Black Friday sales: are profits being put before quality of service?

Unless you have been living in a cave the last few days, you’ll probably already have had enough of Black Friday; an American event that has somehow made its way into British Culture.

Designed to kick start the Christmas period, Black Friday comes after the Thanksgiving holiday and involves shops giving discounts and holding sales on certain (or all) stock items. With endless spam emails filling my inbox since Saturday and new reports today of “riot like situations” in supermarkets, it’s left me wondering whether companies are putting profits and statistics before customer safety and quality of service?

Firstly, there’s the problem with the vast amount of emails that have been received and the impression this will leave the customers with. It seems that any shop I have ever given my custom to (including online-only stores) has got my email address and has sent me at least one email a day reminding me of the Black Friday Deals. A client I am with today has complained that a certain online superstore has sent him an email every hour telling him what deals he’s missed, but what ones are still available, and worse he can’t find the unsubscribe option in the barely-big-enough-to-read small print. Surely this approach could be potentially damaging for the reputation and image of the store, giving the impression that spamming someone’s inbox and potentially harassing them into purchases the company’s objective.

Another point to take into account is customer service received in-store. With the potential for thousands of shoppers, can it really be guaranteed that they will all receive a high level of customer service, or will the quality be spread thin and end up delivering everyone with a mediocre experience? Will the staff be too stressed to provide the level of service we expect? What plans have the stores put in place to deal with potential issues such as barcodes that won’t scan, website crash, processing overload, stock system inaccuracy? As any company with ISO9001 will know, plans to deal with such issues are essential to cut down resolution time and reduce any damaging impact (particularly if you are out of stock, your stock check system is claiming there are items left and you’ve got a crowd of frustrated customers).

Perhaps the most concerning issue is the apparent lack of health and safety controls and concern for wellbeing for customers and staff alike. Police have been called to control crowds because the in-store security staff can’t cope. Staff have been asked to work double shifts without prior warning and are having to handle crowds of a size they are not accustomed to, some of whom will be aggressive and frustrated. Already there are reports of staff being thrown to the ground so shoppers can get around them to get to items, customers threatening employees and distressed staff members having to be sent home overworked and ill with stress.

Certainly a certification in Quality Management and Health and Safety would help these companies manage better, guided by trained consultants and auditors. Perhaps also some help with monitoring and improving the wellbeing of employees to help them provide a better and more healthy service would be of benefit.

Personally I am considering more than ever that I should be giving more custom to the small business who have every reason to provide great customer service. After all, it is Small Business Day on the 6th December.

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Robert Clements
Robert Clements
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