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By Cory Thornton, MS

Saturday, December 3, 2011

I just read an article on CNN about the holiday shopping season, Record Black Friday sales? Don’t get too excited – and did exactly what the headline told me not to do. The article reports that over the four-day holiday weekend that ran from November 25-27, national consumer spending reached a record $52.4 billion shelled out by a record 226 million shoppers. This stat caught my eye because over the past few weeks, I’ve been following the debate about stores opening earlier and earlier on “Black Friday.”

In the run up to last weekend, we saw lots of media coverage and social media protests over stores forcing employees to come to work early on Thanksgiving and the greediness of retailers for imposing such commercialism on a holiday (see Target Given 190,000 Black Friday Protest Signatures). But as it turns out (not too surprisingly), the midnight opening paid off for retailers as consumers were out in force (see Black Friday’s Midnight Madness Was ‘Stroke of Genius’). The moral of the story for retailers – understanding and addressing consumer preferences is the key to success.

Is there a lesson in the Black Friday experience for the health and human service field? As I discussed in my article in this month’s newsletter, The New Health Care Market: Consumers Spend More & Consumers Want More , consumer out-of-pocket (OOP) spending is on the rise and as a result, consumer expectations in the delivery of their health care services are on the increase. To quote the moral of the Black Friday story for retailers – for health plans and provider organizations where consumers need to “select” your services, understanding and addressing consumer preferences is the key to success.

What does that mean? I think there are two elements. First, does your organization provide a positive “consumer experience”? And second, does your organization work to develop and promote on-going relationships with consumers? The first question is about how you provide services to consumers – and can be answered with mystery shopper market research (see Develop ‘Best in Class’ Customer Service: A Mystery Shopping Guide for Behavioral Health & Social Service Organizations ). The second question is about “sticky marketing” – and is measured by customer engagement, retention, and referrals. Both are vital.

Remember, in an increasingly consumer-driven market, understanding consumer preference is the key – and comes with metrics that you can measure and improve.

Cory W. Thornton
Managing Editor, OPEN MINDS

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