While peak season brings the promise of higher sales, opportunities for new customer acquisitions, and a chance to build stronger relationships with shoppers, it doesn’t come without drawbacks. In fact, for many retailers, it can be the most stressful and chaotic time of year, as online orders pour in and foot traffic increases.
But this year, retailers are also faced with an added layer of uncertainty – as COVID-19 continues to affect the health and shopping habits of consumers. Will customers visit brick and mortar stores as much as they did pre-COVID? Only time will tell.
So how do you avoid being unprepared to handle a unique peak season in 2020? You ready your inventory, supply chain, and customer touchpoints well in advance.
Here are four major things you can do to get your business prepared for peak waves (both in-store and online), this year.
Enhance Your Order Management
Handling customer orders is complex on a good day. But during peak waves, it can be downright chaotic. An order management system (OMS) makes it easier, by allowing you to keep a constant pulse on the inventory you have available across your organization. It also enables you to map out routes for transporting inventory to individual stores (or customers) as fast and cost-effectively as possible.
This means you can rest easy knowing that everything is getting where it needs to be (on time!) and your customers are happy.
Streamline Your Fulfillment Process
The importance of having a clear fulfillment process cannot be overstated. Not only does it impact your ability to stock your shelves and end caps, but it also affects the timeliness of online orders reaching your customers. And during peak season, this is even more important, as inventory has to ship more quickly from place to place.
By creating a clear path for orders to move from your suppliers to your customers’ carts and doorsteps now, you’ll be able to scale your operations more easily as shopping ramps up. Here are a few ways you can do that:
- Forecast inventory needs, based on sales throughout the year.
- Know where all inventory is located, so you can ship orders quickly and cost-effectively.
- Decide which fulfillment options make the most sense for getting products to customers. This includes dropshipping, in-store pickup, curbside pickup, associate delivery, and ship-to-store.
Kick Customer Service Up a Notch
Your customers care deeply about their relationship with your business. They don’t just want to buy amazing products from you. They want to have positive interactions with your employees, each and every time they come into contact with your brand. And in no place is this more expected, than in customer service.
The problem is, it can be difficult for your customer support team to provide each of your customers with the right amount of care and attention when support tickets flood in and long lines form at the curb.
To deliver positive, empathetic service at scale, many retail and eCommerce businesses need the support of a 3rd party customer service solution. Deliver 24/7 support to your customers via live chat, text, phone, email and social media with both a professional customer support team and call center software. This means you can continue to offer your customers top-notch support during the busiest times of the year, without putting extra strain on your own employees.
Simplify Reverse Fulfillment
As sales rise during peak season, so too do product returns. This might come in the form of customers wanting to exchange a gift that was the wrong size or color, or it might be a shopper wanting to return a damaged product.
Whatever the case, if you want to make reverse fulfillment as simple as possible, take some time to look at the way you handle returns. Is it easy for front line employees to log a returned item back into your inventory? Likewise, is the process of damaging out a returned product straightforward? Is the process of transporting it where it needs to go smooth? If the answer to any of these questions is no, it may be in your best interest to look into integrating an order management system (OMS) into your processes.
At the same time, you want to make sure reverse fulfillment is a straightforward and positive experience for your customers. One way you can do this is by offering convenient return options, like curbside return or free return shipping, or by extending returns to give shoppers more time to get products back to you.
No matter how you choose to go about it, creating a detailed plan for handling returns amid a COVID-19 peak season will enable you to keep your customers healthy and happy.
Peak waves can be stressful, but by evaluating your current operations, pinpointing areas where you can improve, and implementing strategic solutions to enhance your overall customer experience, you’ll be well prepared for the 2020 rush!