Peak season: Advice for retailers preparing for Black Friday, Cyber Monday and the Festive Season

Peak season 2021 is upon us.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are around the corner, arriving on the 26th and 29th November respectively, and the run-up to Christmas and the peak festive season following right behind.

However, this vital period for many retailers is a little more problematic than ever before as we’re in somewhat of a ‘perfect storm’ as we come towards the end of October.

Eighteen months of lockdowns and restricted access to physical retail stores have fuelled an exponential growth in eCommerce.

With the high street reopening, online sales have fallen but by no means have they returned to pre-pandemic levels, according to the latest figures from the Office of National Statistics.

Peak Season Black Friday Cyber Moday Internet Sales as a percentage of retail sales line graph

According to the IBM Institute of Business Value, “due to lingering concerns about COVID, many shoppers will continue to shop online this holiday season”.

Their data suggests that over 60% of respondents in 2019 would buy in-store and bring home, this figure fell to just 34% in 2020 with a marginal increase to 36% in 2021.

In contrast, 43% of respondents in 2021 are considering buying online and shipping to home, which is up from just 27% in 2019.

COVID aside, online retail is a complex operation

Gone are the days when retailers could manage their online sales across a single eCommerce website, they’re now selling and managing inventory across multiple channels and marketplaces: eBay, OnBuy and Amazon to name but three.

That creates an additional challenge when it comes to managing orders, stock and inventory in real-time across multiple channels.

Meanwhile, a day doesn’t go by when we see or read in the news about other challenges impacting the retail industry.

Driver shortages, fuel shortages, labour shortages, container ships stacked up outside major ports (and a shortage of containers themselves globally), as well as general supply shortages in terms of manufacturing raw materials and additional customs requirements caused by Brexit.

Factors like the pandemic and the fallout from Brexit are still far from over, so how can retailers best serve their customers in the 2021 peak season and beyond?

Even putting those issues aside, retailers have to understand their data, have the right processes and software systems in place, and plan well in advance in order to get products from distribution centres, into warehouses, out to shops, and into the hands of consumers for the peak season.

Delighting customers with delivery

So, how can you, as a retailer, best serve and delight your customers this peak festive season?

In a word: visibility.

Everyone likes visibility.

Your customers expect it and you need it to better manage every facet of your retail operation.

That’s why we love integrations!

Your logistics operation simply can’t live in isolation from other components of your operation and that’s exactly why we’ve invested a lot of time into comprehensive APIs, to enable two-way communication between logistics management and other business functions.

Without the visibility provided by a two-way integration, both you and your customers end up with a proverbial black hole of information between pressing the ‘buy’ button, product leaving the warehouse and the goods finally arriving on the customer’s doorstep.

But if you can plug this ‘black hole’ and if you can provide that visibility, communication and interaction to your customers, then everybody wins.

It’s all about communicating with your customers and managing their expectations as early as possible in the process.

And what we mean by good customer service includes:

  • Regularly communicating with your customers
  • Providing accurate order and delivery tracking information
  • Delivering when you promised to deliver
  • Having items in stock when you say they’re in stock.

If you deliver good quality customer service by communicating with customers then the cost to deliver is less.

You’re cutting down on the number of missed deliveries, receiving fewer phone calls asking for updates on an order, and not wasting your resources trying to find out where goods actually are.

It delivers a lot more efficiency for your business but it also delights the customer and ensures that things are done right the first time, on time and in full.

Navigating the complexities of peak period

To help retailers navigate the choppy waters of the peak period, we’ve consulted some of our retail, ERP and inventory management software partners to give you the advice you need to smash peak season 2021 and head into 2022 strong:

Brightpearl

Mintsoft

Unleashed

Float


Brightpearl peak season black friday cyber monday festive season deliveries 2021

Brightpearl

We caught up with Alex Weston, Channel Account Manager at Brightpearl, for his advice for retailers.

What are the key operational challenges likely to be faced by retailers in the 2021 peak season?

