Black Friday will not save retailers

The question of whether Black Friday is still a thing is moot at this point. There will always be shoppers who enjoy the experience of running through a department store door at 6 am because that’s what Black Friday is about. The experience.

Black Friday
Even Black Friday scenes like this won’t save retailers.

But any hang wringing on whether employees should work on Thanksgiving or how Black Friday’s sales results will be affected by early sales comes down to one thing. It’s still business.

Amazon has already started its Black Friday sales, and now comes word that JC Penney and Kohl’s are starting sales early too. Both retailers will open on Thanksgiving in an attempt to get a head start. They are just two of the multitudes of retailers who are hoping to make their years during this holiday season.

There are a couple of things to note here. Some are congratulating retailers for letting their employees have Thanksgiving off. That wasn’t done out of kindness. They’d be open too if Thanksgiving Day sales were successful for those retailers. It’s still business.

Black Friday is just a band-aid for retailers.

The early promotions will dilute Black Friday, but it doesn’t really matter. The revenue still goes into the same pot, so it doesn’t matter which day it falls on. Black Friday isn’t really about the sales. It’s about the experience for some shoppers.

Recently, I got into a minor Twitter spat with a retail organization over the importance of the holiday season to retailers. True, most retailers see 50% of their revenue from it so, as the organization reported, a good holiday season means a good year.

But it’s that kind of short-minded thinking that has put many retailers on the edge of irrelevancy and, in some cases, extinction. They are only looking ahead to the next quarter, not building any long-lasting preference that would keep them viable.

The retail industry has so many problems that it’s best for them to check out solutions here and here. As for starting Black Friday early, I say go ahead. You should gobble as much revenue as you can. Reality will set in once the holiday season is over and the lack of preference will continue to haunt.

Amazon Black Friday won’t kill the day

Normally, I appreciate most of what Amazon does. The brand has a well thought out and executed brand strategy, with most of its moves being a reflection of that strategy. Retailers may not like what Amazon does but they are trying to copy it, if not improve on it.

Amazon Black Friday
Amazon Black Friday is a tad redundant.

With 54 shopping days left until Christmas, Amazon has unilaterally declared the days from today until Black Friday as the Countdown to Black Friday. Further, Amazon has decided that it will continue its Black Friday sales until December 22, extending the made up retailing holiday over the course of two months.

But the real savings are not scheduled to start until after Veteran’s Day. The crazy bash-the-door-down markdowns won’t hit the virtual shelves until the week of Thanksgiving.

But don’t worry, retailers, the Amazon Black Friday era did not just kill the supposed holiday.

What Amazon Black Friday is intended to achieve.

Amazon Black Friday is an attempt to prompt shopper to no longer wait for local brick and mortar or even online shop to have its own event. Amazon Black Friday is intended to make you purchase today what you would have bought immediately after Thanksgiving.

However, I am not all together sure that it will actually keep people out of stores. For some, Amazon purchases will just be spread out a bit more over the 54 shopping days left. They won’t necessarily be made today.

Personally, I think that most people who shop on Black Friday simply do it for the sport of it. It’s the experience of it. The game for Amazon should be to change a behavior and that behavior won’t change with a simple promotion. Retailers need Black Friday. So as long as they open up at 2am with $210 TVs, there will always be people willing to wait in a line that circles a city block for a chance to get one.

Why this is redundant.

Amazon will have a degree of success with this promotion, but it alone will not kill Black Friday. Consumers have been shifting their purchasing from traditional brick and mortar to online anyway. But it will be difficult for Amazon to say exactly what percentage of sales increases were due to the promotion versus which ones that would have happened anyway.

The real numbers will show up when Amazon releases profit numbers for the quarter. Extending the season requires additional resources, remember, and cost money.

At the end of the day, this promotion will do little to change human behavior. That’s the highly sought-after effect from any promotion. People will still wait in line, knock down doors and trample over one and other to be the first one to get the latest Furby, gaming console or pet rock.

So I say bah humbug, Amazon, you just made an already insufferable shopping season longer.

Amazon Unlimited Music strikes the right chord

I like my music.

In fact, I am about as much of a music nut as I am about the latest tech fads. Maybe even more — as crazy as that is to believe.

On a typical summer night, you might find me outback on my deck. There, I’ll have a fresh Maduro cigar in one hand and two fingers worth of Laphroaig in the other, all while listening to some of my favorites: Diana Krall, Van Morrison or Dougie McLean. That’s the good life.

This is why the release of Apple Music was perfect for a guy like me. I had every song imaginable right in the palm of my hand (if I happened to be using my iPhone) or computer.

Amazon Unlimited Music
Amazon Unlimited Music gives more power to Echo.

