Interview: Helen Schmid, Head of E-commerce & Digital Marketing at Journelle on Black Friday

Black Friday, and similar shopping peaks, seem to get more intense in the retail industry each year. From sales starting earlier and earlier, to discounts that condition customers to eschew buying full-price, the months leading up to December holidays have become a shopping frenzy. We sat down with Helen Schmid, Head of E-Commerce & Digital Marketing at Journelle, to get her opinion on making one of retails toughest periods successful for her brand.

In your experience what are the key challenges the industry faces during peak periods, such as Christmas, and Black Friday?

The biggest challenge for multi brand retailers during peak periods is the reliance on promotions and discounts to meet revenue goals. Black Friday isn’t just a single day sale anymore— it’s becoming a one or two month long promotion, with pre-sales, sales during Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and post-sales clearance. Customers no longer have to wait until the specific Black Friday date to shop, and instead can purchase at their own pace and easily find the best value online. 

Will you be participating in Black Friday promotions this year?

We will definitely be participating in Black Friday this year as it’s a key period for all retail companies; however, we’re also invested in being differentiated and elevated in our site experience. Our curated content (gift guides and editorial guides) help us stand out among the Black Friday noise. Not a lot of companies have that type of editorial precision with the content they are putting out there. Our goal during Black Friday and other peak sales is to be more relevant and personalized for our customers.

Last year for the holidays we launched an advent calendar (“25 days of Journelle”) that was highly curated, leading to a tripling of our average site conversion rate on that page. We believe that helping someone with gifting or discovery is best way to get improve conversion during peak sales periods.

Given the challenges - are promotional periods like Black Friday worth it? Or what are your thoughts on discounting and the impact on consumer behavior.

It’s up to each retailer to determine how much margin they’re willing to sacrifice for sales volume, as is the case for all promotional periods, not just Black Friday. I think it’s important to understand how and when customers shop and meet your customer’s shopping needs.

Discounting will continue. People are increasingly disloyal to retailers and more loyal to brands and products. Marketplaces are going to continue to grow, and in the past five years, more luxury marketplaces have launched than ever before. It’s harder for multi brand retailers who don’t own product to compete. The way to stand out is outstanding content and customer experience, both before and after an order is made.

Have you noticed any changes in customer behavior changing during Q4 peak, and particularly around days like Black Friday or Cyber Monday?

I think more people are shopping in general during Q4. It seems to really start around November— customers know that they will get great deal during that time, so they are just waiting for that to happen. Unfortunately, this has impacted Q3 and in particular October, which was a softer-than-usual online shopping month for all categories because customers were waiting for November’s sales. 

Any changes that were really evident between 2014 and 2015?

People are expecting deals earlier more and more because the offers are starting sooner and ending later. Constant sales are making Black Friday become a two month long saga, and customers are loving it because they can start their shopping earlier without a last minute scramble.

Customers today are focused on value, especially for ecommerce companies. We’ve run gift bundles and in my past e-commerce retail job we’ve have tried gift credits, but nothing converts as well as a promotion code that customers can use right away on the order. Customers want instant gratification.

In your opinion, what is driving any changes or trends you have noticed? 

Companies like Amazon and Google have really changed the online shopping landscape. Amazon has commoditized everyday low prices, fast, free shipping, and free returns, and are now aggressively recruiting more niche brands and launching more private label. I think they’ll continue to grow and take market share from traditional retailers. Google Shopping/PLA gives customers the ability to price compare across all distributors/retailers and trains customers to be value-conscious. If they already know what they want, customers can easily make Google Shopping search to find the best price, which I think has made customers more transactional in their shopping habits.

How important is the role of technology and data in providing a better customer experience during these key trading periods?

Technology is extremely important to providing a better customer experience. Deploying onsite personalization and product recommendations (based on browse and shopping behavior) and sending personalized emails helps make their experience so much more seamless and also speeds up discovery and conversion.

 

Photo Credit: Journelle