It’s called peak season for a reason. For most retailers, it’s the time of year that tests their ability to succeed. And the peak keeps rising. Holiday sales are projected to increase 4.5% to 5% in 2019, compared with 3.1% in 2018. Ecommerce sales will surge 14% to 18%, topping 11.2% growth last year.1
Meanwhile, peak sales are increasingly omnichannel. For example, 75% of holiday shoppers used both in-store and online channels in 2018.2
Here are six peak omnichannel best practices that every retailer should master:
1. Coordinate pricing and promotions across channels.
Pricing and promotions are an important part of the peak season, but your promotions may vary across your store, online and marketplace channels.
Manage the strategy: As you fulfill omnichannel orders through your stores and distribution centers. For starters, communicate to teams across channels – and to customer care – so that everyone understands this season’s promotions.
Think about all possible scenarios: Let’s say a customer places a buy online, pick up in store (BOPIS) order at a given price. But when she comes to the store, she sees the same item at a lower price. How will you respond?
For instance, I recently placed a two-for-$20 web order and applied a coupon for another 15% off. When I got to the store for pickup, I decided to change the order. The store gave me the two-for-$20 price, but it couldn’t apply the 15% off. The result was a poor customer experience.
2. Manage stocking levels.
Omnichannel stocking requires business intelligence. Analyze data from last year’s peak about where customers were located and how orders were fulfilled. Then place the right proportion of inventory across your fulfillment locations. That will enable you to optimally serve both walk-in customers and ship-from-store customers while avoiding split shipments. It will even keep up with Amazon through one- and two-day shipping.
Achieving these goals means you need to be able to, for example, protect two-thirds of store inventory for walk-ins and one-third for BOPIS and ship from store. It also requires the ability to offer an endless-aisle experience. For example, if BOPIS customers want to add items to their order while in the store, but the right styles or colors aren’t in stock, make sure they can place the order and ship to their home so that you don’t lose the sale.
3. Throttle back when necessary.
Research indicates that online sales increase when customers have a physical store nearby. It also shows that customers spend more per store visit than online visit.
So you want customers to come to your store, where they can see and touch merchandise and interact with associates and your brand. That’s especially true for new products or categories and higher-priced items. And you want to leverage your online channel to promote these store experiences.
But you need to manage both store inventory and associate staffing during peak. So you might “throttle back” certain products or categories on your ecommerce website so they’re not available for BOPIS or ship from store on specific days or at specific times. That will enable you to reserve enough inventory and staffing to serve walk-in customers.
4. Optimize store staffing.
Optimized store staffing begins with business intelligence. Based on past experience and market predictions, you should have a forecast for any sales increase during peak. You should also know how long it takes for an associate to pick, pack and ship an item. Armed with that knowledge, you can predict how much staff you’ll need and when you’ll need them.
Incentives are also part of the staffing picture. To drive BOPIS and ship-from-store SLAs, you can incentivize stores with labor dollars and associates with commissions or bonuses.
5. Don’t forget fulfillment.
Customers expect a consistent experience across channels, even during peak. For example, if your brand maintains a certain look and feel for packaging, inserts, and giftwrapping from your distribution centers, then you need to provide the same presentation for ship from store.
Make sure you have agreements with carriers to pick up shipments at a specific time. You might need to increase pickups during peak. Associates need to know when pickups will occur so they have time to pick and pack. Align your website so that customers know when you’ll fulfill their order based on when they placed it.
Take steps to minimize shipping costs while maximizing SLAs. If you’re shipping a second-day order across only one zone, you can downgrade from air to ground. If a ship-from-store order bounced from store to store and is running late, upgrade to expedited shipping to maintains SLAs.
6. Leverage analytics.
Finally, leverage data and analytics to optimize this year’s peak and establish a baseline for next year. Capture core data points around inventory, order volume, pick, pack and ship times, on-time fulfillment, customer-care SLAs, and carrier SLAs. The goal is to identify missed SLAs so that you can course-correct as quickly as possible.
Then get more fine-grained. Did a store run out of dunnage? Is a store not packaging correctly? Do you need to provide more training?
After you’ve captured individual data points from your stores, website, order management system, customer care and carriers, combine them to see the bigger picture. Doing so calls for a centralized location where you can capture, manipulate, analyze and report on the data. It also requires a dashboard that enables all stakeholders to see what’s succeeding and what’s failing.
In fact, best practices begin and end with analytics. After each peak, leverage data insights to make next year’s best practices even better.
Theresa Raczkowski is senior solutions consultant for Radial.
1 “Deloitte: Holiday Retail Sales Expected to Jump Between 4.5–5%,” Deloitte, September 2019
2 “2018 Holiday Outlook,” PwC, 2018