“Because of the increased activity and orders that a lot of merchants see during peak season, the post-purchase journey is put under immense pressure.

If a merchant does not invest time upfront in making sure that any kinks in the operational mix are ironed out, then any issues in the back office are likely to be highlighted and exacerbated.

Lots can go wrong, such as errors from mis-picking or packing in the warehouse, the wrong information being entered into systems, manual processes with more room for human error, and generally having disparate information that isn’t easily accessible.

If you can automate back-office processes through a scalable and reliable system, and in turn eliminate areas of high human contact with orders, you can reduce the number of errors that occur in the back office.

Our research shows that 77% of negative reviews are directly related to service issues that occur after the “buy” button, rather than product issues.

Minimizing errors through automation, and having systems in place to deal with regular, repetitive tasks, allows efforts to be steered towards more complex orders.

It also frees up time and money to invest more resources into marketing and acquisition efforts to run promotions during the peak season and turn those one-time holiday shoppers into long term, loyal customers.”

How can retailers best serve and delight their end-customers during Black Friday, Cyber Monday and into the peak festive season and beyond?

“Customer experience is everything, especially during the peak season when promotions and discounts are being run, shoppers are making last-minute purchases with high expectations of delivery and there’s an influx of orders going through your store.

With all this in mind, there are a few different ways retailers can ensure an experience that meets the demands of peak season shoppers.

While discounting is a huge part of peak season, it is certainly not the be-all and end-all.

If discounting on products doesn’t make financial or strategic sense for your business, there are plenty of opportunities for discounting and promotions that go beyond the actual products as well. For example, maybe this is a good opportunity to offer free or discounted shipping, or flexible fulfilment options, or implement a solid returns strategy.

Let’s start with flexible fulfilment options.

We see brands gaining attention with offers such as Buy Online Pickup In Store (BOPIS)/curbside as with our recent research indicates that one in four retailers plan to adopt blended experiences such as BOPIS/click & collect and curbside pick up this year.

BOPIS plays a huge role in shoppers’ plans that want the guarantee of getting their item on time without the unknowns of shipping, and also helps shoppers, and merchants alike, avoid costly shipping fees!

In addition to flexible fulfillment options, shipping options are another way to grab attention and make for an awesome customer experience.

With COVID restrictions still in place in many areas, last minute shopping probably won’t be a rush to the shops on Christmas Eve, or waiting in lines for massive Black Friday sales, but rather a mad rush to online stores with the expectation of speedy online deliveries.

Our recent research shows that nearly half of consumers have had at least one bad experience related to delivery and tracking within the last year.

Additionally, 47% of retailers agree they lose customers due to missed or failed deliveries.

As we head into the peak season in 2021, ensuring that you can meet the promises set on your website is essential to acquiring loyal customers.

We know delivery choice can be a real influence over whether a consumer chooses to purchase or not, and the vast majority of consumers say that free delivery is likely to encourage them to shop with a brand, while nearly half say that next day delivery would influence them in the same way.

Lastly, implementing an automated returns process can allow you to offer special holiday returns policies without burdening your day to day operations.

We know that 44% of consumers say an unsatisfactory returns policy would result in abandoning a retailer, on top of holiday return rates being as much as 30%.

As a way of managing this increase, you could offer things like longer return windows, different options for shipping items back, and free returns to provide the best shopping experience.

There is no better time than now to think about returns policies, and ensure that your process for returning goods is not a bottleneck in your operations.”

More useful resources from Brightpearl for managing the peak season:

Brightpearl-Automate-Ecommerce-Orders-Icon-170

How to Automate eCommerce Orders
Read Now >

Brightpearl-Tis-The-Season-To-Be-Scalable-Icon-170

Tis the Season: To be Scalable:
Read Now >


Mintsoft peak season black friday cyber monday festive season deliveries 2021

Mintsoft

Patrick Prasad, Head of Strategic Partnerships at Mintsoft, gave us his peak period advice for retailers.

What are the key order and inventory management challenges likely to be faced by retailers and 3PL providers in the 2021 peak season?

