The biggest opportunity in the fashion calendar isn’t London Fashion Week – it’s the six-week period between November and Christmas called ‘peak’ season, where online sales for many fashion brands can double, if not triple. Consistently delivering to customers’ expectations in style, even through these peak periods, will play a fundamental role in helping to grow your business, but if you get it wrong, your brand reputation and ambition is at risk.
Those brands that are turning over a healthy profit haven’t achieved this apparently effortless style without a huge amount of hard work, smart decisions and partnerships. In this article, we explore some of the key factors which can enable insta-preneurs to thrive as a result of planning and managing ‘peak’ in style.
Black Friday started off as a one-day sale where consumers had to be quick to bag themselves a bargain. Today, it has become a two-week long phenomenon, with brands marketing their discounted offers a week before, or even earlier in some cases, to ensure they get a profitable piece of the pie.
Whilst these peak periods can create great revenue opportunities, they can spell disaster for small to medium businesses who fail to prepare accordingly. Sam Calder, Managing Director of Rule 28, a company that specialises in aero focused products for cyclists, admits that the first couple of years of running his Black Friday promotions were very much trial and error. “In the first year, we ran out of product which certainly caught us by surprise. We were then unable to replenish our stock until 2-3 months later, due to the time it took to make our products, so naturally this impacted our profits. We quickly learnt from that mistake and made sure that the following year we had the extra stock to cope with demand. It’s better to be safe than sorry.”
As the product gradually expanded, Rule 28 reached a tipping point in late 2018 and recognised it needed outside help if they were serious about growing their brand. Sam explains: “Working with a partner like James and James who specialise in fulfilment has, in a way, given us a new lease of life. The team there recognise that brand reputation is everything to us, so the fulfilment processes we now have in place, enabled by James and James’ technology, ensure that we are always able to keep pace and drive customer satisfaction. Now we have time to focus on growing our brand.”
James Hyde, CEO and Co-founder of James and James Fulfilment, believes that whether you’re a new start up or a more established business like Sam’s, there are five key areas you must consider before embarking on the next peak period:
1. Stock levels
The last thing you want to do is run out of stock within a peak season, so it’s always better to be overstocked. Make sure you’re reviewing your inventory now drawing on management best practice such as ABC analysis which helps you to determine exactly what stock is making up the top 70% of your sales (green), followed by the next 20% (amber) and the last 10% (red). Now is the time to have a clear out of anything that has been on the shelf for a while – for instance, spring/summer styles – via a flash sale. You can then make way for autumn/winter styles, and any exclusive and new design drops for Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
Whether it’s simply browsing or purchasing goods, the use of mobile devices by consumers is increasing. According to Google, 53% of visits are abandoned if a mobile site takes longer than three seconds to load. Time limited flash sales, the prolific use of email marketing or a fashion influencer/celebrity who is seen wearing one of your products via Instagram can all lead to mass interest and in turn, significant spikes in web traffic. Therefore, it’s vital for you to ensure that your web host or ecommerce platform can cope with this demand. Furthermore, is your site and checkout process safe, secure and simple to use, even via a mobile device?
Whether it’s for a special occasion or a night out, consumers are looking to purchase and receive fashion items quickly, so you need to make sure that your internal processes deliver against their desires – a quick and painless ordering process along with short dispatch times will increase customer satisfaction. Think about whether your inventory is well-organised – are products easy to find and pick? Do you have repeatable packing processes to ensure that every order is dispatched accurately? Do you have a robust and effective system in place to handle customer enquiries or complaints efficiently? And, if you’re hiring staff specifically for the peak season, ensure they’re suitably trained and up to speed on your processes too.
Dealing with returns can be a real headache, particularly within a peak period where they can increase to up to 40%. Having a clear returns policy that is not only easy to find on your website, but also understandable is crucial. You may consider extending your returns period, enabling unwanted gifts to be returned well into the New Year. If so, make it clear to customers so that they don’t get a nasty surprise.
It’s also important to secure insights into the reasons for returns so that you can look at how to reduce them. For example, if customers are consistently reporting that an item of clothing is running bigger than usual, you could update your product pages to communicate the true sizing before purchase.
Planning for extra stock is all well and good, but do you have the space to store it? Also, what about the additional room you’ll need for the extra staff you need to employ? Storage is often at a premium over peak seasons. Depending on where your business is based, you may find it difficult to source mixed use office and storage space – a problem you don’t want to have a week before peak starts. So, plan ahead and book warehousing space early.
With space at a premium, now is the time to get your house in order. As mentioned in #1, by identifying slow-moving lines, retailers can run discount promotions now to help sell the products. Every day you have these products in stock is another day where you’re paying for storage – you can reduce waste now and save, or even make thousands.Looking towards Black Friday, Sam is anticipating another strong sales boost. “We’ve got some new products coming out so yes, I think it’s going to be another busy period. It’s the only time we ever offer a discount. I think if you’re discounting too often throughout the year, people start to expect it and you’re in danger of tarnishing the brand.” With proven and tested processes now in place as a result of the James and James Fulfilment partnership, Sam is confident that this peak season will be Rule 28’s best yet.