Peak is coming around fast!
That means it’s time to start preparing for a successful Black Friday through to Christmas (if you haven’t already!)
Peak season is the most important time of the year for many eCommerce businesses, and often sets the tone for the next 12 months of trading. It can be difficult to know where to start, especially if you want to make the most out of the period.
So, we’ve put together a handy Peak checklist of the most crucial things to focus on in the lead-up to Peak. While by no means an exhaustive list, if you tick off the things we mentioned in this article, you should be able to handle everything this extra-busy period throws at you.
Mark your dates
While we’re all aware of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, there’s actually a tonne of other dates between Black Friday and Christmas that are worth noting in your calendar.
While every date might not be appropriate for your business, we’re going to list each of them below in case you want to prepare any promotions or marketing materials around them.
Key Peak 2024 Dates
November 24 – Black Friday: The day after Thanksgiving has seen bustling trade in the US since the 1950s. Thanks to Amazon, it’s now a worldwide phenomenon, with online shoppers spending over $40billion worldwide on Black Friday 2022.
November 27 – Cyber Monday: Originally conceived as a PR stunt, Cyber Monday is now one of the busiest days of the year in eCommerce (just after Black Friday!)
December 2 – Small Business Saturday: A chance for independent stores to compete with household names. This grassroots campaign was created to encourage consumers to shop locally in person and online at small businesses
December 14 – Free Shipping Day: Another PR stunt, this time from 2008, which retailers of all sizes have now adopted. It provides a chance to incentivise last-minute gift buying with free delivery before Christmas Day.
December 23 – Super Saturday: The last Saturday before Christmas has always been a busy one for panic buying on the high street. We tend to see similar panic online these days, albeit with Friday 22 December being the last day that shoppers can get next-day delivery before Christmas.
December 25 – Christmas Day: Recently, mobile shopping has grown in popularity and retailers have started Boxing Day sales early online. This means that Christmas Day is now a key shopping day in its own right. In 2021, UK consumers were thought to have spent £1.2billion online on Christmas day alone.
December 26 – Boxing Day: The traditional start of post-Christmas sales on the high street is now being eroded by the Christmas Day trends described above. Still, Boxing Day remains a busy time for retailers both online and offline.
January 8 – Peak Returns Week: It’s tempting to think that peak season ends on Christmas Day. But with Experian-IMRG reporting that up to 40% of peak purchases are returned, the work will continue well into the New Year. From our end, we usually see the majority of returns coming through the second week of January.
Secure inventory early
Peak is likely your busiest time of the year, and it’s the same for your suppliers. Your lead time around Peak season is probably going to be longer than normal, and so it’s important to make your order early to ensure that you get everything on time.
If you need to replenish stock between Black Friday and Christmas, remember that your supply chains will be under intense pressure at this time of year.
That’s not just your suppliers; if you order stock from overseas, you should account for shipping delays as there might be limitations to carrier availability or traffic at customs.
That’s why it’s vital that you forecast demand accurately so you can avoid running out of stock over Peak. We discuss demand forecasting in more detail later in the article.
Set up promotions ahead of time
Don’t leave it until the last minute to plan your promotions. While the price point can always be changed during Peak, you should aim to get everything set up in the back-end of your shopping channels ahead of time.
That way, you can just activate them when your Peak promotion period begins.
When considering your promotions over peak, you should always try to balance value, profit, and competitor activity. Now more than ever consumers are looking for value added in their purchases, but it doesn’t necessarily mean cheaper prices. It could come in the form of an amazing customer experience, a free gift, discounts on future purchases, and more.
That said, you need to understand what promotions your closest competitors are running. The best way of doing this is to look at what your competitors were doing last year, and keep an eye on their website and social channels in the build up to Peak so you aren’t caught off guard.
Forecast demand accurately
Forecasting demand, or demand planning, is your bread and butter for a successful Peak period. While difficult to do if you’re a new business without a Peak under your belt, businesses that have been trading for over a year should use data collected from their previous Peak period to inform this year’s forecast.
With accurate forecasts, you can plan resources much more effectively. You’ll have a better understanding of how much additional labour you’ll need to take onboard in the warehouse, and you can ensure that you don’t have any stockouts during Peak.
On the other hand, good forecasting means you can avoid excess inventory. The last thing you want after a busy Peak is to lose a chunk of your profit to storage costs you could have avoided, and end up with a tonne of obsolete stock.
