Global supply chain disruption has come at a terrible time for UK retailers, keen to capitalise on an ever growing online customer base during peak trading season. But with costs soaring and many products unlikely to be shipped in time for Christmas, let alone Black Friday, retailers need to act fast if peak season is to deliver an essential revenue boost.
Increased awareness of the potential shortages is shifting expectations – and savvy customers are beginning to prioritise certainty over price, especially when buying for the festive season. Retailers with accurate inventory information, a flexible promotions model and well-implemented fulfilment will be able to deliver the certainty and control required to meet expectations – and, as a result, minimise discounting, even during peak season.
Retailers, therefore, need to fine-tune every aspect of this model, as James Hyde, Founder of James and James Fulfilment explains. He argues that a value-added fulfilment provider can combine excellent inventory insight with the promotional support needed to ensure retailers maximise every peak trading opportunity.
Consumer behaviour always changes around peak season, whether people are shopping for Black Friday bargains or stocking up on gifts for Christmas. This year, however, the changes are already more pronounced, amidst growing concerns about the availability of items, including food and toys, due to well-documented global supply chain problems.
Predicting demand has become increasingly difficult due to the unprecedented changes in customer behaviour during the pandemic. While online retail grew 36% in the UK during 2020, according to the IMRG Capgemini Online Retail Index, some sectors, including gardening (222.5%) and electrical (90.8%), experienced a remarkable surge. The new complexities of inbound supply chain challenges are perpetuating changes in consumer behaviour. As customers encounter more out of stock notices online and gaps on supermarket shelves, buying decisions will be motivated more by delivery certainty than price, especially for time-sensitive Christmas items.
This peak trading season is proving challenging for retailers but it also provides new opportunities to maximise sales without necessarily embarking upon the big discounts for Black Friday which they may have traditionally offered. While many shoppers have become accustomed to discounts of at least 25% on Black Friday, retailers should assess whether such significant reductions are really affordable this year, given spiralling wages and delivery costs. Having stock already in place and confidence in a fulfilment model puts retailers in a strong position and could generate additional revenue from customers willing to pay more for certainty over delivery.
Planning ahead is key if retailers are to get the most value out of peak trading season and, most importantly, deliver on their promises. It is vital that retailers know what they have, and what they can deliver, when. Modern consumers will not tolerate vague promises. What’s in stock today? Can it be promoted? How quickly can the business respond to customer demand?
Retailers should not underestimate the importance of up to date, accurate supply chain information: promoting products online that are not yet in the warehouse – or even in the country – is a fast track to customer disappointment and lasting brand damage. Edgy customers will be quick to contact customer services if products fail to arrive on time, adding yet more cost to the business. Consumers would rather get a product at the agreed time than be let down by over-optimistic next day delivery options, so retailers should be realistic about fulfilment promises.
Taking a proactive approach to the use of promotions to control the sales process can both maximise sales and minimise the risk of fulfilment delays caused by excessive demand. With carefully curated and managed promotions, retailers can slow down sales of popular items to ensure fulfilment can be managed effectively and boost the uptake of slower moving goods.
Utilising Current Stock
With ongoing delays to inbound stock, especially from the Far East, 2021 peak trading season also provides a great opportunity to revisit the slow-moving lines that are taking up expensive warehouse space. Not only will this address the ever-present problem of ageing stock but, knowing that items are already in the warehouse gives retailers the confidence to promote stock to the customer base with the certainty of delivery by a set date.
Assessing old stock, identifying any items that may fill the gaps created by supply chain delays and developing specific promotions will enable retailers to respond to customer demands. Adding a flexible discounting model to the sales process, such as including an extra 10% off to encourage conversion for products that are not shifting from the website, can also make a real difference in overall sales levels.
Navigating these challenges could prove difficult for any retailers trying to manage every aspect of this process internally. Scaling up for peak season is always difficult and this year brings additional pressures. Alongside the well-publicised lack of delivery drivers, staff shortages are making it hard to recruit to cover the spike in warehouse demand. And with the current stock shortages, there is no leeway for damages or losses: fulfilment efficiency must remain a priority.
Investing in Fulfilment
Retailers do not have to do it all alone – this is where third party fulfilment services can step in. Dedicated fulfilment providers are better placed to scale up in response to peak season demand. Strong inventory management and real-time analytics and reporting provides retailers with the certainty of knowing exactly what products are in stock and when they will be fulfilled. With these issues taken care of, the business can focus on managing the customer offer and running the best promotions to maximise sales.
In addition, a fulfilment provider can work with retailers throughout peak trading to implement delivery promises that are realistic and achievable – enabling a retailer to deliver the customer certainty that will be vital to winning business in 2021.
Getting it right is incredibly important this year – with a great customer experience, retailers can convert the new online consumer base created during 2020 into long term, loyal customers, whilst maximising profitable, peak trading revenue.