05/12/2016 05:55 SAST | Updated 05/12/2016 05:55 SAST

How to Lose Business And Alienate Customers In The Wake of Black Friday

Alan Diaz/AP
Shoppers stand in line to pay for their purchased merchandise at a Tommy Hilfiger store on Black Friday, Nov. 25, 2016, in Miami.

According to Google Trends, searches for 'black friday' started gaining traction in South Africa in 2015 even though Checkers started testing shoppers' appetite for the post-Thanksgiving spending frenzy a few years earlier. In 2016, search queries spiked while Black Friday focused marketing spend tripled as a record number of merchants, physical and virtual, came on board with specials.

Google Trends

Google Trends shows South African interest in Black Friday over time

Black Friday has indeed landed and South Africans have taken to the American craze as well as they have Halloween, Burger King and Krispy Kreme. We've adopted a movement that sees ordinary people breaking down doors in shopping centres in a desperate bid to secure a bargain and get their Christmas shopping done early. You'd think it's a safer bet to participate online.

While Black Friday (BF) does not interest me (my needs lead my shopping habits), this post is not aimed at discouraging shoppers from taking part, nor is it about where to find the best deals. Instead this is a message to merchants who fall back on the shopping holiday as an excuse for bad service and infuriating their loyal customers who aren't BF bingers. My experience with a well-known local e-tailer inspired me to write this for Huffington Post ...

One week before Black Friday went live I bought some items from a website known for specials which expire in 24 hours. It's a great model in terms of creating urgency and pushing customers through your sales funnel as quickly as possible. However, the deal went sour when my incomplete order arrived and this set-in motion a chain of first world problems which left me with a bad aftertaste.

After raising my concerns with their customer service, I was ignored for days save for the automated email confirming they'd received my complaint. As the days went by my impatience flared as did the tone of my emails. Eventually, after their agent sensed my frustration, I was sent a templated response as is standard practice with online stores who don't have time for their customers amid a Black Friday money grab.

As it became clear that my complaint wasn't going to be settled over the Internet I resolved to call them. If only I could find a contact number; neither their website, Google or social media offered a contact number, so I resorted to an IP lookup where I found the domain registrar and their mobile number. This led me to a call with the company director which resulted in a call from a customer service representative and the unacceptable Black Friday excuse reared its head, "Because of Black Friday we are receiving a high volume of enquiries".

Paying customers could care less about your failure to staff up accordingly ahead of Black Friday.

Paying customers could care less about your failure to staff up accordingly ahead of Black Friday; it's unfair on employees who are in over their heads at the coalface of client interactions. Why not hire temps to increase capacity?

My complaint is not fully resolved, and, while I expect it will be, this experience got me thinking about how Black Friday merchants risk side-lining their faithful customers in favour of boosting their bottom line with the annual sales splash. When your businesses error predates Black Friday surely the onus is upon the merchant to prioritise unhappy customers?

My negative experience is not exclusive towards this e-tailer. There is a definite theme around Black Friday sales which points to many consumers being irate with several participating stores.

Next Black Friday I promise to steer clear of bargain hunters climbing over each other for 'deals, deals, deals!', be it online or off, to save myself from inadvertently becoming a victim of the after-sales fallout of the fad.

Don't underestimate your customers' resourcefulness, and if you hide your contact details, we will find you ...

... and we will demand better service.