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I'll admit it - Black Friday as a concept scares the living daylights out of me.

People lining up outside a Walmart at 4AM frightens me. People killing people to get deals frightens me. I mean, I've hankered for a great deal, waking up at 3AM to buy a copy of Dead Space off of Amazon last year, but I have never been more than a little disappointed about not getting it. Never murderous. Thanksgiving is the time for turkeys and pies, not murder.

In fact, I've begun to question the actual rationale of the whole thing. There's only really two reasons one would engage in the process - 1) to hope that good deals will get people into a buyer's frenzy and pick up other things that are advertised as deals but aren't really or 2) get people to feel 'good' about the experience so that they'll come back and shop again.

I'm ignoring the first - I like to believe it doesn't exist, though it clearly does - and have found a few stores that have really dug deeper into the customer loyalty aspect - the way in which they don't just provide some kind of deep discount, but the ability to communicate and deal with customers as customers versus an obtuse order number. The bespoke concept - though not exactly creating a 'thing' especially for them - comes down to creating an experience for the customer.

A former client - Loyalty expert and inventor of the first ever airline loyalty program Hal Brierley of e-Miles - puts it best -

One of the keys in marketing is to set expectations appropriately--and then to over-deliver. Southwest Airlines does that very well. We [Brierley+Partners] also believe companies need to do more listening to the consumer than preaching to the consumer.

Recently I've found myself drawn towards these companies, and feel that you, the reader, should too. For example, WIROLIMO is a car service I found through random Google searches and Yelp that I pay just a little more than yellow cab for. Why? Because he confirms via email, texts you to confirm the morning of, and will be there.

Bonobos, a New York-based clothing retailer, makes incredibly comfortable trousers, and has a one-day free delivery policy - along with a Zappos-style return-policy. On hearing, via Twitter, that I'd scarred my knee up along with my favourite pair of trousers from them, they gave me $35 towards a new order. They had a great Cyber Monday sale, and guess what? I bought an extra pair of trousers because I know they're great, and I want to stick with a company that not only makes a great product but actually cares about its customers. Even my underwear is taken care of now by Manpacks - why did I stick around for a second order? Because when they sent me a shirt that I simply didn't like the fit of, they sent two more to replace it, to "make sure I was happy."

FreshDirect, on a clerical error regarding dates of delivery, put together a box of food for me off-system, and then called to make sure it got there. The Sofitel New York went out of their way to make sure my parents were treated extra-well on their return this November after the hotel accidentally double-billed them - and they now pretty much have customers for life.

One of my current clients (full disclosure), PetFlow, was started by the founders of a former client, the performance marketing firm (Epic Advertising/The Epic Media Group). They founded their auto-petfood-delivery company on the base concept that I think retailers need to understand - that they want to create customers versus purchasers - people who will be loyal rather than mercenary about purchases - relying on service and actually getting what you want (versus a 'good deal') out of something.

If the retail industry can start constructing itself around the concept of service versus sales, then they'll actually make more money. Well, most will. There will always be the companies that simply don't care - but then again, that's how you'll know when you get a really, really great experience.

 

Follow Ed Zitron on Twitter: www.twitter.com/edzitron