I hate Black Friday. I hate it. I've worked retail enough years of my life to grow cynical as people with far more money than sense trample my friends and coworkers to save a few dollars on something that won't buy their child's love. Cyber Monday is a reprieve, but no one's done it quite as well as Motorola.
Today, Motorola had a deal on a new Moto X. $140 off the no-contract price which brings it down to $360. Not bad for a phone only a few months old. And the last version was pretty sweet, as well. So I wanted to get in on it. I'm not sure if I can spend the money. It's the holidays, after all. Plus, rent is due at the end of the month. (I'd be curious to hear from landlords if there are spikes in unpaid rent during the holiday shopping season.) Most importantly, I don't want to leave the house.
In short, I'm the modern shopper. I have some amount of disposable income, but I have to be careful with it. I'm trained to use the internet to find everything and I'm frustrated by brick and mortar stores. I'm also indecisive. Maybe I really am a millennial.
Enter Motorola. They have the perfect method for getting a deal for me. Earlier today, at about noon Eastern, their site hosted a deal where you could get a promo code for $140 off an unlocked phone. The first people to sign up would receive one, and the code would be sent out at some point before midnight. No collisions or duplicate codes, and it's fairly easy to handle the traffic. From a technical standpoint, it's easy to do.
The codes themselves are valid until December 15th. I'm on the fence. If there's a customer that a retailer is desperate to convert, it's me. The people who know they want a Moto X already got one (or will get one either way), and the people who absolutely don't want one don't care about deals. I'm happy with my old unit, but I might want a new one. I am the type of person that sales like this cater to.
I watched from the couch as noon rolled around. I'd fully intended to ignore the sale, insisting that I don't have the money and I should be saving it (which is true!). But...it's just a code. Right? It's just a coupon. I can sign up to get a coupon. There's no reason not to do that at least. If I change my mind later, I'll miss it.
Notably, I'm correct. It is currently 1:53 PM as I write this paragraph, less than two hours after the sale began, and the coupon codes are gone (as seen above). From a retailer's perspective, this satisfies the demand for scarcity. The reason people line up six hours early on Black Friday or weeks early for an iPhone isn't because they like camping out. It's because they think that if they're not there early, they won't get one at all. This method of limiting coupon codes enforces similar scarcity. Your local Walmart only has so many TVs it can sell you for $200. And Motorola only has so many coupon codes it can give you.
The difference is that I now have plenty of time to think about whether or not I want to buy something. Two weeks, in fact. Heck, I don't just have two weeks, but a whole 'nother payday between now and the time that coupon code expires. I didn't plan on buying a phone today. I have two weeks to change my mind and open my wallet.
This is the perfect way to approach holiday shopping. Technical issues aside (surely some retailers will have crappy websites), most people would be far happier to spend money from the comfort of their own home than freezing on the streets. Or, at least I assume they would. Cyber Monday is a tradition old enough to include the word "cyber" but people still camp out (or go shopping on Thanksgiving, even), so maybe I'm the one who's out of touch.
Let's say I am, though. Let's assume that even if all the same deals were available online, people would still go sit in the freezing cold for hours on end, abandoning their family and loves ones, in pursuit of the Almighty Deal. Here's the thing: those people will buy their shit anyway.
Black Friday doesn't convince people to open their wallets if they weren't already planning to. You might be able to convince them to shop at your store, instead of your competitor. And, indeed, having customers physically at your location during a synchronized sale event keeps them away from your competitor's registers. This is true.
It also doesn't matter. Because their wallets will be empty regardless. Consider the Steam sale. Hardcore PC gamers have so completely accepted the inevitable pillage of their bank accounts when the Steam sale happens, the phenomenon has been likened to a religious phenomenon. And that's not exactly wrong. It doesn't matter when or how Valve has a sale. They will come.
Black Friday is the same way. Those shoppers will pay you money no matter what happens. If your Thankgiving day newspaper ads (still a strong infection vector for Black Friday, I'm told) contains instruction to go to a website at midnight, rather than a store, those people will come pay you money. In fact, that may be the key factor that turns them to your store over your competitor.
Those people are deal hunters and they will buy what they want for the cheapest price they can get, regardless of the method. Your only job there are showing them the deals. Advertising, that's it. They're not the ones you should be concerned with, though. The people you should be focusing on are the people like me: undecided shoppers who are sick of this shit.
According to the National Retail Federation, 133.7 million people went shopping in stores or online this year. That number is down 5.2% (from 141 million) from last year. The amount of money they spent was $50.9 billion, down a full 11% from $57.4 billion.
Let me reiterate that, real quick. More stores than ever opened early on Thanksgiving this year. Despite this shift, retailers made $6.5 billion less.
Now, it's impossible to say that opening earlier on Thanksgiving was the cause of this. Obviously. Economics are far too complex and there are too many factors. In fact, it's incredibly unlikely that any single factor lost the retail industry $6.5 billion. But the one thing this does highlight is that there's room for growth.
And it's sitting right here. In my chair. I'm at home and I want to buy things. I don't want to spend my holidays—those rare times I finally get some time off—fighting with strangers over a cheap bit of crap. I don't want to fight anyone at all. I want to walk in, buy stuff, and leave. Or, better, not leave the house at all. And I'm not alone. At least 20 million people pay Amazon extra money just to leave the house less.
Motorola (and I'm sure other stores) has a golden model on its hands. I exerted very little effort beyond reading the internet to get my hands on a deal. And I'm now very tempted to spend money I would not have otherwise spent. Had this coupon code not been available, my holiday weekend spending would have been $0. Instead, it may be $360.
"Yes, but what if you get the code and don't use it. That's a lost sale!" Fair point. For starters, though, I wouldn't have bought the phone anyway. If Motorola's deal had been that I have to go to a store, I wouldn't go. If I had to log in and go through their complex Moto Maker to pick a phone and hope I got done in time to order it immediately, I wouldn't have done that either (side note: this is probably a large part of the reason they did it this way). No matter what the alternative is, it doesn't increase the likelihood I'm going to buy it. This bar is low enough that anyone who was definitely going to buy it would have. An undecided like me is exactly the target market, so some people not taking up the offer after getting the code is precisely the expected behavior.
More importantly, though, it doesn't remove sales from anyone else. If you expect some people will grab the codes and not use them, you give out more. This isn't a new phenomenon to retailers. If you give out too few, guess what? Second chance promotion! There's no scenario here that's not fixable by perfectly normal retail strategies.
The more important thing, though, is that it removes nearly all barriers between the customer and their money. I am considerably more likely to give Motorola more money right now than I would have been earlier and it is solely due to how easy it is. Once you consider this method of getting a deal, it's hard to imagine going out and spending hours upon hours of your life attempting the same savings.
This method simply makes the most sense. So please, retailers, stop fucking everything up for everyone. You don't need to horn in on our holidays. You don't need to put people through a gauntlet just to get everyone's adrenaline up. Laziness is a far more powerful force than aggression. And if you don't believe me, try both! I mean, it's not like sticking to an outdated brick and mortar strategy while ignoring trends in online commerce ever killed anyone, right?