Specialty Retailers Finding Black Friday Harder to Ignore

Nov 30, 2011

Topic: Retail

As more holiday shopping decisions are made online, a small, but growing number of leading outdoor specialty retailers are finding they can no longer ignore Black Friday.

Rock Creek Outfitters, became one of the first independent outdoor specialty retailers to sell online in the late 1990s,  but it only began using the terms “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday” to promote its online sales in the last two to three seasons, said Director of e-Commerce Mark McKnight. Last week Rock Creek was advertising a sale offering 20 percent off Marmot jackets as running “through Cyber Monday.” Using such tag words greatly increases the chances Rock Creek will come up in organic searches this time of year or be picked up by Black Friday and coupon aggregation sites.

“We are not doing anything terribly aggressive, but it’s a great time to be talking about that and using those key words,” said McKnight. “People are getting to the point right now where they are ready to shop and they are looking for deals. It’s the kind of thing you do not want to ignore.”

In a cursory survey last week, GearJunkie.com Founder, Editor and Publisher Stephen Regenold found five of nine outdoor retailers’ online promotions referenced Black Friday or Thanksgiving. Among them was Zappos.com, which touted “Pre-Holiday Markdowns!” including a sale on shoes and discount clothing for Black Friday. “The retailer posted a video and an explanation on “five reasons you shouldn’t shop at stores on Black Friday,” Regenold reported.

Backcountry.com advertised a Thanksgiving Sale, including up to 40 percent off on 17,000 items and free, two-day shipping. Tahoe Mountain Sports, which started online but now also operates a brick-and-mortar store, launched a Black Friday through Cyber Monday sale offering discounts on Patagonia products and up to 70 percent off other products.

Brick-and-click retailer Sierra Trading Post urged shoppers to “beat the rush” by shopping items that had been marked down 25 percent on its site in the days leading up to Thanksgiving.

Now old school independents are joining the fray.  Massey’s Outfitter advertised that “Black Friday comes Early” with its sale of Patagonia jackets and clothing. The retailer operates four stores in the New Orleans area, but now derives more than half its sales online.

“I draw a parallel to going online in the first place,” Rock Creek’s McKnight said of the rationale of Black Friday promotions. “You go online because people are there. If you ignore it, you risk not being seen.”

Traffic at RockCreek.com grows five to 10 times from Black Friday through Cyber Monday and conversion rates also rise because shoppers are motivated, he said. The weekend is “absolutely critical” to the retailers holiday shopping season.
Perhaps most telling is that independent brick-and-mortar retailers are finding Black Friday promotions make good business sense.

In Minneapolis, Midwest Mountaineering opened its store at 7 am Friday and gave $20 gift certificates to everyone who walked through its door over the next three hours for the second year in a row. The gift certificates could be redeemed on purchases of more than $80. The store opened for extended hours Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Owners Rod and Sharon Johnson got the idea from a local REI store.

Rather than advertise the event with local media, however, the Johnsons emailed a notice Tuesday to their 36,000 newsletter subscribers. That saved thousands of dollars in advertising while improving the chances that its message would break through the clutter and reach existing customers.

“You get three to four times the response this weekend than if you did it on another weekend,” Johnson said the day before Thanksgiving. “It was a huge return on investment last year and we did not lose much margin.”