Planning for green on Black Friday

Make no mistake — Black Friday is a beast. For those unfamiliar, I’m not referring to the stock market crash in 1929, but rather the busiest shopping day of the year, occurring over the U.S. Thanksgiving long weekend. The day is hugely important for retailers, with billions of dollars in sales, and I see no reason why your hotel can’t also capitalize come November 23. But first, let’s review some history and how it ties into present-day consumer expectations.

The U.S. Thanksgiving weekend is the traditional time for people to start their Christmas gift purchases, something established long before the official naming of this grand sales event. Our current iteration of Black Friday originated in Philadelphia in the 1960s when the combination of fans for the annual Army-Navy football game and shoppers drove the city into a bottleneck. It has since evolved to more generically reference the bedlam at malls nationwide and the point at which retailers go from red to black in the accounting books.

With most people taking time off work and its prime placement before the upcoming holiday season, Black Friday has always been destined for great things. In an effort to lure this surge of consumers and heighten impulse buys, a few select retailers started by offering Black Friday promotions. This caused other vendors to compete with their own Thanksgiving specials and extended shopping hours. Soon, everyone had their own limited-time deals, all vying for customer dollars.

With the Internet, this behavior went haywire. Flashy websites and social media inform shoppers of Black Friday promotions well in advance of the day, as well as inundate those consumers with reminders of the event. Many companies offer Internet-only specials. The World Wide Web also lets people comparison-shop to better locate the best deals.

It’s peer pressure on a massive scale. Those who aren’t involved may feel as though they’re missing out, while those already in the fray may be inclined to ramp up their deals to stay ahead of the pack. Consequently, Black Friday specials are now the norm, and in order to continually draw attention, many retailers have resorted to exorbitant discounts, often far exceeding anything else during the year. This has also perpetuated a “wait until Black Friday” mentality that puts even more focus on this day.

Purchasing hotel rooms is quite different from retail purchases, but who’s to say hotels can’t join this phenomenon? The best way to get the ball rolling is to use your website to promote your deal as well as provide the avenue for transactions via your online booking engine.

Alas, it’s not that simple. Black Friday is the most competitive shopping day of the year, and everyone else has already slashed their prices. A regular deal will only be met with a ho-hum response. You’ll have to be aggressive and add a touch of creativity if you really want to stand out and profit.

For starters, map out an offer your guests can’t refuse. The easy way is with strong discounts on room rate. This tactic makes sense if you are offering rooms in a forecasted lower occupancy period, but it might also erode ADR to the point of putting you back in the red.

You can avoid this dip by limiting the number of rooms at this deep discount. Or, in lieu of a significant markdown, build a moderate price reduction into a leisure package that might also include transportation, meals or spa treatments — anything that will make the future experience streamlined and carefree. Lastly, to mitigate loss, consider adding criteria such as full pre-payment and a limited- or no-cancellation policy.

Next, create a standalone flash sale site to further differentiate your Black Friday specials from your other promotions. The goal is to market your deal explicitly and drive impulse buys. The design should be straightforward with the specs bolded in a list on the home page, social media icons populated correctly and a direct path to purchase. Emphasize the holiday spirit of gift-giving and perhaps consider placing a countdown ticker, keeping in mind that web sales don’t have to abide by regular store hours.

But all your web efforts and RevPAR number-crunching will be in vain if you don’t promote the endeavor. Again, your home base is your website. Add a tiny banner or javascript announcement to the corner of the screen that links to your dedicated sales page or flash site. Next, leverage your social media connections to build anticipation with a slow drip of the inside scoop. As an aside, these networks are very pervasive tools to coerce shoppers the day of and to answer questions about your deal.

As you well should know, the only way to build this anticipation is through diligent preparation. If you’re going to rake in the crowds like some of the current retail juggernauts, you have to form a plan early so the marketing engine won’t have to resort to last-minute tactics. If you give this project your full attention, I see no reason why Black Friday can’t generate green for your hotel.