This all proved to be handy as my Apple Music account was connected via bluetooth — not my favorite method of listening to music, mind you — to my Amazon Echo. Sure, this was the ultimate clash of my favorite brands, but it worked well enough. I could ask Alexa, the Amazon Echo personal assistant, to turn down the volume if need be, but less easily had to change the songs from the connected Apple device. I’ll add too that, for the longest time, I wished Amazon had a catalog of music as in depth as Apple’s, not just the decent yet limited Prime selection. That way I could simply ask Alexa to play music with out the middle man (sorry, Apple).

Last week, my wish was finally granted.

Amazon Unlimited Music makes things easier.

With Amazon Music Unlimited, I can immediately snag a song and Amazon can take a piece of market share.

Here’s how.

The Echo is one of Amazon’s biggest successes. Just like me, all three million Echo owners and users had found a makeshift way to stream music. Yet, with Amazon Music Unlimited, there is an easier way. For a really cheap price, you can tell Alexa to begin your subscription and follow that command up by asking the speaker to play any song you could ever imagine. No phone or computer necessary.

Needless to say, I have already subscribed, and bought an Echo Dot for our bedroom now too. And soon enough, I’ll buy another for my deck.

Could life get sweeter than that?

Staples Workbar won’t fix the overall problem

Oh boy. As Staples (and its failed merger partner, Office Depot) tries to recover from disappointing sales, it has partnered with Workbar to set up office spaces for customers in a few stores around Boston.

Staples Workbar
The Staples Workbar space is nice, but who cares?

The space is far back from the retail area where customers can work without having their own real office. Said Evin Charles Anderson, whose video production company has been using the space, “On the weekends when we’re here, we see people peering in through the windows.”

Yeah. They’re wondering what the hell Staples is doing. The office supplies stores are in a free fall with Office Depot closing stores and regulators ending the proposed merger between Staples and Office Depot.

Staples Workbar is a tactic, not a strategy

Both supply stores, in fact, are looking for new CEOs to lead the retailers into a new era where all retailers are becoming more and more irrelevant. The Workbar additions, just in beta stage at this point, won’t hurt but it won’t fix the problem either.

For one thing, who wants to work in the back of a Staples store? FedEx, off its successful merger with Kinko’s, has something similar that has now existed for nearly a decade.

More importantly, however, the working world is no longer dependent on having a traditional office or even one that resembles one, such as the Staples Workbar situation.

As many employees at very large companies will tell you, working from home is the new normal. (The sheer number of them doesn’t even consider freelancers.) You may go to FedEx Office for shipping but you can buy just about anything off the internet. There’s no need to go to a Staples store to work.

That is, unless Staples had a brand that compelled you to seek it out.

But there’s no emotional reason to go to Staples or even the Staples Workbar space, which is the only reason to create preference. As Napoleon said, “You must speak to the soul to electrify men.”

That’s what the office supplies stores are missing. They believe they can out-tactic their way out of their dilemmas, rather than looking at a complete overhaul of what they provide and what they mean.

I’ve been thinking recently that the entire brick and mortar retail market is in serious trouble. Malls are becoming a thing of the past and the industry as a whole is losing their shirts to Amazon.

So, there’s now Staples Workbar. OK. So what?

Amazon’s gamble with planes for Prime Air

Amazon recently showed off one of its new 767s that will ship some of its products purchased through the site, with Prime Air printed on its side. Last spring, Amazon announced that it was going to lease 40 such planes in an effort to curb some of its shipping costs.

Prime Air
Amazon Prime Air planes are soon to be crowding the skies.

Recently, shipping costs have outpaced sales growth, cutting into Amazon’s bottom line. In fact, in 2015, Amazon spent a whopping $5 billion on shipping expenses. Leasing the planes is a pretty clear demonstration of Amazon’s desire to streamline its logistical and delivery network.

Amazon trucks have delivered its products for quite some time, particularly with its 2-hour delivery service, Amazon Now, and its grocery fulfillment, Amazon Fresh. However, manning an airplane fleet is a much bigger and costlier proposition and is sure to disrupt what we know of traditional air shipments. Amazon’s hope is that the Prime Air planes will substantially reduce that $5 billion shipping cost.

Prime Air planes may not be such a gamble.

What does this mean for UPS and FedEx? They both should be extremely worried. Both FedEx and UPS depend on Amazon, with the online retail giant accounting for a large share of its business. But you can’t stop progress and it naturally fits for Amazon to take on those duties on its own.

For it to work, Amazon must secure an internal delivery and logistical system that also makes great brand sense. (Much like when FedEx purchased Kinko’s years ago in part because the brands of FedEx and Kinko’s aligned with each other so well – each were about piece of mind.) Amazon’s brand features a sense of discovery and convenience because it has everything you need that you can get easily. A key component of that is actually getting the physical items to the person who ordered them. That’s where the Prime Air planes fit in.

If Amazon can do it with the same or better efficiency as FedEx and UPS, why would Amazon do anything else?

Think about it. Amazon only has to do it as well as FedEx and UPS for this to succeed. That could be the catch because, if Prime Air can’t match that service level, the Amazon brand could be damaged significantly.

However, my money is on Amazon.