Be Quick, Be Careful, Be Creative: Three Rules for Retailers for Black Friday and Beyond


Eerily silent high streets, queues outside supermarkets, and cardboard boxes piling up in consumers’ recycling bins. These three images encapsulate 2020 for many of us. Once a leisure activity or a quick, after-work supermarket trip, the shopping experience was transformed. For some, it became an activity that required planning, forethought, and risk. For others, it became a digital -only experience with all of the associated delivery tracking, slow page-loading, and endless aisles.

These three images have also created a tumultuous and unpredictable time for retailers, who have been forced to adapt to changing customer, economic, supply chain, and societal demands. Some things though, have not changed. We have had the annual Amazon Prime Day, which will closely be followed by China’s Singles Day, and the now the global phenomenon of Black Friday, Cyber Monday and the surrounding days. 

The other thing that has not changed is the need to deliver an uncomplicated, efficient, and relevant consumer experience. Let’s narrow that down to three ‘must do’s’ for retailers and look how best to achieve this for Black Friday, and for every day that follows. 

Replenish digital shelves quickly…

A quickly-depleting shelf in a shop is an immediate indication of a best-selling product – a blessing and a curse for retailers during sales events like Black Friday. 

An empty shelf is an instant sign to consumers that a brand is out of stock. The virtual environment does not necessarily make these things so clear. Without an e-commerce platform that updates stock information in real time, retailers may be pushing the wrong products and advertising items which are unavailable. For many online shoppers, there is nothing worse than adding items to your basket only to discover further along the journey – at the checkout – that the item has sold out. 

Over the Black Friday period it’s common for heavily-discounted items to sell out quickly. Retailers need to be ready to act when they do, immediately notifying shoppers and offering relevant alternatives. This applies not only to a brand’s website, but across other marketing touchpoints. There is no point sending out a newsletter blast promoting an item when your stock is limited – or at zero.

Brands need to act quickly and be able to locate and update associated digital assets. These might include product images, audio, video, design files, logos, presentations, and documents – all stored and accessible in a single digital asset management platform. Digital shelves can be replenished, and consumers redirected to other relevant items. Speed is of the essence here, however, it should not come at the expense of accuracy and consistency.

…but replenish shelves carefully…

If a brand replenishes an item on the wrong shelf in-store it will be an isolated mistake which can quickly be rectified. If they do so online – or update the incorrect product description, price, visual assets etc. – it is a mistake which could be seen by thousands of shoppers. Do not underestimate the eagle-eyed consumer!

Retailers must be able to find digital assets quickly, but they must also be confident that they are the right assets. Images and the like will go through multiple rounds of edits, with versions often shared across multiple departments. To enable brands to act quickly and respond to shopper and business demands, approved, up-to-date, region-specific, on-brand assets must be easily identified and accessible to all relevant team members. 

This last point is also something brands should bear in mind. While accessibility of brand assets is a key enabler of thinking and acting quickly, access should be granted with care. Marketers are busy people, and requests for assets from team members – as well as lengthy approval processes to check newly-created assets adhere to brand guidelines – are additional tasks that eat into more of a marketer’s time. Instead, brands should look to digital asset management (DAM) platforms that integrate brand and workflow management tools.

What does this look like? It could mean a feature that restricts access to certain brand assets. It could be readily-available templates to ensure newly-created assets adhere to brand guidelines and formatting rules. It may also mean automated notifications sent to editors following the creation of a new digital asset. All of these approaches help streamline workflows and help get rid of convoluted emails chains.

…and always do so creatively

Black Friday highlights the need for brands to replenish their digital shelves at speed, without sacrificing consistency, accuracy or brand identity. But do not forget – consumers aren’t only interested in snagging bargains as quickly and cheaply as possible. They also want to enjoy the shopping experience. 

The closure of and restrictions on bricks-and-mortar stores has meant retailers have had to up their digital game. Without the in-store experience to rely on, customer service and experience have to be created in a wholly (or mostly) virtual way.

The big players have already publicised their strategies for achieving this. Marks and Spencer, for instance, has promised ‘the most digital Christmas yet’. John Lewis has committed to investing more in digital services, as part of a five-year plan.

How can others – including far smaller retail groups and indies – keep up? In addition to speed and accuracy, brands must act creatively. A lack of rich content, or content which isn’t optimised for different channels, can cost brands dearly. Almost 60% of customers won’t recommend a business with a poorly designed website on mobile, according to one estimate. Half will stop visiting a website if it is not mobile-optimised, even if they like the brand. Rich content, optimised for different channels, which is updated regularly, will promote customer engagement and help drive sales. 

This takes a team effort, with coordination between design, product, and marketing teams. An asset management platform that encourages collaboration on digital asset creation is therefore a must. Instead of storing assets in disparate locations – think Dropbox, a company server, a personal device, an email inbox – they should be centralised in a single solution. This takes the hassle out of locating and sharing assets, leaving more time for creativity.

Credit: Jake Athey, VP of Marketing and Customer Experience, Widen.