“If there’s one industry that has peaked during the pandemic, it’s eCommerce.

With levels of online shopping set to continue to increase during this year’s peak season and beyond, online retailers, 3PLs and logistics partners are feeling the effect of the rising demand on order fulfilment.

Supply chain issues and driver shortages are creating additional challenges during a peak for the industry, so working more efficiently has never been more important.

As well as streamlining systems and helping with productivity, implementing technology such as an order management system (OMS) will allow online retailers and 3PL providers to make more informed and calculated decisions, whether it be around inventory, returns processes or even selecting the best courier for the job.

As it is expected more consumers will do their shopping online this holiday season, there will be a need for retailers to hold more stock in their warehouse or with their 3PL during this period.

Automating inventory tasks such as stock transfers, inbound put-away and inventory adjustments makes it easier to monitor what stock is coming in and going out.

Monitoring stock levels is important for brand reputation and customer loyalty, as over-selling items will result in a bad customer experience and the potential loss of a sale or repeat sales.

By monitoring inventory closely, eCommerce businesses will also be able to manage warehouse capacity more efficiently and implementing technology will help to support a more complex warehouse as a result of increased operations and allow you to scale up and down as needed.”

How can retailers and 3PL providers best serve and delight their end-customers during Black Friday, Cyber Monday and into the peak festive season and beyond?

“Challenges such as increased consumer demand and supply chain issues due to the pandemic and Brexit means that order fulfilment will be more difficult this year, and preparation is key.

In order to best serve customers, orders must be completed efficiently – this means speed and accuracy are pivotal.

In an era where competition is high, customer loyalty is becoming hard to retain.

Something as small as a payment error, missed order, or delivery issue can be enough to lose customer loyalty these days.

By investing in technology and being able to automate time-consuming tasks and processes means delivering great customer experiences will be made easier.

In a time where ease and convenience are the number one differentiators for top eCommerce brands, ensuring a hassle-free customer buying journey is key to ensuring repeat orders.

Many online retailers are changing their strategies to be able to meet their customers where they are shopping, as the ability to shop 24/7 is part of eCommerce growth.

Outsourcing logistics to a third-party logistics (3PL) provider is a popular solution amongst online retailers as it helps to keep orders moving.

To stand out from the crowd as 3PL, being able to offer services that your competitors don’t, is key.

Online retailers looking to outsource their logistics require streamlined fulfilment and shipping solutions as they look to keep ahead of growing demand.

As a result of these expectations, implementing technology is not only key for 3PLs to survive (and thrive) but will continue to shape the industry for years to come.”

More useful resources from Mintsoft for managing the peak season:

Mintsoft-Managing-Peak-Season-Checklist-Icon-170

Managing Peak Season Checklist
Read Now >

Mintsoft-Peak-Season-Survival-Guide-Icon-170

Peak Season Survival Guide
Read Now >


Unleashed peak season black friday cyber monday festive season deliveries 2021

Unleashed

Will Sellers, Partner Manager for the UK, EMEA and North America gave his thoughts from Unleashed’s perspective.

What are the key inventory management challenges likely to be faced by retailers in the 2021 peak season?

“The most common challenge for retailers without a system for inventory management is simply identifying what effect the peak season has on their sales.

Those that are not capturing real-time inventory levels cannot identify these trends.

By not being able to accurately track and control inventory in and out, retailers lack clarity on when and what products are flying off the shelves.

Another challenge is working out how much inventory will be required.

Retailers without several years of historical inventory data will be without the insight into how much to order so can very easily run out of stock.

Even a business that runs a super lean supply chain will have some ‘safety stock’ to get them through the peak season.

Also, making sure your warehouse(s) is/are operating at maximum efficiency during peak season is critical to getting orders out on time.

Stock that has been identified as seasonal should be well within reach and easy to pick, pack and distribute to keep up with increased demand.“

How can retailers best serve and delight their end-customers during Black Friday, Cyber Monday and into the peak festive season and beyond?

