The last few months of the year are a critical time for retailers. Often, this is the time period that defines the annual success of a business, for better or for worse. For companies who depend on strong Q4 results, it is essential to take every opportunity to maximize all aspects of their business in order to ensure the highest level of success that is possible. It should come as no surprise that the efficiency and effectiveness of a company’s logistics is a key element to this success. This, in turn, hinges on a company’s ability to properly plan and anticipate its supply chain needs during this important time of year.
We’ve prepared a series of valuable insights on logistics that your company can leverage to help plan and strategize for the holiday season. Consumer insights, essential timeline considerations, and supply chain resource requirements are all necessary parts of formulating an effective logistics plan. Let’s get started with some interesting facts about how the holiday shopping season is changing, and how consumer habits are driving these changes. Statistics shown have been provided by Canada Post, and the complete Holiday Survival Guide 2017 is available for download here.
Holiday seasons are expanding and evolving
Historically, the holiday shopping season has been defined by a few key dates as the ‘big days’ for retail. These days typically included a heavy advertising push leading up to the event, followed by a rush in order fulfillment for the days afterwards. Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Boxing Day are all examples of such dates, where retailers traditionally put on their best deals and offer deep discounts on popular big-ticket items to draw consumers in.
However, in recent years these ‘key dates’ have evolved to occur over several sequential days instead of happening within one 24hr period. It’s now common for Black Friday and Cyber Monday sale events to be blended together, stretching over the entire weekend. Some retailers even extend these promotional periods to an entire week, or more. Boxing Day is similar, and now usually takes the form of a ‘Boxing Week’ at many major retailers. In some cases, the largest retailers are now experimenting with month-long sales efforts to capture the largest possible share of their markets during this key sales period.
As you can predict, these changes to the nature and timing of these promotional periods have presented an entirely new set of challenges for logistics teams during the holiday season. Volumes of orders are increasing every year, and are now taking place on many more days during the season. This leads to increased strain on the temporary resources that many businesses put in place to handle the holiday rush. Many companies are faced with the situation where the resources that were suitable to handle the rush during previous seasons are no longer sufficient to handle the changing nature of holiday shopping trends.
Consumer habits are changing
It’s not just the timing and scale of retail promotions that are changing, however. Many aspects of consumer behavior have also changed over recent years. Customers are more aggressive in their deal hunting activities, evaluating multiple possible retail options simultaneously online, both when researching and shopping at home as well as on their mobile device, often when physically present in another retail location.
Additionally, consumers are becoming increasingly demanding in regards to reduced shipping and free shipping offers from online retailers. Strategies employed by many ecommerce retailers to offer reduced or free shipping to their customers have resulted in an increasing level of expectations by consumers that these offers will be available more frequently, and in a wider variety of formats. In fact, an increasing volume of shoppers are under impression that there will be no restrictions at all on free shipping offers, and are willing to choose alternative retailers that can meet these demands.
Shoppers are also becoming much more likely to make their last-minute purchases online instead of in-store, provided that the shipping and logistics options being offered are convenient and affordable. Many are willing to pay an increased shipping cost for the added speed and convenience of same-day or 2-day shipping, which is an option that many ecommerce retailers are now making more readily available during peak shopping periods such as the holiday season.
Strategies to Capitalize on these Holiday Trends
In light of these trends, it’s common for companies to get overwhelmed in the process of planning for the holiday season. There are many factors to consider, and investment in resources needs to be increased with a strategic mindset. Companies often struggle with the question of where to invest to make the biggest impact this season. Fortunately, this process can be made simpler by, first, prioritizing and then planning your efforts to maximize the impact of your resources. Here are some tips to consider for your holiday logistics strategy.
Plan around key dates
It may sound obvious, but making sure your strategies align with the key dates of the shopping season can easily be overlooked or miscommunicated. It’s critical that your entire logistics strategy is defined around these key dates in order to ensure that expectations are managed and promises are kept. Your entire team should be well aware of what dates are the cutoffs for each type of shipping you are offering, so that as those dates approach, your business transitions smoothly from one set of expectations to the next.
Communication is key
Ensuring that everyone inside your organization is aligned with the key dates and accompanying logistics expectations is one thing, but effectively communicating this information to your customers is another matter. The details of timing, order requirements, and logistics processes all need to be clearly communicated to your customers every step of the way. This means an updated shipping policy section, well-organized information on your website, and improved visibility to order status and shipping information on customer account pages, as well as within order confirmation emails.
If your customers are well informed of their options, and are made clearly aware of their order status, their expectations can be more effectively managed and customer satisfaction can be maintained. This expanded level of clarity and communication around order details and shipping status also aids your customer service department when questions or problems do arise, as each piece of customer-facing information can be reviewed for accuracy and any anomalies can be pinpointed. Making critical information clear and easily accessible to all parties involved in the transaction can go a long way to ensuring that potential problems are minimized and mitigated quickly and easily.
Prepare for post-holiday activity
In addition to the increased emphasis on order processing, fulfilment and tracking, it’s important to be aware that once the season has officially concluded that there will inevitably be a following surge in order returns and customer service issues. While companies can often take on a mindset that this is a negative aspect of the process, the reality is it is actually a tremendous opportunity. Companies that succeed at making returns and exchanges simple, fast, and easy are those that have much higher levels of overall customer satisfaction and repeat
business. The same goes for customer service calls. This is a big opportunity to forge a strong relationship with customers by demonstrating dedication, empathy, and commitment to customer satisfaction. Studies have shown again and again that customers who have a problem that is resolved quickly and effectively demonstrate increased affinity to a company and increased likelihood for repeat business.
Some ways that companies plan for and meet the additional need for customer service during and following the holiday season are to offer extended time frame during which returns will be accepted post-purchase, and simplifying the returns process with online self-service tools for customers to access.
In planning for your holiday season, it’s critical to ensure that you have processes and resources in place to make the entire customer experience a success, from end to end. Having a great deal on a product may get them to your website or in to your store, but you also need to ensure that the whole purchase process, order fulfilment, and post-purchase experiences also deliver on your customers’ expectations. Having a smooth and efficient customer experience from start to finish is essential to maximizing the success of your business every holiday season.
If you’re in need of advice or services to help improve your logistics processes, the supply chain experts at SCI are eager to assist. Contact us today and learn how we can help improve your logistics processes and boost your bottom line during the busy holiday rush.