December 02, 2013

Final Thoughts On Black Friday - Cyber Monday (Soon To Be Called Mobile Monday)

Ok, I'm just getting this out of the way right now - somebody is going to call Cyber Monday "Mobile Monday" real soon ... suggesting that with anywhere between 3% and 50% of Cyber Monday orders happening on mobile devices that this "CHANGES EVERYTHING" and that "SAVVY BRANDS CAN REAP THE REWARDS WITH DEEP DISCOUNTS ON MOBILE MONDAY".

My readership, by the way, hit an annual high on Cyber Monday. A lot of feedback in my email inbox. "Engagement" on Twitter. And more than anything, a ton of referring URLs to the blog from Facebook, something that NEVER happens.

What were all the visitors from Facebook talking about? (click the links to find out)

We learned a lot this weekend, didn't we?

We learned that there are excuses:
  1. The economy is bad (really ... really ... it's been bad since Thanksgiving 2007, why did Black Friday - Sunday grow in the past six years but fail this year, please give an honest response?)
  2. The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas is compressed this year (that only impacts the entire season, not Black Friday - Cyber Monday).
By the way - by opening stores on Thanksgiving instead of Black Friday, we caused overall sales to decline. Ponder that one for a moment, the next time you want to ruin Thanksgiving for your employees by forcing them to work.

We've never seen discounts like this year, have we? A favorite, mega-brand apparel retailer blew through 40% off, then 50% off, then 40% off, then 50% off. Not off clearance, mind you, off NORMAL MERCHANDISE.

How do you ever recover from offering 50% off normal merchandise? Please explain why a loyal customer should ever pay full price in October or November again? Just wait until Black Friday / Cyber Monday / Mobile Monday, right?

According to NPR (click here), the response to a soft weekend will be ... wait for it ... wait for it ... DEEPER DISCOUNTS!!

My retail clients and readers have been brainwashed by folks with no skin in the game.

In the short-term, deeper discounts are required to move inventory, so yes, I get why we respond to a failure to sell stuff at 40% off by offering 50% off.

Maybe, however, we've hit a tipping point in the whole discounting / omnichannel movement. 

Short of giving away merchandise all weekend, you can increase demand by going from full price to 10% off. You can increase demand by going from 10% off to 20% off. You can increase demand by going from 20% off to 30% off.

And then something curious happens.

The rate that you increase customer response begins to slow as the discount rate gets higher and higher. The number of units the customer buys plateaus. The combination of customer response and unit purchases results in a demand plateau (and a profitability bath).

In other words, you need a dramatic increase in response once you start moving past 30% off, in order to offset the horrific impact that %-off promos have on unit volume and profitability. And if response does not increase linearly, well, then you have this year's Black Friday - Cyber Monday event.

Oh, I can hear the grumbling already. "We had to discount to remain competitive in this difficult marketplace". Hogwash. Just stop it already! Why did you not care about being competitive on October 22? Or June 7? Or April 14? You could have discounted on those days and crushed the competition (think Nordstrom's Anniversary Sale, for a great example of discounting at a non-competitive time). And did you walk into an Apple store on Black Friday? How much were those iPads being discounted? 30%? How the heck did Apple move volume on Black Friday? Discuss among yourselves. And if your answer is "they have a great brand and merchandise customers want", then holy cow, maybe you've hit on the reason why you have to discount so heavily.

The discounts are too deep, and no longer attract audience increases.

Trust is shot. Why should a customer pay anything other than the lowest possible price?

Omnichannel doesn't pay off. If it did, wouldn't all of the digital wonkery result in attracting customers who get in the car and shop in the store at increased rates, not decreased rates? Shouldn't all of the omnichannel solutions we've been hearing about, coupled with deep discounts, resulted in dramatic increases in sales?

The only folks who benefited were the trade journalists. They got eyeballs and media attention ... and that attracts ad dollars (usually from vendors who wish to advertise, vendors you hire ... so it's ultimately YOUR money that is being funneled to the trade journalists hyping deep discounts, omnichannel, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Mobile Monday).

We have arrived at a tipping point.

We can continue to worship vapid technological solutions (omnichannel) while Amazon builds delivery drones (customer service > omnichannel).

We can continue to worship discounts and promotions when we don't have an original idea left to promote our business.

We can continue to believe that mobile will add sales (instead of the much more likely outcome that it will heavily cannibalize in-store sales and e-commerce).

Or we can get back to the basics. Brilliant merchandising. Storytelling. Outstanding customer service. I dare you to find any expert in the trade journals who talk about how a combination of merchandising, storytelling, and customer service yield positive results. It's completely ignored. And it is time to change the narrative. What we're doing is not working.

Please leave a comment with your thoughts. Or send me an e-mail message ( with your thoughts.


  1. I understand merchandise (we can see the effect that focus on this has had on our business in the last year), and customer service (ditto) - but where do we go to enhance storytelling? Who wrote the book on that one?

  2. There's the Seth Godins and Gary Vaynerchuks of the world, obviously.

    But I think it goes deeper than that. When it comes to devices, think what Apple does with design, compared to, say, Microsoft. That's a story. Or think what Google conveys with "Don't Be Evil", regardless whether they are evil or not. They are telling a story. In other words, what do you stand for? It can't be great value at great prices, everybody does that. What do you stand for? Then how do you communicate what you stand for? That's your story.


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