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For a Better Black Friday, Know Your Most Challenging Customers

For a Better Black Friday, Know Your Most Challenging Customers
Image credit: Alex Slitz/Daily News/AP

Black Friday kicks off the all-important holiday shopping season.  Approximately 89 million shoppers flocked to stores during Black Friday weekend last year, with nearly half finishing all or most of their shopping, according to the National Retail Federation. This season shoppers are expected to spend $421 on gifts alone, a 9 percent jump over 2012, finds a Deloitte Survey. However, to tap into those sales, you’ll need to provide top customer service to crowds who are likely exhausted and stressed. “Black Friday weekend is tough because shoppers frequently are at their worst,” says Bob Phibbs, a retail consultant and speaker on retail-related issues based in Coxsackie, NY. To help your staff prepare, our experts have put together solutions for the most common problem customers you’ll encounter.

The “didn’t know it was Black Friday” shopper. While walking in with lots of questions for those on the sales floor is totally acceptable, customers who don’t realize it’s the busiest shopping day of the year may feel let down when it’s impossible for you to spend as much time catering to their requests, says Mike Wittenstein, founder of Storyminers, an Atlanta-based customer experience and service design consultancy. To prepare, “add staff till it hurts, and follow up with customers you can't fully serve,” he says. Rather than rush through customer interactions, he suggests keeping a notebook handy and taking customers’ contact information or simply adding it into the computer system to give them more personal attention after the rush. Follow through is essential, and make sure to loop back to share suggestions about a potential product or a new arrival.

The betrayed-by-promises shopper. Many shoppers come through the door expecting rock bottom prices on the day after Thanksgiving, but may leave disappointed when those expectations are unfulfilled, even if your store’s advertisements were correct. To prevent this, plan promotions carefully and make sure the special deals are described clearly and don’t take shortcuts in email or social media. For example, fine print at the bottom of an email means that customers are unlikely to read it on a mobile phone. Promising a free gift with purchase without having enough of the item in stock can be misleading. On Black Friday, customers “aren't browsing per se for the newest and best as much as [finding] the deal,” says Phibbs.

If one of your Black Friday promotions is unclear, stay away from proving your point, adds Micah Solomon, a customer service expert and author of High Tech, High Touch Customer Service. Avoid beginning sentences with “you need to” or “like I said” which can infuriate customers, he says. And if a customer misunderstood one of your promotions, it’s best to honor the price.

The messy shopper. With so much foot traffic, shoppers that tend to pick up things without putting them back can make the store look less appealing to whoever walks in next. But with no time to tidy up during the holiday rush, it may be wise to rethink how much inventory and which products you’ll keep on the shelves. It’s important to add products that are more seasonal or are part of a Black Friday deal, while pairing back on non-gift items that holiday shoppers would be less interested in buying. Additionally, place the products you’ll be selling at a discount in areas prone to messiness such as large tables at the back of the store. “Messed up displays sell better -- especially if they are at a [discounted] price,” says Phibbs.

The impatient shopper. Already-impatient shoppers may feel even more aggravated on a day that’s especially busy. The key is acknowledging a customer right away and making him or her feel more relaxed as they are waiting, says Solomon. “The ‘I’ll be with you ASAP’ look can go a long way,” says Solomon. Otherwise, simply texting customers when the line gets shorter can help. For bored customers, “the goal is to change the perceived wait time,” says Solomon. “Have staff entertain them or give samples to the line while they wait.” 

The group shopper. The long Thanksgiving weekend means plenty of customers are shopping in groups as large as eight people. Handling friends or relatives who are out shopping together can be more intimidating, because it’s difficult to cater to everyone’s needs, says Amanda Proeber, a Chicago-based manager at Lush stores, a cosmetics franchise. Don’t try to please everyone at once, she says. Rather than asking about specific needs, make sure the group is entertained with anything from interactive demos where members of the group can test or sample products, says Proeber. “Having fun…will likely bring them back again,” she adds. While keeping the bulk of the group engaged, Proeber asks another store associate to address the specific needs of individual group members.

Alina Dizik is a freelance journalist and writer based in New York City. Her work has been published in The Wall Street Journal, iVillage, More magazine, The Knot, BusinessWeek and the Financial Times.

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