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Top Tips for Planning for Peak Season 2022 + Bonus Peak Checklist

Here are a few key considerations to keep in mind as you begin planning for this year’s peak shopping season.

Planning for peak season is as critical as it is challenging and getting started early is always a wise move. While never normal, peak is going to look a little different this year as the retail industry continues to recover from the effects of the pandemic. The old playbooks need to be thrown out the window as planning cycles have changed and retailers realize the importance of being proactive to optimize the customer experience and drive sales. During this process, many retailers ask the same questions: how do we prepare our online and in-store operations for this year’s peak shopping season? Will consumers even want to shop in-store? What do we do with older inventory? How do we ensure an exceptional customer experience?

Below are a few key considerations to keep in mind as you begin planning for this year’s peak shopping season. You can also download a peak 2022 checklist to help keep you on the right track to peak season success.

Start Planning for Peak Season Early and Weigh Your Options

It’s never too early to start preparing for peak. In fact, according to an article published by Supply Chain 24/7 earlier this year, peak season planning should be a year-round process. The industry publication notes that supply chain disruptions are unpredictable, global conflicts have real-world implications on supply chains in the U.S., labor shortages and employee retention remain pressing issues, spiking fuel prices impact retailers’ ability to deliver products quickly and efficiently, and increased eCommerce spending has elevated consumer expectations for fast delivery.

Although most store closures have ended nationwide, retailers should be ready for shoppers who are not as willing to shop in-store as they were prior to the pandemic. As many consumers began to exclusively shop online during the height of COVID-19, including using ship-from-store, ship-to-store, curbside pickup, and store associate fulfillment and delivery options, shoppers were more inclined to favor convenience over experience—especially if it meant avoiding potential contact with the virus.

Now is the time to evaluate whether your current buy online, pickup in-store (BOPIS) or buy online, pickup curbside (BOPAC) options are effective and efficient for your customers. Are you meeting their needs and expectations? Is your inventory visible? This starts with reviewing your current order management system and identifying and solving any order fulfillment pitfalls as an essential part of planning for peak season.  

Consumers have gotten used to—and now expect—all the various omnichannel order fulfillment solutions. By offering store fulfillment options, you can enable customers to choose their favorite fulfillment method, reduce shipping and delivery times, and create “hub stores.” Hub stores are regional stores that can handle higher volumes to reroute inventory for retail. This is part of Radial’s omnichannel order management system; however, you need to check your system for availability.  

Alleviate Supply Chain Worries 

A top concern on the minds of many retailers is supply chain congestion compounded by peak sales. As a first step, consider launching Black Friday deals in early October. This spreads out the rush/peak and is easier to control. The past two peak seasons have also seen Cyber Monday stretch into Cyber Week, with retailers offering deals prior to and after the traditional day of online deals.

Plan for peak season using better supply chain strategies by reviewing your supply chain in detail. Ask these questions: what does our current supply chain look like? What inventory do we have, what do we need, and what can we get in time? What are our projected timelines for inventory arrival and volumes from last year? Always take into consideration the potential for another breakout of a COVID-19 variant and plan now to account for it. 

Align Your Inventory 

It’s all about inventory optimization right now. Align with your omnichannel team to support the right mix of inventory at each location you have. To do this, go through and analyze the data to determine the amount of each product and assortment at your locations. Discover if you can get orders out to stores without splits that could cause harmful delays and lost sales resulting in unhappy customers.   

Have leftover inventory? If it’s located in the store, send it to the website. If it’s seasonal, consider a liquidation sale, sending it to an off-brand retailer, or placing the product on a marketplace. 

Reassess Customer Communications 

Now that there’s some time to do some planning for peak season, re-evaluate your emails and texts—especially as they relate to in-store pickup. What is the process? Is it working? How can you improve it? Do you provide clear procedures for coming to the store? If the answer is no, update your communications for specific processes. Include where to park (e.g., curbside pickup parking spaces only or parking spot number 112) and where to pick up orders (e.g., second side door on left labeled “pickup”). Check if your system allows for triggers when statuses are updated that permit instructions to be sent to the customer.  

Hiring for Peak 

If a wave of a COVID-19 variant occurs, the likelihood of having to operate during peak with fewer people than normal is a real possibility. Prepare for this outcome by reassessing your packaging materials. A poly bag vs. a box is a lot easier for workers to unpack and locate inventory faster, allowing you to operate with the same amount of people. Look into other ways to make sure associates can keep up that can be unique to your operations.  

Returns Management 

How you manage returns can be a big selling point for loyal customers. There are three ways to offer them: normal in-store returns, curbside drop-off for returns, and contactless returns. Have a discussion with your inventory and returns team on the best option(s) for you. Don’t forget to reassess your returns policy altogether and consider extending return deadlines during this busy time of year. As with order fulfillment and delivery options, consumers appreciate having choices when it comes to returning items purchased or received during the holidays.

While no one can predict the future, planning for peak season now can help navigate peak 2022 even with a few curveballs thrown in. To assist with your peak preparation strategies, we’ve put together a checklist that you can download below.