For consumers, the holiday shopping season is a long way away; however, retailers know they need to be gearing up over the summertime to be ready for Black Friday and beyond.
The importance of the holiday season isn’t lost on retailers, with nearly three quarters admitting that this time of year accounts for ~20% of their annual sales. Meanwhile, retailers experience a lower volume of online sales during the summer. This down time should be viewed as a huge opportunity to properly prepare for the festive season.
However, when is the ideal time to begin preparing?
In truth, retailers need more time than ever before to effectively plan for peak shopping season. It’s essential they take the time to learn and implement new technologies to help speed up the sales process. With holiday sales reaching a whopping $658.3 billion dollars last year, they can ill afford to be unprepared for the year’s biggest shopping surge.
What follows are five key questions retailers must ask themselves now to prepare for the upcoming holiday shopping season:
1. Is your website ready?
It goes without saying now that a retailer’s website must offer the best user experience (UX) possible in order to meet consumers’ increased expectations. By planning ahead, retailers can ensure that every aspect of their websites are in order, from enhancing the online user experience to optimizing the checkout.
What is sometimes overlooked with this pure focus on UX is the ability to handle large volumes of traffic. E-commerce web traffic will increase during the holidays, and retailers need to verify that their backend technology can withstand the increase in traffic.
As mobile adoption continues to grow, retailers will need to adopt a multi-channel approach, ensuring that they provide a seamless customer experience across all channels. If your mobile website experience isn’t good, now’s the time to fix it!
2. Are you stocked up?
According to the National Retail Federation, 2016 holiday spending increased 4 percent over the previous year. Last year’s top products included Pie Face Showdown and Hatchimals, but what will the hot items be this year? Retailers should be prepared to stock up now on what they expect will be the must-have new products, to make sure they have enough inventory.
One way for them to have a more precise estimation on inventory is to look at past data. Insights from previous sales can help to determine which product lines and brands were the most successful.
The summer is a good time to start testing the demand for new product lines, giving staff enough room to familiarize themselves with products before the peak shopping period begins. The added lead time will go a long way toward anticipating customer inquiries and needs for specific products.
3. Are you properly staffed?
Holiday planning by retailers should be completed and refined during the summer. This enables you to have a clear vision of required staffing levels across all departments.
Retailers need to start assessing the number of staff needed and begin recruitment in the summer months. They should also consider taking the necessary steps to have enough customer service staff on hand to cope with the higher volume of incoming customer inquiries, or else outsource to a third party.
4. When should you start reaching out to suppliers?
Inventory is everything — no products, no sales! Retailers must liaise with their suppliers as early as possible to view new products lines, negotiate conditions, terms and ensure deliveries will run smoothly.
By Labor Day, retailers should have gained a better overview of the products they need and confirm these orders with their selected suppliers. This planning will leave your business in great shape ahead of the holiday shopping rush.
5. How will you deal effectively with your customers’ delivery expectations?
Nothing is more frustrating and disappointing for customers than not receiving their Christmas packages on time. The damage to a brand’s reputation can also be great if a precious gift goes undelivered.
Retailers should create contingency plans to allow for the impact of external factors such as delayed shipments. It’s critical they advise their customers accordingly on their website, acknowledging that due to high volumes of deliveries during this busy period, delays may occur.
Another key job is making sure delivery addresses are correct. During the holiday shopping season, it’s inevitable that shipping errors will occur during the checkout process from customers typing invalid addresses. Retailers can implement address data verification technology that will help to optimize the checkout process and ensure the elimination of any address errors.
Expectations have never been greater for a smooth online shopping experience, and retailers who don’t provide one will risk long-term consumer loyalty.
With some smart planning during the traditionally slower summer months, they’ll be able to maximize what promises to be the biggest holiday shopping season ever.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.