Preparing for Peak Season: Test Your Strategy Before the Surge

Preparing for Peak Season: Test Your Strategy Before the Surge


September 28, 2016

It's more important than ever that you start preparing for peak season as early as possible—and it's never too late to start. Uncover why you need to be thinking about load testing, staff training, and shipment testing right now to ensure that you are adequately prepared.

Holiday Shopping Will Start Earlier This Year

Increases in pre-November holiday shopping put more pressure on retailers to be prepared earlier every year. With peak selling season right around the corner, savvy omnichannel retailers know that now is the time to get ready for the overload of traffic and inventory demands.

According to the National Retail Federation's (NRF) Consumer Holiday Spending Survey, 56.6 percent of those celebrating the holidays had already started shopping by early November 2015. This figure is up from 54.4 percent in 2014, and marks a 17.6-point increase from 2008. While men are more likely to procrastinate when it comes to holiday shopping, the NRF reports that, on average over a five-year period, 46 percent of women started their holiday shopping before November.

Peak planning needs to start as early as possible to make any adjustments or corrections as needed ahead of the surge in orders. Getting a plan in place for load testing, shipment tests, and associate training now will give your company the edge during retail's most important time of the year.

The Time For Load Testing Is Now

It's imperative that you perform load testing to prepare your retail business for peak season. Load testing puts simulated demand on websites, apps, and software to test their performance under various conditions.

By making sure your systems can handle anticipated traffic spikes, you'll ensure your customers enjoy uninterrupted service. The alternative? A potential eCommerce meltdown similar to the one Target experienced last Cyber Monday when the retailer experienced a surge of eCommerce traffic on its biggest day for online sales. offered 15 percent off almost everything that day, bringing a flood of traffic twice as high as its previous busiest day. Bloomberg reports that some visitors to Target's site were at times greeted with the message: "Please hold tight. So sorry, but high traffic's causing delays." The unprecedented influx of visitors to the website was a great opportunity to build customer loyalty, but instead led to a less-than-stellar shopping experience.

Search engines are another important reason to run load testing in advance. Google penalizes websites for slow loading with a site speed signal in its search ranking algorithms that determines how quickly a website responds to web requests.

Holiday sales can account for as much as 30 percent of a retailer's total annual sales. In fact, according to the NRF, 2015 saw $633 billion spent during the holiday season, or 19.3 percent of total retail spending in the United States. Even a short hiccup during this crucial period can significantly impact annual revenue.

Learn From Last Year

Analyzing past sales trends and sending test orders should be a priority year-round to combat inventory demand surges. As you plan your promotions and campaigns and analyze the results from the previous season, you should be able to develop a better idea of the inventory you will require to meet this holiday season's omnichannel fulfillment needs. If you saw spikes in a particular product's sales in previous peak seasons, a thorough analysis of those sales can help you get ready for this year. For example, investigate what caused the spikes. Were they the result of a promotion you were running? Were the sales all clustered in one geographical area? Insights such as these can help you identify efficiencies that will help boost your bottom line.

Shipment Testing Can't Wait

Now is also a good time to send test orders, especially for those products that will be shipped in heavy volume during the holiday season, keeping a keen eye on the speed and cost of each shipment. Become your own customer and test shipments from all of your fulfillment angles. This should be ongoing throughout the year.

"In the mobile arena, speed, agility, innovation, and testing have to happen every 24 hours to stay relevant in the global marketplace," says Mike Edwards, CEO of eBags, the online luggage retailer that helped pioneer the dropshipping concept early in the eCommerce industry. Dropshipping is a fulfillment model that allows you to send orders to a dropship supplier who ships the order directly to your customer, enabling you to leverage a third-party supplier's inventory and eliminate the risk of inventory overhead and carrying costs. Due to the increasingly competitive environment in dropshipping, this model is most effective when smoothly operating at peak performance at all times—hence the need for regular testing to root out and repair any potential failure points and ensure that orders meet the standards of your brand, including packaging and delivery SLAs.

In addition to testing your dropshipping capabilities, you also need to test shipments from physical stores, both to check your process and to make sure your associates have the necessary training to coordinate a high volume of shipments. According to Boston Retail Partners' 2016 Customer Experience/Unified Commerce Benchmark Survey, 58 percent of retailers have implemented the ability for customers to buy in store and ship the product to their home, but more than half of them indicate the process needs improvement.

Refine Your Shipping Strategy

Whether you fulfill orders from online or in-store channels, free shipping and fast shipping during the holidays can set your company apart from the competition. Studying previous peak points—such as the back-to-school rush of past years—may pay off to gauge consumers' reactions to different shipping rates. Wharton marketing professor David Bell notes, "A free shipping offer that saves a customer $6.99 is more appealing to many than a discount that cuts the purchase price by $10." In other words, offering free shipping may have a greater perceived value than a monetary discount, even if the latter actually means a lower overall cost. By testing, you can find the optimal free shipping thresholds for your customers and iron out any kinks in your fulfillment process.

Preemptive Staff Training

It's important to train staff throughout the year on how to load test and send shipments effectively while they have time to absorb and test the information. Even then, smart use of higher sales seasons as a test run can lead to better store and fulfillment center performance, faster shipping, and better customer service. It can also give your company the time to train staff properly on systems they will be using during the holiday rush.

If you haven't started preparing for peak season yet, dive into planning promotions and campaigns, and analyze last season's results to uncover what worked and what didn't. And start testing your systems, plans, partners and employees now so you'll be ready to provide your customers with the shopping experiences they're expecting during this year's holiday season.

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