Black Friday, a term that’s synonymous with the first shopping day after Thanksgiving has become nothing short of an institution. And Black Friday continues to be an important sales driver for retailers. This year retailers began “leaking” digital ads for Black Friday specials as early as November 1st to get consumers excited, and they are doing so for a good reason. According to a recent USA Today article, most sales still happen in actual stores, but online sales are quickly surpassing in-store sales with more than $1 out of every $6 spent online this holiday season, amounting to $124.1 billion.
So it’s interesting to see how Black Friday continues to evolve and embrace the digital experience – especially in the context of rapidly advancing technology that is revolutionizing the sector as a whole. After all, it is technology that has given rise to Black Friday’s online equivalent, Cyber Monday. But if we look to the future, the line between the two events will continue to blur, and the retail experience is likely to change beyond recognition for customer and retailers alike. Below are some examples of the ways this could unfold:
There will always be physical stores on our streets for those willing to brave Black Friday in search of a bargain. But with the advent of smart cities and the rise of autonomous vehicles on the horizon, traffic jams and hunting for parking spaces could soon be a thing of the past. Yet the physical presence of stores and their Black Friday deals may make it difficult for shoppers to completely transition to online shopping, resulting in a compromise— skipping the hectic parking lot madness and traffic by taking an uber to malls and stores, to lessen the craze that Black Friday brings, while still getting the in-store deals. Most likely, the future Black Friday shopper is likely to leave their car, enter the retail fray, and as they are walking past a retail store, be ‘buzzed’ by their smartphone or wearable device with a notification of an enticing sales offer, luring them to enter.
Once inside the store, our future Black Friday shopper will be identified by the in-store Wi-Fi, which also receives their buying habits, courtesy of big data. Like a digital personal shopper, the store’s app can guide customers effortlessly to their items of choice and preference. Even the stress associated with paying is removed, as ‘on-the-go’ methods and digital currencies eliminate long lines and checkouts from the process. In fact, we are already seeing the elimation of lines and checkouts with Amazon’s recent introduction of Amazon Go stores in Chicago, San Francisco and Seattle that use a mobile app to check in shoppers as their purchases are automatically charged as they leave the store.
Virtually painless purchases
For the time-poor who nonetheless enjoy the thrill of strolling the aisles, future Black Friday will pose an alternative option. Customers will be able to wear a VR headset and be transported to a virtual retail emporium. From the comfort of their own home, they will then be able to examine goods, check reviews, ask questions of the staff and chat to fellow VR shoppers. Paradise, surely? Well – maybe not for all.
The new wave of retail events
Some say that predictions of the future can be frightening, exciting, or considered pure fantasy. But the same cannot be said for digital transformation as it’s happening now. Retail stores already have it in their power to draw customers in and keep them there for longer than originally intended. And successful retail businesses have learned how the latest Wi-Fi access points and software defined networking such as SD-WAN can provide easy access to online services, without jeopardizing their own PoS and back office systems. Riverbed is also seeing many of our retail customers using SD-WAN to open up pop-up stores during the holiday season, or using end-user experience monitoring to ensure POS apps and digital services used by sales assistants or customers are working optimally.
It may be fair to say that autonomous vehicles have yet to become a common sight on our roads, but the number of smart cities grows by the day. For all the right reasons, the Internet of Things is spreading like wildfire across our world, reaching our homes, the places we travel to, as well as the people and systems we interact with. Physical or online retailers that ride the wave of agile, software-defined IT, combined with the visibility and control that comes with big data analysis and machine learning, are already leaving competitors wallowing in their wake as the digital experience continues to shape the future of Black Friday.