5 Steps to a Successful Peak Season 2021
Peak season is looming. eMarketer forecasts that U.S. holiday retail sales will rise to more than $1 trillion, with e-commerce accounting for 18.9 percent of that. To truly succeed each year, preparation should begin the day after peak season’s end the previous year.
Proactively address the following five challenges to prepare for a successful peak season.
Balance Inventory Availability
When it comes to inventory, a retailer’s main goal is to avoid both overselling and underselling to the customer. Two important questions for retail leaders to ask are:
- How do I maintain a steady stream of inventory?
- How do I avoid overcommitting on inventory?
Retailers most often miss the mark when handling e-commerce inventory. While it's very common and a good strategy to receive an influx of inventory in the fall to support peak season, with the high velocity of traffic during this time period, if not managed correctly you can run the risk of overcommitting on inventory.
When receiving inventory prior to peak season, have a detailed strategy that determines what inventory you plan to show in-store and on the website, and what inventory you want to limit the view of. Masking certain inventory to be saved for peak season will help to avoid leaving e-commerce customers with orders that you don't have the inventory to fill.
Having an inventory strategy that delegates the right inventory to the right channels and locations will ensure ample inventory, optimal service levels, and happy customers.
Define the Role of the Store
Once your inventory strategy is in place, create a strategy for the role each of your stores will play. For example, some stores will be able to accommodate omnichannel fulfillment, such as buy online, ship from store and buy online, pick up in-store, while other stores will not. Attempting to offer omnichannel fulfillment from a store that cannot support it will be detrimental to the customer experience.
When deciding the function of each store, you should take into account which stores will fulfill online orders, how much inventory each store will sell, and how much staffing each store will require to complete its functions at peak efficiency.
Implement Technical Architecture
Once your inventory and store strategies are in place, you'll need to ensure that your technology is in place and capable of supporting your operations. A leading order management system (OMS) will be critical in managing inventory, service levels and customer satisfaction.
During times like peak season with an abnormally high volume of traffic, retailers will often transition from the typical OMS with a longer refresh time to a real-time solution to avoid overcommitting inventory. This can be a good solution, but performance testing is going to determine success. Rushing this step by foregoing a testing period could result in a slow load time, which will increase your customer’s bounce rate and negatively affect profit and customer retention.
Optimize Customer Care
Retailers should prioritize customer care year-round, not just during peak season. To proactively address customer care road blocks, leverage self-service capabilities to empower the customer with the information they need. If you can enable customers to know their order status, edit and change their orders, and complete returns themselves, you will not only have higher customer satisfaction and retention, but you'll free up customer care’s time for more complex questions.
Provide Change Management and Training
Change management keeps all parties organized and informed. Changing store roles in the middle of peak season with little communication will leave associates confused and unequipped to help customers. Investing in training, quick reference guides, and “what if” scenarios and contingency plans will pay dividends toward creating an informed field operations team.
If you can designate a team that will ensure the successful, cross-functional completion of each of these five steps, your retail organization will be in great shape for peak season. When done right, this will create a lifetime of value, providing a seamless customer experience during and post peak season.
Zach Zalowitz is a seasoned omnichannel advisor and director of product management at enVista, with experience across numerous leading technology platforms that facilitate omnichannel order management, in addition to extensive operations and change-management experience.