While never normal, peak is looking a little different this year as the retail industry is still recovering from the effects of COVID-19. The old playbooks will need to be thrown out the window as planning cycles have been completely upended. Many retailers are asking the same questions: how do we prepare for another resurgence that could potentially cause closures? What do we do with older inventory? Will consumers even want to shop in-store?
We sat down with Anthony Hockaday, Director of Client Services, and Theresa Raczkowski, Sr. Solutions Consultant, to discuss the best ways retailers can prepare for peak 2020. Here’s what they had to say:
Plan for Three Possible Outcomes
First, if you haven’t, start planning for peak season now, and plan for more than one peak outcome. Currently, the retail landscape can go one of three ways: all stores may remain open, some stores may close, and all non-essential stores may be forced to close again.
If all stores will remain open, retailers should be ready for shoppers who are not as willing to shop in-store as they were before. Having tried online shopping, ship-from-store and curbside pick-up, shoppers are more inclined to favor convenience over experience. Especially if it means avoiding potential contact with the virus. Now is the time to evaluate whether your current buy online, pick-up in-store (BOPIS) or curbside options are effective and efficient for your customers. Are you meeting their needs? Is your inventory visible? This starts with looking at your current order management system and identifying and solving the pitfalls.
If only some stores are closed or non-essential stores are forced to close again, check if they absolutely must stop operations. Could they act as a fulfillment center instead? In most cases, retailers will be paying for the building in some capacity whether that’s through rent or utilities. By turning the store into a fulfillment center, you can potentially recoup the costs of operation, or break even. You may also be able to alleviate shipping times for happier customers by identifying “hub stores”. Hub stores are regional stores that can handle higher volumes to reroute inventory for retail. This is part of Radial’s order management system; however, you’d need to check your system for availability.
Alleviate Supply Chain Worries
The number one worry on retailers' minds is supply chain congestion compounded by COVID-19 and 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. Plan for 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 second wave of COVID-19 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 to the website. If it’s seasonal, consider a liquidation sale, sending to an off-brand retailer, or placing the product on a marketplace.
Reassess Customer Communications
Now that there’s some time to plan, re-evaluate your emails and texts especially as they relate to picking up from store – 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 (ex. curbside pick-up parking spaces only or parking spot number 112) and where to pick up (ex. Second side door on left labeled pick-up). 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 resurgence in COVID-19 occurs, the likelihood of having to operate during peak with fewer people than normal is a big possibility. Prepare for this outcome by reassessing your packaging materials. A polybag 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 employee associates can keep up that can be unique to your operations.
And finally, 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 for you. Don’t forget to reassess your returns policy altogether. If stores are closed and you cannot offer contactless returns or curbside returns, consider extending the return deadlines to when stores will possibly reopen. Customers are more likely to appreciate this option rather than taking the steps of mailing back their items.
While no one can predict the future, having a plan in place can help navigate peak 2020 even with a few curveballs thrown in. We’ve put together a checklist to help you prep.
Download it below!