Black Friday is the biggest shopping event of the year, with customers primed to take advantage of huge discounts ahead of the peak Christmas season. In normal years, the sheer number of orders can cause problems even for well prepared retailers. Websites crash, stocks run out, and customers get frustrated. However this year, given the continued high demands, as well as the ongoing HGV lorry driver crisis and staff shortages, scaling up for peak season will be more difficult. To add to this, recent research suggests that nearly half (42 percent) of UK shoppers said they plan to start their holiday shopping before Black Friday – signalling a significant number of customers will be flocking online and in-store to grab a bargain.
With this in mind, Black Friday presents a huge opportunity for retailers to boost sales and attract new customers. Deploying the right technology will not only allow retailers to maximise sales over the Black Friday weekend, but ensure they remain one step ahead as we move into the busy Christmas season.
Here’s four key ways that retailers can prepare for Black Friday and bolster their offerings:
This Black Friday, one of the biggest challenges facing retailers is fulfilling all those time-sensitive orders, and returns, when the stakes are higher than the rest of the year. The behaviour of consumers, over the last 18 months or so, has adapted to often constrained conditions, and services like curbside collections, click and collect and ship from store are now becoming the norm. Retailers should, as a matter of urgency, ensure that firstly, they know exactly what products they have available to sell, at any given time, across all of their fulfilment channels. Inventory visibility is paramount.
Using store stock to fill online orders, whether they are fulfilled via delivery or Click & Collect, offers enormous potential to mitigate the shift in shopping habits caused by COVID-19. On a headline level, adding these capabilities not only enables stores to move more inventory, but a ‘well-oiled’ system means that customers get their order faster.
In addition, sales that may have been lost due to items being out-of-stock can be minimised because customers have access to all inventory across a retailer’s ecosystem for ecommerce order fulfillment. It’s a win-win: shoppers get what they need from retailers who have their items in stock and ready to go.
Let’s talk technology
By focusing on more versatile store-centric fulfilment strategies, retailers can find new ways of making their inventory work harder. There are some complex issues to address, not least the challenges faced by store staff, who may be asked to learn new systems and processes. They may be required to turn from customer facing sales staff into efficient order pick and packers, depending on demand, which is very different and will require training and preparation of the store layout as well.
Deploying the right technology is key. Today’s dedicated Distributed Order Management (DOM) systems offer user-friendly, mobile-enabled tools that guide store staff through the pick, pack, and ship process. Not only does this reduce the time it takes to train staff, but from the first order notification, through to printing shipping labels, it provides them with a good experience. More importantly still is that those same tools let staff provide a great order management process to the customers.
Similarly, when online customers arrive to collect an order, in-store staff need only scan a barcode. This ensures waiting times are short, not only adding to customer satisfaction but also helping stores to fulfill their social distancing obligations to staff and customers alike. More efficient inventory management also means the DOM will allow retailers to adjust the flow of orders sent to each store, so no location is over-burdened and stock levels remain efficiently balanced around shops in a chain. If an order is unable to be fulfilled at any given store, it is automatically rerouted.
Agility is paramount
This includes allowing retailers to temporarily change how much stock is sent to locations. For example, if a location has reduced capacity because of too many absent staff, the retailer can quickly adapt without needing to make permanent changes to their fulfillment strategy. There are also ways to remain agile by extending existing fulfillment networks, including the addition of new Drop Ship Vendors (DSVs) who can handle fulfillment without relying on a retailer’s warehouse or distribution centre or the store network.
Ultimately, these initiatives help deliver on the compelling factors that have contributed to the success of digital shopping, in that they deliver a quick, easy, reliable and convenient value retail experience. If the waves of Covid-19 lockdowns and restrictions have taught us anything, it is that retailers need the ability to react quickly. Success is measured in days rather than weeks or months, and in some cases, retailers have launched new fulfillment capabilities in less than a week. Shifting the focus of sales and fulfilment to meet customer needs must remain front-of-mind for retailers with a high street presence.
Secure your shipping
Retailers are expecting a massive influx of orders this Black Friday, so they should default processing time. It’s better to underpromise than underdeliver and disappoint. By extending extra expected delivery times by a day or two, retailers can help reduce complaints or disappointment caused by shipping delays or delivery mistakes.
Prioritising short-SLA orders can also maximise efficiency. Customers who have paid extra for expedited delivery expect to be prioritised all the way through the process, so retailers should pick and pack these orders first. If the distribution centre is at risk of missing a deadline, fail over to a nearby store if possible.
Ultimately, communication remains a key factor in customer satisfaction when it comes to delivery, with UPS’s annual survey finding that 55% of customers would consider a cheaper but slower option if available. By increasing the expected delivery time and updating customers throughout, retailers can create a better delivery experience this Black Friday – and take some of the pressure off.
With time running out ahead of this year’s shopping bonanza, retailers that have taken the time to prepare for Black Friday will be best placed to take advantage of this all-important period in the retail calendar.
Rob Shaw, MD EMEA, Fluent Commerce