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We’ve all seen the news, well, we can’t really escape it can we…

“Global supply chains at risk of collapse, warn business leaders.”

“Global supply chain disruptions are spreading, and nobody knows what to do about it.”

Whilst there are obvious challenges for retailers looking to maximise the potential of an ever-growing online customer base during peak, to catastrophise and panic is as useful as making a brew in a chocolate teapot.

So, we asked James Hyde, Founder of James and James Fulfilment, and the company’s new CEO Emma Dempsey, for their top advice…

1. Forecast with accuracy

A value-added fulfilment provider who’s worth their salt will combine excellent inventory insight with promotional support to make sure you’re maximising every peak trading opportunity. As we’ve seen such huge changes in customer behaviour over the past 18 months, forecasting demand has become even more complex, so having reliable data to hand is important.

Consumers are all too familiar with ‘out of stock’ notifications and gaps on supermarket shelves, so their buying decisions are likely to be influenced more by delivery certainty than price, especially for Christmas.

Retailers need to know what they have, and what they can deliver, when. Vague promises are simply not good enough. Can you honestly answer the following with confidence? If not, it might be a good time to get some support for peak:

  • What’s in stock today?
  • What can be promoted?
  • How fast can our business respond to customer demand?

2. Get hold of your inventory early

Figuring out your lead time and days of stock is critical to forecasting customer demand.

If you’re sourcing your stock from overseas then it’s important you allow for extended inventory delivery lead times. As well as possible delays at customs, there’s likely to be seasonal fluctuations as shipments to warehouses increase ahead of Black Friday, Cyber Monday (BFCM) and Christmas.

The more info and data you have access to, the better. You’ll know you have sufficient stock and can avoid overstock or stockouts.

3. Scale up scenario planning

Launching multiple flash discounts? Embrace uncertainty with multiple scenarios in case products sell faster or slower than expected.

If you’re suddenly out of stock, let customers know if/when there’s more coming. Then set up back-in-stock notifications to email them as soon as you get more inventory. That way they’ll be reminded to log back in to your online store and purchase the item they originally wanted to buy.

Surplus stock? Limited time offers play on multiple consumer psychologies, namely Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) – we’ve all been there. Your special deal countdown using marketing automation will drive a sense of time urgency and help drive sales.

After you’ve successfully implemented your automated marketing campaigns and BFCM has gone superbly, you’ll then need enough stock on hand to replenish for December.

4. Clear old stock

There’s no better time to clear out piled-up inventory whilst bringing joy to your customers.

Given the delays to inbound stock, especially from the Far East, the 2021 peak trading season is also set to be a great opportunity to revisit your slow-moving lines that are clogging up warehouse space (and costing you money while they’re sitting on shelves). Not only will this address the ever-present problem of ageing stock but, with items already in the fulfilment centre, you’ll be able to confidently promote stock to your customer base with the certainty of delivery by a set date.

Take the time now to assess old stock (if you haven’t already), identify any items that could fill the gaps created by supply chain delays and develop too-good-to-miss promotions. This will put you in a great position to respond to demand.

Something as simple as adding an extra 10% discount on your website to encourage conversion for products that aren’t shifting will make a significant difference in your overall sales.

5. Set expectation

A no-brainer. Set clear customer expectations of when they’ll receive their order. If you don’t, you could lose out on sales and loyalty.

6. Balance that expectation with speed

If you’re winning customers with a promise of value, you’ll want to keep them by managing expectations created by that promise. Fulfilling a promise is more important than speed (though we do quite a good job of balancing both at James and James). When you’ve got access to great inventory information, a flexible promotions model and excellent fulfilment, you’ll be able to deliver the certainty and control required to meet customer expectations.

Promoting products on your online store that are not yet in the warehouse – or even in the country – is a fast track to customer disappointment and can be damaging to your brand. Plus you’ll want to avoid your customer services team being inundated with ‘Where’s my order?’ queries – that just adds even more cost and unproductivity to your business.

7. Help us to help you

Be sure to share your planned promotions, including your daily profile of demand, so we can optimise our operation to support you throughout this hugely busy time.

It’s a good idea to be proactive about the use of promotions to control your sales process, both to maximise sales and minimise the risk of fulfilment delays caused by excessive demand.

8. Align your comms

Make sure your website order delivery info aligns with the peak plans of your fulfilment partner. At James and James we’ll work with you throughout peak to put in place delivery promises that are both realistic and achievable, enabling you to deliver the customer certainty that’ll be key to winning more customers – and sales – in 2021.

9. Incentivise the frontline

Our fulfilment centre staff pick, pack and ship products daily, and they’d love to purchase them at a discount. This has worked particularly well for the eCommerce businesses we work with in that they’ve got another sales stream during peak, and we can attract further exceptional people to work in our fulfilment centres to fulfil customer orders! Win, win, win.

10. Keep up momentum

Planning for peak is one thing, planning post-peak is another. It’s a good idea to take a step back after the excitement of peak to see how things went and what can be done better for a successful festive selling season ahead. Once BFCM is wrapped up, we’ll support further promotional activity to move any unsold stock and make sure you’re in a good position for Christmas.

The key takeaway from James and Emma?

Online retailers need to bring plans forward if peak is going to deliver an essential revenue boost. Reach out to the team at James and James if you’re needing an extra hand – or two hundred – this busy golden quarter.

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