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Stampede no more: designing a Black Friday experience we all can get behind

I love roller coasters and I hate waiting in line to ride them. The day I learned you could pay extra to skip the slog of snaking amusement park lines, I was sold. Take my money and please, give me back my time.

Plenty of consumers concur: our time is worth something and we’ll spend money to make sure that time is well spent. That might be especially true around the holidays, when our time is at a premium. But then there’s Black Friday, which promises fantastic, FOMO-inducing deals—the attainment of which requires deficits in sleep, comfort, and, yes, time.

Black Friday seems, in many ways, an outlier to retailers’ efforts to provide excellent customer service and seamless customer experiences the rest of the year—experiences that customers are asking for in ever-increasing numbers. Retailers spend 364 days of the year trying to raise the bar, but on Black Friday, the customer experience tends to degrade before the customer even enters the store. Car accidents spike on Black Friday by 34 percent—and many of these are related to backing-up mishaps in parking lots. Considering how much we can purchase online and have delivered, it begs the question: Why do we still put ourselves through this?

We love the rush

Neurologically speaking, The rush of getting a good deal sends all kinds of happy feels through our brains and bodies. Few things can beat it, even if we don’t love the rush of having to arrive early at a store or push our way forward in a beastly line. Consumer psychologist Kit Yarrow, speaking with Popular Science, says the deals may even be incidental for some—there’s also an element of tradition and bonding the whole family can get behind, satisfaction in the ritual and in connecting with others through a shared experience.

In the United States, we’ve come to accept Black Friday tradition with a lowercase t, as well as something of a collective joke. For a long time, it seemed we were willing to get what we paid for, valuing the deal on a flatscreen TV over a pleasant customer experience. But things are changing.

For a long time, it seemed we were willing to get what we paid for, valuing the deal on a flatscreen TV over a pleasant customer experience. But things are changing.

According to National Retail Federation (NRF) spokeswoman Ana Smith, retailers are listening to customers’ desire for a better experience—even on Black Friday.

"Customers should expect an improvement on customer experience in stores, especially from larger retailers," she said, noting that retailers are doing their best to improve the Black Friday customer service experience, whether it happens online, in person, or on the phone.

Paving the way with omnichannel

Smith explained that the retail industry, which has been pressed to evolve, is seeing some of its largest transformations in the realm of customer service and customer experience. It’s all about making the pathway to purchase easier for the consumer and creating experiences that make it feel worthwhile to engage with brands and build lasting relationships.

Creating easy experiences is often taken as creating digital experiences, giving customers the option to shop online from the comfort of home. But if that were true, this piece would be about how Cyber Monday has completely surpassed the magic of Black Friday. Instead, the numbers suggest that Cyber Monday isn’t simply a correction for any Black Friday claustrophobia.

According to an NRF survey about Black Friday 2016, 44 percent of shoppers shopped online while 40 percent shopped in store. Of those that shopped in a store at some point over the entire Thanksgiving weekend, 75 percent did so on Black Friday—an increase of 3 percent over the year prior.

"Retailers are listening to their customers," Smith said. "One clear example is the fact that consumers love to shop both online and in store. [Retailers] give them the best of both worlds, offering deals to encourage people to shop online and pick up in store. Major brands, such as Target and Wal-Mart, are doing this flawlessly."

Improving the customer experience is less about the shopping and contact channels available, in other words, and more about how well the customer experience is managed when they switch from online to in-store, or when they call with a question about a return and then show up in store to pick up a new item.

I’m not buying it

A better Black Friday experience is great, but with every reaction comes an equal or greater reaction. Some retailers, including REI, are blacking out Black Friday: shuttering entirely, on principle, on the shopping-est weekend of the year.

Black Friday just doesn’t fit the bill for some, and there are other ways to get that dopamine rush. In fact, some psychologists say the most powerful experience is one where you boost dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin. Consider tips from psychologist Dr. Ava Ritvo, writing in Psychology Today, who suggests achieving the happiness trifecta in an entirely different way.

Black Friday just doesn’t fit the bill for some, and there are other ways to get that dopamine rush. In fact, some psychologists say the most powerful experience is one where you boost dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin.

She challenges us to spend 45 minutes on Black Friday giving or helping others, whether by cleaning up a neighborhood street, raking leaves for a friend, or volunteering at a local shelter, school, or religious institution. The key is:

  • It must help someone else, which boosts serotonin.
  • It must be something you don’t normally do, which boosts dopamine.
  • Don’t forget to hug, or at least shake the hands of, as many people as you can, which releases oxytocin.

Black Friday isn’t yet a thing of the past, and perhaps it never will be. At the end of the day—regardless of whether we hit the stores in the wee hours of the morning with our families and a thermos of hot chocolate, or save our time and pennies for Cyber Monday, or eschew shopping altogether with Ritvo’s suggestions in mind—we can choose how we spend our time and money, and there is an opportunity for us all to have It’s something worth advocating for.

As for me, I’ll be in bed on Friday morning, considering a cup of coffee instead of a wind-chapped nose. As exciting and dopamine-inducing as the roller coaster of Black Friday shopping can be, I’ll stick to the high of riding an actual roller coaster for now.

But call me when you can buy a pass to skip the line; I could use an upgrade on my flatscreen.

Tara Ramroop is a content marketing manager at Zendesk and frequent contributor to Relate. A loquacious Libra lady of letters, she firmly believes the craft of storytelling makes the world a more understanding and, well, relatable place. A Bay Area native, English degree be damned, she has no qualms about saying or writing "hella." Follow her visual stories and occasionally cheeky captions on Instagram @roopisonfire.