Every year the Christmas retail marketing blitz seems to start earlier and earlier, and in Britain, we love nothing more than a good grumble about it. We complain if stores put up their Christmas displays too early. We moan about seasonal ads appearing on TV before we’re past Bonfire Night. We sigh when online sales and email marketing campaigns start targeting us months before we’ve pulled together our shopping lists.
However, 2021 looks set to be the exception. Our retail supply chains have endured a second tumultuous year in a row. Covid, Brexit and, most lately, HGV driver shortages have combined to stoke fears that the supply of Christmas gifts will struggle to keep up with demand during the coming winter.
Consequently, British shoppers are getting their skates on. More than one quarter have already started their Christmas shopping; by October, almost half of shoppers will be well underway with gift buying.
For eCommerce providers, there’s a clear advantage to getting prepped for peak demand as quickly as possible. No one quite knows what this winter will hold, but it’s fair to say that meeting demand won’t be plain sailing – it never is!
So here are some top tips for seasonal eCommerce success, and for minimising the impact of any potential supply chain and logistics challenges along the way:
1. Look closely at the data to make smarter predictions
All online retailers have access to some form of shopping data. The richer the data, the more insights can be gleaned from it.
The first thing is to ensure that your previous years’ sales data have been digitised. This will allow you to look at sales trends, peak buying periods and SKU popularity, helping determine your order timings and volumes ahead of the influx of consumer purchases.
If you’ve only just started trading, you won’t have enriched sales data from previous years to call upon. Instead, you can access a plethora of third party statistics and online data sources to help better estimate the stock you’ll need and when.
Equally important is to follow the data closely as the season unfolds. For example, are the predictions you made in late September holding up as Christmas approaches? What is different about consumer buying habits this time around, and how should this impact your next stock decisions? For example, research suggests that while many consumers intend to refrain from over-reliance on online shopping this year, the majority nevertheless expect that they’ll end up making a last-minute online rush.
2. Ensure your IT is ready for the task at hand
Despite the reopening of the high street over the past few months, online shopping will remain the preeminent channel for consumer spending. It’s therefore critical to ensure your customers receive a brilliant experience each and every time they order. Even if you have amazing humans working for your business, they’ll only be as effective as the IT software and systems you’re using.
The best way to interrogate your IT is to consider each point in the customer’s order journey. Choosing the right software to manage your sales channels, warehousing, and fulfilment and delivery partners is key to ensuring a scalable business that can grow in line with rapidly increasing consumer demand.
3. Proactivity is the key to avoiding logistics bottlenecks
Industry experts are anticipating a “perfect storm” of economic pressures this year driven by a combination of pandemic-related delays and heightened consumer demand. Shipping costs are rising; shipping container places are difficult to come by; HGV drivers are in even shorter supply.
Some of the bigger retail brands are already hoarding stock in anticipation of the problems awaiting us. But this is the wrong type of proactivity – it usually only leads to packed warehouses that are tricky to manage and have no room to hold additional goods.
A better option for retailers of all sizes is to augment your existing operations with flexible storage and fulfilment options, such as part-fulfilment and seasonal fulfilment. This means you can tap into the additional capacity of a third-party logistics provider without having to source more space or hire more staff. A good 3PL will be able to quickly set up and manage the end-to-end fulfilment process for the desired period or product range. So, for example, if an SKU is outperforming expectations, it will be far easier to proactively increase stock levels via the 3PL without impacting the rest of your warehousing operations.
4. Optimise your post-purchase experience
Every shopper you convert during peak season has the potential to become either a repeat customer or a disappointed deserter. At this year’s peak, it’s not just the shopping experience that counts – or even the product itself – but also the process of waiting for the order to arrive. It’s just as essential to offer speedy delivery, easy-to-follow tracking, and options for returning the item. These are Christmas gifts for loved ones that we’re talking about – shoppers quickly get stressed out if they don’t know the status of their order.
Even before the coronavirus outbreak, 57% said they would be more likely to choose a retailer with a simple returns policy. A further 69% said tracking was one of their top three considerations when shopping online. The ability to handle returns quickly and efficiently is also a competitive differentiator. After all, when everyone is buying presents for everyone else, the chances of buying the wrong gift, or a duplicate, increase significantly.
5. Maximise your sales channels (and manage them properly)
Online retailers have more choice than ever when it comes to channels and marketplaces to maximise sales. The rise of online shop website builders like Shopify and Wix have helped bring down the cost of creating an attractive online presence for retailers’ brands. Combined with marketplaces like OnBuy, Amazon, eBay, and Google Shopping, a multi-channel sales approach is now easier than ever to achieve. This approach is proven to help independent retailers achieve greater reach and profitability than relying on a single channel.
That said, running and managing multi-channel sales can be both challenging and time-consuming without the right software. The worst possible scenario is when a customer buys a gift via one channel, only to find out that the stock has already sold out via another.
Every eCommerce provider should look to implement best-of-breed channel management software to keep on top of things. Better still, you can look for technology that integrates channel management and fulfilment on a single platform. This means products from all sales channels and marketplaces will be accurately picked, packed and posted, with stock updated automatically across the board as items are sold.
Martin Bysh is Co-Founder and CEO of Huboo, a UK-headquartered fulfilment technology provider committed to extending best-in-class, affordable fulfilment to retailers of all sizes, eCommerce providers and D2C brands. Bysh has several decades’ experience working as a technology entrepreneur – most notably building one of the UK’s first online dating websites, as well as designing European chart-topping video games while still in his teens.