Black Christmas: Good or Bad for Customer Experience? – Digital Leadership Associates

By Daryn Mason | @CxDaryn

Black Christmas is the period that starts when the big UK retail brands decide to launch their Christmas TV campaigns and ends on Black Friday (or Cyber Monday if you have any cash left!). You’ve never heard the term ‘Black Christmas’? That’s because I’ve just named it. So now it’s a ‘thing’ my friends.

I’m sure some people love this period – ‘retail therapy’ addicts, serial bargain hunters, or just the Wizzard fans who ” wish it could be Christmas every day “.

But despite its undoubted popularity, is Black Christmas good or bad for customer experience?

It’s a peculiar and relatively recent phenomenon. And there’s only one motive for Black Christmas: Wallet share.

The start of black Christmas season

Black Christmas begins when the UK retail behemoths decide to start it. You know who I mean … John Lewis, Marks & Spencer and Sainsbury’s to name a few. The Halloween Trick-or-Treaters have barely shut your garden gate behind them and the embers of the Guy Fawkes bonfire are still glowing. (Less poetically, this was around 7th November in 2017.)

Christmas TV advertisements suddenly invade your living room. These are no ordinary ads. They’re monster productions with no expense spared, ensuring they go ‘viral’ and get talked about across the country. They need their brand to be front-of-mind as we enter the pre-festive season of Black Christmas.

Most consumers have a fixed amount of money to spend at Christmastime and the big brands want to grab it from your wallet before the next guy. They don’t really care whether this is online or in-store.

But it’s a long haul from early November to Christmas Day so it’s difficult to maintain a consumer buying frenzy for six or seven weeks. Enter Black Friday.

Black Friday: A sale without a cause

Black Friday has been around in the US since the 1940s. It’s the day after Thanksgiving and so falls on the last Friday of November. It’s the closest US equivalent to the our [UK] Boxing Day and offers turkey-stuffed consumers a reason to get out bed and hit the shopping malls.

The inconvenient fact that Thanksgiving is not observed by the majority of Brits has not dampened the retailers’ enthusiasm for a big discount event. And if you have any cash left to spend then Cyber Monday will help mop up those remaining pennies.

Here’s the thing … It seems you need a reason to discount perfectly good stock. You can’t just reduce prices across the board willy-nilly. Otherwise consumers would be asking themselves why prices aren’t so low every day. And after all, retail needs to pump up those margins during the Christmas rush when there is a compelling event forcing people to buy at full price.

It was Amazon that crept in first. They started to offer UK customers the same Black Friday discounts as their US counterparts in 2010. Not many people noticed or cared. But in 2013 ASDA (owned by the US retailer Walmart) held a Black Friday sale offering huge discounts. And it worked. Very soon other retailers yelled, “hey, you’re stealing some of OUR Christmas wallet!” And so in 2014 the floodgates opened.

Black Friday has well and truly gripped the UK. It’s the “sale without a cause”.

This year, consumers are expected to spend £10.1 billion over the Black Friday weekend, 4% higher than last year. So it’s big business.

Full disclosure

I admit, I love Christmas. But like many others, I detest Black Christmas. I feel like I’m being forced into thinking about a festive feeding frenzy way too early. I simply can’t maintain festive cheer for that length of time. December is enough.

Although I’m very resistant to the concept of Black Friday, who doesn’t love a bargain? But as a CX professional, I ask myself “is this trend ultimately good for consumers?”

The dark side of black Christmas: Four reasons for brands and consumers to think twice

With all those great discounts around over the Black Friday-Cyber Monday period, what could possibly be the problem with Black Christmas from a customer experience perspective?

There is a darker side to Black Christmas for both brand and consumer.

  • Experience: It removes the X-Factor from CX. By mega-discounting, brands break away from those carefully cultivated customer journeys and go against everything they’ve striven for the rest of the year. It’s incongruous to say for one weekend that, “Oh, we were wrong. Price is everything.”
  • Brand image: There is good PR to be gained from social media videos and news footage of crowds streaming through the glass doors of a department store. But they don’t stop filming when the scene gets ugly and customers start trading punches over a bargain plasma TV. Last year, several major retailers’ websites buckled under unprecedented traffic volumes. Again, this has a major impact on brand reputation.
  • Margin erosion: The festive season will make or break the trading results of any major retail brand. By grabbing a big share of the customer’s wallet by heavily discounting, retailers blow their one chance in the year to deliver bottom line growth.
  • Consumer choice: As margins get salami sliced, some retailers won’t survive. Smaller independent traders are particularly vulnerable as they lack the purchasing power and economies of scale of the gargantuan multi-national brands. Ultimately this reduces choice for consumers. This not only happens online. Just look around any modern shopping mall and you’ll see the same retail brand names with very little variety and few independent traders, if any.

The genie is out of the bottle. Consumers are being trained to expect big discounts over the Black Friday weekend. The latest UK October online trading figures confirm that conversion rates are slowing down as customers browse in readiness for the Black Friday bonanza.

Despite my dislike for festive cheer in November, and the long term negative impact on customer experience for all of us, I fear that Black Christmas is here to stay.

What do you think? Are you a fan of Black Christmas? How do you think it impacts customer experience? I’d love to hear your views.


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