Commentary

OPINION Retail opportunity: Lessons for retailers from 2019’s peak season

Marcus Jeffery, territory manager for UK and Ireland at Ivanti Supply Chain reflects on peak season and the learnings retailers can carry forward to next year.

For many, the beginning of a new year brings with it the return of routine although, for retailers, it brings an eagerness as they evaluate their peak season and annual performance. In the midst of an unsettled climate, 2019 saw the worst record for British retail since 1995. According to the British Retail Consortium (BRC), total sales in November and December fell by 0.9%, but it’s not all doom and gloom. Online retail, accounting for 19% of December’s retail spend, saw an increase of 0.4% from the previous month. 

Retailers looking to buck this trend can take heed in past lessons and invest in the future to ride the wave of unpredictability. 

Staff support

One fail-safe method to maximise profits from retail peak season is by championing customer experience. Companies that provide exceptional customer service often stand in good stead during turbulent periods. The good news is that this isn’t exclusive to the mere few. Retailers can achieve customer satisfaction in myriad ways, many that go beyond simply optimising order fulfilment. Take for example, seasonal or temporary workers. During peak periods, such as Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Christmas and even the January sales, retailers often anticipate an increase in customers, keen to profit from discount offers. In order to meet this promised influx of business, retailers may temporarily expand their workforce. Utilising seasonal workers during peak seasons is essential to providing high levels of customer service, in-store and online. Beyond the shop floor, they can complete picking and delivery tasks, or manage customer queries and returns – all to ensure that the same standards can be upheld despite the increased number of orders. 

When it comes to the supply chain, implementing a rapid onboarding process for temporary staff is crucial to maximising productivity, and utilising mobile technology is key to achieving this. Where previously retailers allocated weeks to training, the extended workforce can now get off to a flying start and easily navigate task workflows with the help of mobile devices and apps. Importantly, this ensures that retail spikes are managed without compromising on customer service.

Trusting technology

As mobile technologies in the warehouse and wider supply chain continue to drive business efficiencies, adoption of handheld devices, visually intuitive mobile applications, and voice picking technology all connected to an optimised order management system (OMS), grows. When implemented effectively, these systems and technologies enable retailers to fulfil orders quickly and correctly, each and every time. For example, by utilising the interaction of connected mobile devices with an OMS, retailers can ensure that products are scanned and recorded at multiple touchpoints while in transit from the warehouse to the customer. By providing enhanced visibility, this enables retailers to spot and resolve any issues (such as a wrong item being shipped or a missed order) before it escalates. Most importantly, connecting all supply chain processes with an OMS equips retailers with reliable and up-to-date stock levels for their websites, and so stops customers purchasing items that aren’t available. 

Delivery and returns

Retailers can further sharpen their competitive edge by offering a variety of fulfilment options. Incentives such as Buy Online, Pickup In-Store (BOPIS) and nominated day delivery are designed to entice customers with maximum flexibility and are set to gain ground. Companies that don’t offer these initiatives will be at a severe disadvantage in this already competitive industry. 

Order fulfilment is just one tool in a retailer’s arsenal. Considering that over half of online shoppers admit that they place an order with the intention of returning some of the items, it’s also important to have a water tight returns procedure otherwise this can quickly evolve into a problem area. In fact, retailers often see an increase in returns during peak periods. They can avoid this spiralling out of control by ensuring that their website includes accurate information, such as available stock, sizing and colour. 

As the retail landscape continues to evolve and online and in-store sales fluctuate, retailers determined to endure this unpredictable time must take advantage of retail peak periods as an opportunity to maximise sales. However, they must invest in the right tools and technologies to enable them to come out on top. Taking heed of approaches used by successful retailers over previous peaks, such as enhancing supply chain visibility and customer service, with an efficient OMS and valuable seasonal staff, can strengthen their business processes and keep customers coming back for more.  

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