When Black Friday comes?

This time last year, ?Black Friday? saw certain retailers descending into chaos due to often manic bargain-hunting on the part of customers. Here, GCR’s Phil Mason reinforces the importance of a comfortable retail environment and discusses why garden centres are uniquely-placed to sell on something other than price.

Last week, retail giant ASDA announced that it would be scaling back its effort for this year?s Black Friday, due to concerns over the shopping experience becoming too ?fraught? for its customers.

Alongside the obvious irony arising from the fact that the chain introduced the event to the UK in the first place, the first thing that jumps out is a tipping point being reached regarding the comfortableness of the shopping environment. That there are, seemingly, circumstances in which shop-floor ?buy signals? can become so lurid, it can impact on the image of the brand itself. That driving customers to the point of frenzy by piling it so high and selling it so cheap might actually be rather bad for business.

This is of course something that independent garden centres have known for a while. Or rather, have had to learn in order to compete with both online selling, and massive retailers stocking plants, garden leisure products and so-on. Without wanting to state the obvious, if you can?t take advantage of scale or convenience, you have to find a compelling reason to get customers to come to you.

Also appearing last week, although with less fanfare, were findings by research group IRI indicating that selling purely on price might in itself actually be bad for business in the long run. Or more specifically, might be bad for groups of businesses within a single sector, particularly if those businesses end up strangling the life out of each other via a price war.

Speaking as a consumer myself, this is completely intuitive to the point of being simple common sense. (Not unlike, come to think of it, wanting to avoid getting my pelvis crushed for the sake of a discount widescreen TV). Customers will research in the real world, and then not shop your store, in reasonable confidence that they can get whatever they want cheaper online. They will then shop for the best deal, in reference to not only price, but promotions, deals, discounts, delivery and all the other good stuff pushing e-commerce retailers? costs up year-on-year.

Bearing all this in mind, the question is, what can garden centres take from ASDA?s Black Friday stance, as well as the subsequent discussion regarding value selling? To me, the message would be to keep accentuating the positive. Keep making the most, in other words, of what makes your retail space truly unique, so that they can’t help but come and visit, whether you’re the cheapest or not.

Recent GCR garden centre trips – even to smaller sites such as Sussex Country Gardener in Crowborough – have reminded me just how ?intuitive? retail environments can feel when effort is put into not just the offer but also the customer journey. These are places that you want to walk in full, even if it’s only to see what’s around the next corner.

More than that though, these visits have demonstrated that when operated truly effectively, garden centres have the potential to exist almost as community hubs. This can only be achieved through the intelligent use of available space, whether that’s creating a welcoming, homely environment in your cafe, or even landscaping your plant area to provide customers with inspiration.

This is something we?ve only just started to touch on in GCR, and we?ll explore further in 2016. When it comes to Black Friday 2015 though, please keep in mind that while there?s nothing in the world wrong with a value offer, it doesn?t have to mean a de-valuing of your core identity. You have the space – the destination, if you like. Use it.

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