow your customers to accumulate points, get access to gift cards, belong to a recurring program, join certain membership tiers and take advantage of VIP “exclusive” offerings. They provide real-time data analysis of program usage, can be customized, and also integrate with other software.
These are all great ways to collect the data you need. But the most important thing is what to do with the data once you have it. And for this, you need a good customer relationship management (CRM) program.
A CRM is merely a database that will store whatever information you obtain about anyone who’s walked into your store. Some loyalty platforms and most point-of-sale systems either offer this capability or can be integrated with a standalone CRM system, and there are many platforms available at an affordable price. You will use this database to build demographics and sales history about your customers.
When a CRM system is used the right way, no customer — or prospective customer — falls through the cracks. Using the data you’ve collected on Black Friday and throughout the holiday season, they should be receiving regular (opt-in) emails or postcards from you about product offerings, events or other activities at your store. You can leverage the data to target specific customers based on what they’ve purchased from you. You can use the data to create lookalike campaigns on both Facebook and Google, where you can target online ads directly to them. As you build this database, you’ll build a community of customers that you can go back to year after year.
And that’s the most important thing about Black Friday. It’s not just one day of sales. It’s also a day to collect data for future sales. If you approach it that way, you’ll see a revenue increase that can extend far beyond the holiday season.