What customers really want on Black Friday

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn.

Black Friday, the annual Super Bowl of shopping, is just days away. Many stores this year are adopting a hurry-up offense and opening the evening of Thanksgiving Day, hoping to attract the most eager shoppers.

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Bain Net Promoter System®

Is opening earlier (and cutting into employees’ time with their families) the way to delight customers and build lasting loyalty? Maybe. But it’s definitely not the only way.

Some customers seem to love the thrill of waiting in line for hours for a chance to buy a flat-screen TV at 50% off. But others would rather stay home on Thanksgiving—or even sleep in the next day. Still others prefer the comfort and convenience of shopping online, and most of us now mix our in-store and online shopping.

Knowing they need to appeal to all types of customers, retailers have been investing in improving their online and mobile services as well as their store experience. My colleagues take a close look at this “omnichannel” approach to retailing in Bain & Company’s latest Retail Holiday Newsletter, noting that a number of traditional retailers grew their online sales as much or more than Amazon.com and eBay during the second quarter of 2012 : Dick’s Sporting Goods by 35%, Macy’s by 36%, Kohl’s by 39% and Nordstrom by 40%.

By combining the best aspects of online and in-person shopping, retailers can take some of the hassle and frustration out of holiday shopping, fostering loyalty with grateful customers along the way. Bain’s research shows these customers spend as much as 70% more than the average shopper.

The key to these strategies, though, is that retailers don’t just assume customers can’t wait to get through their doors on Black Friday (or Black Friday Eve). Instead, they allow customers to define what they want from their shopping experiences and then provide that every day.

Short surveys using reliable Net Promoter scores produce fast, regular feedback from customers that can reveal which experiences are profitably winning promoters, help employees "wow" customers, eliminate shopping pain points and deepen customer loyalty. At the same time, Net Promoter can be used to systematically gauge employee NPS—which can help determine if apparently successful revenue enhancers like early store openings so alienate employees that the overall result is a loser.

Apple retail stores have long used Net Promoter systems for both customers and employees, and mature Apple retail stores record up to five times the sales per square foot as a typical electronics store. Apple pioneered many of the customer service tactics that are becoming more common in retail today, including the use of mobile devices and apps that help customers pay for goods. Apple’s website encourages customers to "shop your way," whether it’s in stores, online or a combination of the two.

In similar fashion, Lowe’s recently equipped its employees with more than 42,000 iPhones to help them answer customers’ questions, look up inventory and keep track of competitors’ prices. Best of all, shoppers can order or pay for their goods with the sales associates directly, allowing them to skip the checkout line (which makes both customers and employees happier).

What do customers want on Black Friday? Chances are it’s what they want every day, but the best way to find out is to ask them.