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An Open Letter to Major Retailers - A Few Humble Proposals to Fix "Black Friday"

Dear Major Retail Establishment,

I haven't ever participated in the late night/early morning sales events that occur on Black Friday, so named because it's the first day of the year that most retail business begin to make a profit, or go into the black (as opposed to red).  Thankfully, I haven't had to do so yet, nor have I wanted to.  I guess I don't really consider myself to be a competitive shopper.  I do, however, have many anecdotes from friends and family alike about how miserable the experience really is, and it's only made worse when one comes away empty-handed (i.e. without the one special item that they showed up to buy in the first place).  Is it really a good idea to make your customers camp out like they are waiting for U2 tickets?  For that matter, shouldn't U2 tickets be easier to obtain?  But I digress....


I was thinking about how undesirable these settings have become, especially with the deaths that have occurred in recent years from trampling.  I started thinking about ways that retailers could correct the status quo, while still driving plenty of new shopping traffic.


Here are a few ideas I came up with after I slept in Friday morning at my in-laws' house in the Houston area:


Stagger the sale - Why not consider having separate mini-events throughout the day, rather than setting up a potential riot at 4 or 5am?  You could have one "big ticket" sale item that would go on sale at 9am, then another at 11am, 1pm, and so on.  Businesses would benefit from mini-surges of activity, evening out the hectic day a little bit.  Having worked as a retail manager back in the mid-90's, I know that this would be helpful.

Consider events for Saturday and beyond - Rather than focusing on one big whammy on the day after Thanksgiving, why not draw it out a bit by having a big event on Saturday, Sunday, and the weeks following?  I have a feeling that most retail companies are worried that if they don't hit a home run on Black Friday, they are doomed.  I think there are many, many shoppers who specifically avoid shopping on that day - try to capture their business, too!


Moving and mapping items - Rather than leaving the items in their normal departments, why not move them throughout the store and assign numbers to each of them?  Then, when you hand out the slips to people in line, their number will correspond with a unit inside.  This will serve two purposes: It will prevent a giant cluster of shoppers in one part of the store, AND it will force people who were only planning to buy one thing to check out another department (maybe you'll get add-on business this way?).

Golden ticket - This one is, of course, inspired by the Willie Wonka movies.  Throughout the course of November, issue a specified number of golden tickets, or cards, or something similar, to customers with a purchase.  These can be issued randomly, and they will entitle the bearer to ONE big sale item at 1/2 price on Black Friday (or the day of your choosing).  The phenomenal nature of this uber-discount could drive more customers to start shopping a bit earlier in the hopes of landing a ticket.  Make sure to promote heavily, as Willie did in the original movie.  As with mail-in rebates, most people won't get around to spending their ticket, but you will have made the initial sale.

Well, thanks so much for listening, faceless corporate entity.  I hope you will at least consider making some changes, so that we won't all have to finish eating Thanksgiving dinner, only to get out our sleeping bags and head for the closest big strip center next year.  

I am available for consulting on these matters if you need any help or further ideas.  My contact info is on the right.  

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