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Black Friday, that instant British tradition borrowed from the U.S., increasingly looks to be running on empty.

But while it may not quite be the big deal it was, retail footfall is still expected to be up 12.8% on November 25 this year, with retail intelligence firm Springboard predicting that shoppers will be keen to capitalize on discounts amid soaring inflation and fears around Christmas supply shortages.

There is also likely to be a shift toward shopping in physical retail spaces, after years of growth online, with U.K. shopping centers likely seeing a 16.3% increase in footfall compared with last year, while high streets could see a 13.2% rise, Springboard said.

But for the U.K.’s biggest consumer electricals retailer, Black Friday is the opportunity to see whether its huge investment in technology and people will pay-off against online behemoth Amazon.

Currys has been pushing its deals hard in the run-up to Friday and is expecting 14 million shoppers to visit the website during Black Friday week. Last week the company sold a staggering 18,159 air fryers and is promoting thousands of deals over its ‘Black FriYaY’ month-long event.

But in reality the work to be ready for a key buying day in the holiday season started 18 months ago.

Despite having a strong online and physical presence, the latter mainly through large out-of-town stores after transitioning away from the high street, Currys “had quite a few challenges with online and our stores and yet three out of five customers used both”, recalls Currys CIO Andy Gamble.

He says that it became clear that the two elements needed bringing together in a much more seamless way and that the company didn’t have the tools available. Ironically, it was the pandemic that pushed the operation forward.

Currys ShopLive Promotes Shift

“One major aspect of this is that [consumer electronics] technology can be quite confusing and we wanted to use the platform to trigger a conversation and provide some guided experience for customers,” says Gamble. “During the pandemic we introduced our service ‘ShopLive’, whereby customers could get online help from colleagues and we were really able to test that thoroughly during the pandemic.

“That worked really well but it’s important to stress that this is not to replace stores – we have a network of 300 stores and most people in the U.K. are within 20 minutes of one of our stores.”

Instead, the company decided to try and entwine the online, online personal service and in-store service so that they joined up and that staff and customers had access to information across channels.

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“Roll forward 18 months and we have introduced the Colleague Hub as the realization of a project that put the customer at the heart of what we are doing. What we focused on early on was making it firstly as easy as possible to shop online but also we recognized that it needed to be much more personalised, so we started leveraging data so that we could use that data to help our customers and to provide more personalized assistance,” says Gamble.

“And what we are doing now is using that data so the customer journeys can surface within the store, because our colleagues can access what the customer activity has been, or previous purchases. That means again that we can be more personalized and also that we can ensure the service is more useful.”

Currys Colleague Hub

The technology gives staff access to 20,000 products, which means Currys can go toe-to-toe with Amazon
AMZN
in terms of an endless aisle, combined with service and its price promise.

The implementation involved a huge training schedule. Currys reckons to have trained 9,544 staff on Colleague Hub and spent circa 4,772 hours training groups on the technology. The retailer also had more targeted sessions with sales managers and coaches, covering a further 350 people and circa 500 hours.

“We also launched our Perks loyalty program, which helps reward our most loyal customers and again we’re moving towards far more tailored deals. The ‘spray and pray’ approach of mass emails does have its place but the technology now allows us to be far more tailored,” says Gamble. “That means we are able to pick promotions and offers which are more in tune with our individual customers.”

With U.K. shoppers so far buying earlier in the holiday season than usual, as they hunt deals and try and spread spending out over more pay checks, this Black Friday will be especially crucial.

“An important aspect is identifying what loyalty means, as it’s a term often bandied around. For me it’s about creating trust, impartial advice, relevant services and also convenience,” says Gamble. “So if we can bring those together and then make sure that out Perks program is as relevant as possible, we can keep that strong link with our customers.”

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