Prepare to shift old stock
Peak season is the perfect time to clear out old stock that you’ve struggled to sell. You can use this slow moving stock to add value to your customers while making room for more appealing lines.
Consider bundling poor-performing SKUs with other items at a heavily discounted rate, or potentially offering them as a free gift. Even if you can’t make much profit on these items, it’s worth the cost-saving of moving them out of storage. Plus, you can make more profit later by selling in-demand items instead.
Arrange additional space (if required)
Whether you’re still storing stock at home or have rented or owned warehouse spaces, chances are that you may need additional storage for this busy period. A lot of eCommerce brands decide to rent additional space temporarily to help them accurately fulfil an increased volume of orders.
While it might be tempting to forgo the additional costs associated with more space, it can make or break a successful Peak. Without forward planning, you may end up in a nightmarish situation where items go missing or wrong items being sent out if you’re cramming stock into a messy, unorganised space.
Ensure your website is up to scratch
Although a well-designed and functioning website should be your priority at all times, it’s especially important during Peak.
With more traffic coming to your website, there’s a significant increase in opportunity cost. And, there’s a greater risk of your website becoming overloaded, resulting in a crash.
Websites overload when the number of users visiting your website exceeds the bandwidth limit set out by your hosting provider. If you’re expecting significantly higher traffic volumes over Peak, you should consider upgrading your hosting plan, or potentially moving temporarily to a dedicated server.
But there’s more to do than simply making sure your website doesn’t break. Now is a good time to review the user experience on your website, and whether it’s working as hard as it could be.
Website components to optimise before peak include:
- User journey and navigation
- Product page
- Shipping and returns policy
- Button placement
- Payment options
Create a marketing plan
A successful Peak period needs to have a solid marketing strategy to back it up. Similar to how go about promotion planning, you’re better off producing marketing materials ahead of time so less there’s to worry about when the orders start flying in.
A good marketing plan involves creating content and promotional material that can be quickly reformatted for different audiences and mediums. Consider the types of content that resonate most with your target audience, which might include short-form videos, high-quality photography, short or long-form written content, or infographics, and look at ways you can share them with as many people as possible.
For example, how might you share a blog post with your audience on TikTok? Could you create a quick video that highlights the key points of your article? Similarly, how can you ensure the graphics you spent time creating and polishing can be seen by as many people as possible? That would probably involve resizing it ahead of time to comply with recommended specs for the different social platforms.
It might also be a good idea to consider bespoke landing pages for Peak. With these, you want to highlight time-sensitive offers and funnel customers towards your product pages and check out in as few clicks as possible.
Set realistic expectations
It’s not just the busiest time of year for you; it’s the busiest time of year for everyone across the supply chain. While you can try and secure a larger network of carrier partners over Peak, chances are that you might need to extend your delivery promise for a few weeks.
Even if you get lucky and don’t experience any delays over Peak, adding a day or two to your delivery promise is a good contingency plan. Customers that get orders quickly will be delighted, whereas disappointment can be avoided if customers know they might not get their orders as quickly as normal.
If you think there’s a chance that orders might, understandably, take longer than usual, consider adding a disclaimer to your homepage, shipping policy, and check-out pages to inform customers that orders might take a little longer than usual to reach them.
Take on support where needed
Sometimes, a bit of extra help goes a long way. You’ll know what your strengths and weaknesses are in the lead up to peak, and you may wish to consider outsourcing some work to third parties to help you focus on creating a fantastic customer experience.
That might include a marketing agency to help create and implement your marketing strategy, a web development team to ensure your website is up to snuff, or some extra pairs of hands to help you pack and ship orders.
To really take your Peak season to the next level, it might be worth considering outsourcing your fulfilment to a 3PL or fulfilment partner. Not only will they ensure that your orders are packed accurately and on-time, they’ll also help you collect vital data that can inform future trading, including your next Peak season.
At James and James, we’ve successfully navigated over a dozen Peak periods for hundreds of clients. By taking all things fulfilment off your hands, you can transform a potentially stressful and chaotic couple of months into a revolutionary growth opportunity.
We onboard new clients for Peak up until November, so if you’re reading this, there’s probably still time for you to get set-up with us in time for that all-important period. Call us on +44 (0) 3332 429 776 or fill in our online form for a no-obligation consultation around how we can help you make the most out of Peak.
Need help with Peak planning? Check out our Plan For Peak Whitepaper or get in touch today!