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Saying goodbye to Black Friday and Cyber Monday was actually a good business decision

Ahh the holiday shopping frenzy is upon us. It’s a love hate relationship that small retailers wrestle with. We love the rush of sales, but we’ve got to play the Black Friday game, and that game has evolved from a simple one-day promotion into a kerfuffle of suckfest. Retailers sell their souls and discount like maniacs to entice buyers to sacrifice their precious time to fight for limited deals on stuff you can find anywhere. We’ve tried to play the game and I‘ve always questioned why.

A couple of years ago we started doing something different for Black Friday and Cyber Monday, NOTHING…  and it’s been working out swimmingly well. We lowered our prices to what we felt was fair across the board for the entire year and stopped offering discounts. Don’t get me wrong, on the big sales days we still answer calls, respond to e-mails, chat, post photos and send reminders for holiday cutoffs, but no sales or discounts. Not one for the entire holiday season or ever since then.

This year we’ve kept basically the exact same strategy except with a small addition, we started a random acts of kindness campaign.  We sent one e-mail this year asking our customers if they knew anyone who could use an unexpected heartfelt gift… you know that person that took an unfair punch to the gut by life.  As the stories come in, we’ll pick a couple of folks, help design, and make a little something special at no charge.  At the end of the day jewelry isn’t going to save the world, but we’re just trying to make an honest effort to stay true to the spirit of the holiday.  Maybe the gesture adds a little bright spot to someone who needs a glimmer of hope.

I remember at the time we opted out of the chaos of the holiday sales madness, a company named REI got some press for boycotting the shopping holiday.  Not sure if they were the first, but they didn’t hold any punches and closed 143 stores on Black Friday in 2015. Our choice to opt out didn’t have the same pizzazz as REI, so we’ve never really felt like it was anything special to talk about.  Since then lots of other brands have joined the movement while others try to joy ride the hype by sacrificing being open on T-Day.  I've decided to bring it up today because we’ve learned some very interesting things over the past couple of years that are worth sharing.

Like REI, the initial motivation was values. Is there nothing sacred in this world anymore? I’m not a holier than thou type of person, but things were starting to get ridiculous and we were contributing to the problem. Since we started in 2008 we tried to keep up with larger organizations and the national brands. We tried to match their insane discounts and make customers jump through hoops only to get the handful of unbelievable deals.

It’s always been completely exhausting as a small handcrafted business and something I dreaded. We enjoy the pop in sales but the planning and work isn’t really all that simple. The distraction diverts precious resources away from doing what we do best. Two years later we learned that, aside from sleeping well at night, there are some other benefits for giving Black Friday the middle finger:

No Meaningful Difference in Sales
At the end of the day it’s net profit not gross sales that matter. When you take into consideration the higher profit margin of a non-discounted sale, we have not seen a significant difference in our bottom line. In fact we are doing better even though we might have a slightly lower number of sales. A higher average order value and better profits make that up for that slight decline.

Happier Employees and Family
I remember as a kid that no one did squat for 3 or 4 days during Thanksgiving. If you goofed up and forgot to buy cranberry before Thanksgiving you were screwed. Now grocery stores are open for at least part of the day and these sales require everyone to be on high alert all the time. Did the e-mail go out on time? Is the sale up? Is the coupon working? Oh shit the website is down, get your ass out of bed and call the web guy now! We still work the day before and the day after T-day, but now they are lower stress days. Missed us on Friday? No stress, price is the same on Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday…

Happier Customers and Fewer Complaints
We’ve got a core base of customers that we grow slowly over time. They get us and have spent a considerable amount of time, for lack of a better term, stalking us online. When they buy they understand who we are and what they are getting.  They often miss the limited promotions that can leave them feeling a bit miffed. The ones who do snap up the deals, more often than not, find issues with the product or customer service. I used to think that maybe they were a lower quality of customer, but that’s not the case. The promotions cut short the period of time that they get to familiarize themselves with us and make an informed decision if our style matches theirs.  Sales promotions on artisan-handcrafted goods create a sense of urgency and rob the customer of the courtship process that creates a unique bond between the customer and us. Those unhappy customers might have normally been die-hard loyalists if they just weren’t rushed!

I’m sure I could spend additional time and come up with some more poignant observations about the benefits of ditching the sales frenzy, but I’ve already wasted enough of my time on Black Friday. The bottom line: I get why the big boys might need it, but, for us little guys that grind our fingers daily, it doesn’t make much sense.