Some unfortunate incidents in the not-too-distant past branded Black Friday with a bit of a “Wild-West” reputation. When news broke about a fight over smart phones putting people in the hospital and a woman pepper spraying fellow shoppers to clear her path to an Xbox, Walmart executives knew they’d have to come up with some creative ways to orchestrate a safer and more pleasant Black Friday shopping experience, more than mere safety procedures.
2012 Black Friday at Walmart: Curbing the Chaos
Walmart implemented a number of innovative Black Friday strategies in 2012 to get their sale event under control:
- Extended Sale Hours: Walmart kicked off their sale at 8:00 PM on Thanksgiving evening, and ended the event at 10:00 PM on Black Friday.
- Staggered Deals: A number of major item discounts were made available only during limited time periods, which were staggered throughout the Black Friday event.
- One-Hour Guarantees: Shoppers were promised that if Walmart ran out of certain designated sale items during the first sale hour that the item would be shipped to their store for them before Christmas.
- Large Item Lists: For HDTVs and other big-ticket merchandise, shoppers put their names on first-come, first-serve lists and were given tickets for purchase.
- Guarded Kiosks: Some popular electronics items, such as cameras and printers, were kept in plastic-wrapped kiosks, which were guarded by store employees and police officers. Kiosks were each unwrapped at specific, designated times, staggered over the course of the event to prevent overcrowding and mob behavior.
Walmart’s new approach to Black Friday brought some much-needed improvement. Staggered deals resulted in shorter lines and less of a mob scene at the beginning of the event. Since shoppers could choose to arrive when the particular items they wanted went on sale, not everyone felt a pressing need to be there at the event kick-off. Shoppers and Walmart employees were pleased at the resulting calmer atmosphere and cooler tempers.
Despite all the positive changes, not all reviews were rosy. Some shoppers strongly objected to the sale starting on Thanksgiving evening, feeling this was an encroachment on a traditional family holiday. What many shoppers and even some media reporters failed to realize is that Walmart being open on Thanksgiving was nothing new; only beginning the Black Friday deals that evening was a change from prior years.
Taking it up a Notch: Black Friday at Walmart 2013
Encouraged by last year’s success with their new strategy, Walmart plans to take their new and improved Black Friday to an even higher level. In addition to the successful new developments from last year, 2013 Walmart shoppers can expect:
- Even Longer Sale Hours: The official start to Black Friday this year is 6:00 PM on Thanksgiving with many stores remaining open 24 hours. Responding to a National Retail Foundation study revealing that many consumers were getting an early start to holiday shopping this year, some Walmart Black Friday deals will even begin a week early, on November 22, both in stores and online.
- Lots More One-Hour Guarantees: Walmart plans to offer seven times the number of one hour guarantees as last year.
- Increased Inventory: Walmart will stock 65% more inventory on televisions than last year, and twice the number of tablets.
- Lower Prices: Some big-ticket items will be priced even lower than last year.
- Employee Appreciation: To thank their associates for their hard work over the long Black Friday event, those who work during Black Friday will receive holiday pay, free meals and a 25% discount on an entire purchase during the holiday season.
Will Changes Pay Off for Walmart?
Walmart executives and economists are waiting to see whether their strategies will prove successful for Walmart’s Black Friday season. 2013 changes will likely continue to improve shopper experience and approval by keeping crowds and tempers under control. A continued shaky economy, however, coupled with some shopper disapproval of the Thanksgiving evening early kick-off may dampen sales to a degree. Additionally, labor protests planned at Walmart stores nationwide during Black Friday have historically created another element of unpredictability.
Walmart store image courtesy of Shutterstock.