Texas Tech University

Lubbock Avalanche-Journal: Black is back and much more social

Trevor Bell

November 25, 2013

Lin Humphrey, Rawls College of Business Marketing Doctoral Student, shares his expertise in a recent Lubbock Avalanche-Journal article.

PaperLines hundreds of people long wrapped around a store and door-buster deals aren't the only ways for people to kick off the holiday shopping season anymore, and many retailers are being forced to find new and innovative ways to get customers through the doors and -- more importantly -- keep them there.

The term "Black Friday" isn't derived from the negative attitudes formed by customers waiting in long lines; it's actually an accounting term, said local marketing expert William Humphrey.

"This is traditionally the period in which retailers become profitable -- if you are in the red you're not profitable, and in the black you're profitable," he said.

Because the importance of the annual shopping holiday extends deep into shops' bank accounts, a late November Thanksgiving is not ideal for many stores reliant on the holiday.

"We've got a very compressed shopping season, so they have more pressure that they have to deliver year-over-year sales growth, but they have a shorter shopping period because our Thanksgiving is hitting a lot later than it typically would," Humphrey said. "Wall Street doesn't adjust its expectations based on when Thanksgiving and Black Friday fall."

To combat the late holiday, stores are opening earlier than ever, Humphrey said, and Black Friday advertisements are "leaking" well before the traditional Thanksgiving Day release.

"There are websites where you can see the deals ahead of time, and, because we have mobile technology and great access to Google and other tools, we can comparison shop," he said.

Shopping by comparison is a financially responsible choice, but has led to a phenomenon known as "show-rooming" that is completely changing the buying experience on both sides of the register.

"It used to be that there was the joy of buying the product and having it in your hands, but now there is almost the joy of getting the better deal," Humphrey said.

Show-rooming is when a customer walks into a store, sees a desirable item, scans it using smartphone technology and purchases for a cheaper price from a competing store -- all by using a cellphone.

"Because we can just zap a barcode and see what the competitors are offering it for, retailers have to step up their game," Humphrey said. "So, I think we are going to see kinder and gentler practices when it comes to price matching and returns."

Although Target has offered a price-matching option for a number of years, senior team leader Jared Coats said the nationwide retailer is more-heavily emphasizing the option this year.

"We actually price match most things, and that's one of the things we try to make everyone aware of," Coats said. "So, if they can bring us something to verify that the price is different, we will price match it right there. That is how we kind of counteract that."

Price matching isn't the only way stores can offset the show-rooming phenomenon. Many stores have taken advantage of mobile technology to set the playing field in their favor, Humphrey said.

This year, Target launched a "Get Appy" campaign to promote the use of apps like Cartwheel and Shopkick to keep customers engaged while in the store, Coats said.

"Every Target team member pretty much has a mission to educate guests about different apps and different information technology you can use in order to get better deals," he said. "Those are things we have been really trying hard to educate our guests about over the past six weeks."

While shopping, the app allows a customer to see what the weekly deals are and pushes users to scan different products that they may not have otherwise looked at, in exchange for rewards points.

The points earned on these different sites are redeemable for things like cruise vacations and gift cards.

Because the app encourages customers to think about a single store, rather than where they can find a product cheaper, it combats show-rooming, Humphrey said.

In addition to mobile technology, customers are likely to utilize social media to document their shopping experiences.

"People will share what they buy, especially if they are buying online -- we make it so easy to share what we've gotten," Humphrey said. "It is now the baseline that when you buy a product, it is going to have the ability to share it, and a lot of these retailers really depend on that social share."

Pinterest is even rolling out a new program that allows users to "pin" places, and actually show others where a product can be bought.

Large retailers like Target are not the only stores taking advantage of the shift in shopping trends. Locally owned Get Gussied Up in the South Plains Mall hired an employee solely dedicated to updating the store's social media outlets, said Emily Smith, the store's stock manager.

"We use Facebook to post pictures of all of our new inventory and all of the sales we are going to have," she said. "And all we do with our Instagram is post pictures of the new stuff that we get in."

The social media employee is responsible for taking those photos, Smith said.

Read the original article via the Lubbock-Avalanche Journal.

Written by: R.S. DOUGLAS