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Will click-and-collect, contextual offers spell the death of Black Friday?

As mobile?s role in shopping continues to grow - driving trends such as click-and-collect and hyperlocal offers - Black Friday?s significance could further erode, something that started to become evident last year. 

With shoppers able to research online for items of interest, check inventory at local stores, reserve specific items for pickup at their convenience and receive offers when they arrive, fewer shoppers are interested in navigating massive crowds the day after Thanksgiving in order to shop. However, many retailers are still not at a point where they can reliably provide real-time in-store inventory availability or contextual offers, meaning mobile-driven omnichannel shopping will be an opportunity for some and a fail for others. 

?If there is special prices and availability at certain hours, even if they are crazy hours, if you can do that online and pick it up at your leisure, what is the point of Black Friday,? said Brian Kilcourse, managing partner at RSR Research. 

?It becomes Cyber Weekend instead of the physical Black Friday,? he said. ?That?s exactly what people started to see last year. 

Baseline expectations
At the same time that mobile is driving omnichannel experiences that lessen the need for shoppers to be in a store at a specific time to take advantage of sales, retailers are doing what they can to insure shoppers come to their stores ? as this is where the majority of purchasing takes place ? by extending Thanksgiving weekend hours. For example, yesterday Macy?s said it would open it doors at 6 pm on Thanksgiving Day, two hours earlier than it opened last year.

Extended hours or not, increasingly, shoppers expect to be able to find if an item is in stock at their local retailer by checking online from their mobile phone. From there, more consumers are also starting to expect to be able to reserve an item online from their mobile phone and pick it up in store. 

This means retailers need to have accurate inventory counts on their Web sites, something that is still a challenge for many. They also need to be able to tie that information back to their stores and to a reservation system. 

Those retailers that are able to provide these services with some skill will have an opportunity to pick up new customers and incremental sales this year. Those that cannot could lose customers and sales as a result. 

Beacon deployments are still in the test phase

?The idea of click-and-collect is really gaining traction in all forms of mature economies, particularly in Europe and the UK,? Mr. Kilcourse said. ?Click-and-collect is now starting to become pretty prevalent here. 

?The Black Friday model and click-and-collect don?t quite work together all that well. 

?What if you had a Black Friday and you could click-and-collect and not stand in line at all, and just pick it up whenever you wanted it,? he said. 

?It gets right to the basis of why do we have a Black Friday at all. Why do you have people standing in line at midnight if they can just remember to set their alarm at midnight, get onto the system and click to buy it and pick it up at their leisure.?

Mobile-first promotions
Mobile?s role in Thanksgiving marketing, product research and sales continues to grow. Last year, this helped drive a nice boost for sales not just on Black Friday but also throughout the Thanksgiving weekend and into Cyber Monday. 

With the economy more buoyant this year than it has been in several years, the boost to mobile shopping could be significant. 

Mobile couponing app RetailMeNot expects more retailers to offer promotions that encourage early online shopping and provide delivery alternatives such as in-store pickup to avoid having to fulfill last-minute shipping orders. 

Walmart is testing click-and-collect for groceries

?Consumers are increasingly erasing the borders between online and in-store, so promotions need to be channel agnostic or retailers could loose out on a sale,? said Brian Hoyt, vice president of communications at RetailMeNot. 

?It shouldn't matter whether that purchase happens online or in-store - just that the sale occurs and the retailer gets to build a relationship with that customer,? he said.  ?So this year, you might be excused for having a poor mobile commerce experience, but the consumer in 2014 is looking for omni-channel offers and promotions that they can take advantage of anywhere they want, when they want.? 

Contextually relevant offers
The Thanksgiving weekend shopping melee this year is likely to be the first big test of advances made during the past year in delivering more contextually relevant offers to smartphone users, who are hungry for this kind of information. 

The introduction of iBeacons last year upped the ante on location-driven offers by enabling hyper-local targeting based on where inside store a user is located. However, these services are still not widely available and retailers are trying to figure out the best kinds of communications for delivery on beacons. 

?The reason why beacon's will be important is the ability for proximity marketing,? said Sheryl Kingstone, Toronto-based research director for Yankee Group. ?Proximity helps ensures context is more accurate. 

?However, most of the initiatives have been delivered either through social players such as shopkick or platform pilots from Gimble and Motorola,? she said. ?We are still not seeing broad adoption. 
?As a result, we will continue to see more mobile users looking and hunting for deals, but not as many retailers truly embracing mobile to their fullest potential.?

Mobile commerce
Mobile commerce is another area where some retailers are still lacking but which could be another important opportunity this Thanksgiving Weekend. 

Mobile commerce sales, while still a small percentage of overall sales, continue to grow. 

Unbound Commerce reports that its third quarter same-store index of 350 retailers showed a 102 percent increase in mobile commerce revenue over 2013. 

?We expect Black Friday and Cyber Monday mobile commerce sales to break every record for conversion percentages and overall revenue generation,? said Wilson Kerr, vice president, sales and business development, with Unbound Commerce.
?Failing to treat mobile as its own distinct and unique channel can really hurt,? he said. ?As consumer comfort grows, so does their intolerance for slow mobile page loads. 

?Bounce rates explode when retailers load the same imagery and content they use for ecommerce on their mobile sites.?

Final Take
Chantal Tode is senior editor on Mobile Marketer, New York