Black Friday, although an American shopping tradition, gets bigger every year in South Africa.. Photo: Mary Pahlke/Pixabay

JOHANNESBURG – Black Friday, although an American shopping tradition, gets bigger every year in South Africa. In just a few years, it has disrupted sales trends and patterns, changed consumer shopping habits, and forced businesses to rethink their year-end sales strategies and processes.

This year will be the biggest Black Friday yet. And since it falls after pay day, on 29 November, consumers will have more discretionary income to spend – and they’ve been saving for this day for months.

Spending spree

Last year, each consumer spent, on average, R1 700 on 4.5 products. Most of these sales happened between 8am and 11am. Yet small businesses struggled to compete. They reported a 10 percent drop in revenue and a 2 percent drop in sales volume, despite a remarkable 1 952 percent increase in total Black Friday sales.

The reality is, few small businesses can match the inventory levels, buying power, or budgets of bigger businesses. Rather than trying to keep up, they should view Black Friday as an opportunity to attract new customers, delight existing ones, and focus on creating exceptional experiences.

To prepare your small business for the big day, answer these questions:

Is your technology up to the task?

More consumers opt to shop from their couches to avoid in-store chaos. But nothing ruins the experience faster than slow websites, limited stock, and confusing payment processes.

As a small business, you might not have the budget or flexibility to scale your technology on demand, but there are other ways to reduce pressure on your systems.

  • Ask your customers to create wish lists. Offer random, limited-time-only discounts on some of these items. This creates a sense of urgency and helps to spread the traffic.
  • Scatter deals throughout the day, remembering the peak hours from 8am to 11am, and also leveraging the quiet afternoon and evening time, when consumers will be less distracted by other businesses.
  • Check the loading time of your website. If it’s longer than five seconds, investigate ways to speed it up, like file compression.
  • Automate as much as possible, from invoice generation, to payment and delivery, so you’ll have more time to focus on your customers.

What vibe will you create?

Black Friday and Cyber Monday is as much about the experience as it is about the amazing deals.

Create a vibe that draws people to your small business:

  • Own a nursery? How about free gardening demonstrations throughout the day?
  • Or, if you’re a hairdresser, why not offer a free scalp massage with every cut?
  • A coffee shop owner? Offer your customers a free coffee with one of your premium breakfasts.

This way, you’re not discounting your products or services, but you are giving customers more value for their money.

And when customers feel valued, they tell other people: 96% of customers say customer service determines their brand loyalty, and loyal customers are five times more likely to purchase again and four times more likely to refer a friend.

How will you prepare?

Consumers know what they’re looking for on Black Friday. When they find it, they’ll want to bag it and move on to the next item on their list. Your technology, processes, and people should work together seamlessly to enable this.

Here are some ways to do that;

  • Offer a variety of payment options that quickly move customers from order to checkout to payment.
  • If you’re expecting a busy weekend, hire temporary support. There are plenty of youngsters who would be happy for the work experience.
  • With consumers holding off on buying selected items months before Black Friday, you can start releasing teaser specials and advertising deals weeks in advance.
  • Market using tools you already have, like social media and email databases to create competitions and encourage people to visit your premises or website. Do your research and monitor conversations happening under hashtags like #BlackFriday to see what other businesses are doing and to get new ideas.
  • Learn from the past. Look at last year’s sales data. When were you busiest? What products were in demand? What did you sell out of? What didn’t sell at all? What problems did you experience? Knowing this lets you better prepare and avoid the same problems this year. It also lets you negotiate discounts on popular products with suppliers in advance.

Black Friday is an opportunity for small businesses to win customers for life. Implementing alternate strategies can help your business benefit from Black Friday and uncover opportunities to provide a seamless customer experience, from browsing, through ordering, tracking, purchasing, and after-sales service.

Viresh Harduth is cice president of Small Business at Sage Africa & Middle East.

BUSINESS REPORT