“Get organized – have the processes, staff, strategy and stock ready to go and firing on all cylinders, so that the peak season can be as enjoyable as possible.”


Float peak season black friday cyber monday festive season deliveries 2021

But what about the views of a retailer?

We sat down with Jim Woodhead to get his advice for retailers – both from the perspective of his eCommerce brand Float’s perspective and as a digital consultant.

What are the key operational challenges likely to be faced by retailers in the 2021 peak season?

“Online or in-store, retail is detail and when things get busy, we have to be sure that we have considered everything and that is about both sides of the business – the customer and the operations.

Operationally, the challenges are firstly around demand anticipation and forecasting so that we have the stock, then we have to be sure that we’re able to provide a website experience that meets our customers’ needs, makes them happy and has them wanting to come back for more.

When it comes to forecasting, we face the same challenges that many online retailers face.

We want just enough stock to ensure that we can fulfil our orders but not so much that we’re exposing ourselves to unnecessary cost and risk.

We rely on real-time data and analytics to predict demand and ensure that we can get things into our warehouses in time.

That’s harder for us as a new brand with little historic data but also because our customers are responding to their own pressures with Covid case numbers increasing and changing daily.

The situational challenges mean that it’s vital we deliver customer delight and clear, consistent, accurate and simple communications.

Our customers want to know when their delivery will arrive and we need to be able to answer the questions that they ask.

Challenger brands like ours are afforded less slack from our customers and if we make a mistake it’s easy to lose a customer to a more established competitor.

We rely, therefore, on logistics and warehouse data that allows us to manage our orders as they go through and quickly correct the small number of errors that we know are sure to happen.”

How can retailers best serve and delight their end-customers during Black Friday, Cyber Monday and into the peak festive season and beyond?

“The customer has to be the key consideration at this time of year.

We have invested heavily in communications, from emails and SMS to on-site notices and push messaging that help set their expectations around forces beyond our control.

Their patience only lasts for so long, however, so we ensure that our customers have as much information about their order’s progress towards them as possible.

We’ve absolutely planned for the worst, with processes in place at the warehouses, hubs and depots that plan for low staff numbers or outbreaks of sickness and absence, through to delivery contingencies, optimised routes and driver schedules.

Customers can see where their driver is in real-time, meaning they know as much as we do about their parcel.”


About Brightpearl

Brightpearl is a leading omnichannel retail operating system. They process over 3 million orders a month, which equates to more than $5bn in transactions.

A trusted partner of Shopify & Shopify Plus, BigCommerce and a host of other eCommerce platforms, Brightpearl is well-positioned to guide retailers on overcoming the challenges of the peak period.

For those following the news, Brightpearl is amongst a select number of retail ERP providers to join Shopify’s Global ERP Program earlier this month.

You can learn more about how Stream works with Brightpearl within the shipping & fulfilment plugins listed on their App Store.

About Mintsoft

Mintsoft provides retailers and Third-Party Logistics (3PLs) with real-time updates on orders, inventory and shipments.

Part of the Access Group, their cloud-based order and warehouse management software comes with over 175 pre-built integrations enabling users to manage multiple channels from a single platform.

We’re a trusted partner of Mintsoft, helping their customers with their own fleet to automatically plan and optimise multi-drop delivery and collection routes.

About Unleashed

One of the latest cloud software providers to join the Access Group ERP family, Unleashed provides inventory management software designed specifically for manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors across Australasia, the UK, US and EMEA.

Founded a decade ago and headquartered in New Zealand, Unleashed not only provides best-practice inventory management functionality, they also have a well-established ecosystem of integrations – including Stream of course.

About Float

Launching an online retail business in the middle of the pandemic might not seem like the most opportune time. However, digital marketing experts Jim Woodhead and Warren Slingsby did just that with the launch of Float, a milk and grocery delivery business based in Milnsbridge, Yorkshire.

Float supplies the Just Milk brand, delivering lactose-free and long-life milk (plus a range of other products) direct to people’s doors. Since its launch, Float has reported an impressive 50% month-on-month growth.