According to the National Retail Federation, many retailers will do as much as 20-40 percent of their annual sales in November and December. More sales mean more opportunities to develop long-lasting consumer relationships, so it’s important that the season goes as smoothly as possible to minimize disruptions to the customer experience and maximize revenue. To be properly prepared for 2017, eCommerce brands like you should plan accordingly for what lessons to take from 2016’s struggles, or else risk history repeating itself for your next peak seasons. Here are some steps you can start putting in action now:
Conduct A Post-Mortem Survey
Allow your customers to provide feedback on what did and did not work during the holiday season. Getting shopper feedback is key to boosting sales going forward, but you need to commit to monitoring the feedback and pulling out actionable insights from the data you collect. You can do this via a client survey and/or email that you send out post-holidays. Make sure that you are compiling all answers in an easily shareable document so that customer feedback can be shared with your internal team.
Asking your customers for feedback will make them feel their voices are heard. Practically, they’re your richest source for actionable feedback, as they introduce you to a first-person view of the fulfillment process you wouldn’t have otherwise. Commit to taking action on their feedback and you will see the benefits in your sales performance.
By concentrating on your successes and failures, you can forecast potential problems and opportunities for improvement in 2017. Use this information to build a detailed action plan for any challenges that you suspect may arise. This gives you both a methodical and adaptable approach to face recurring problems.
Analyze last year’s data and forecasts
Armed with information from your customers, use their feedback on what went wrong to delve into the corresponding statistics. For example, if customers mentioned that a certain item was consistently out of stock, see if any supply chain breakdowns occurred and quantify them when possible.
On a broader level, compare historic year-over-year sales volume and marketing dollars spent. Any noticeable trends found should be put into your “lessons learned document” that can be reviewed yearly.
In theory, sales volumes should align with marketing initiatives. By taking a look at the inventory left unsold during the holiday season, you can determine which campaigns worked and which SKUs were most successful or unsuccessful based on those campaigns. Likewise, make sure to take a look at returns data. What kind of items are consistently being returned? How long are customers taking to return items post-holidays? In what condition are return items arriving? What patterns arise? Use this information to work with your eCommerce, operations and marketing teams to align expectations and strategies for next year.
Develop a strategy
After looking at last year’s data, you should have a clear idea of what your biggest challenges were. From there, you can plan and adapt. Be sure to stay thorough when creating a plan and include elements like planned lead time, amendments to your return policy and shipping options/upgrades offered to the customer.
You’ll also need to incorporate supply chain timelines that affect the fulfillment process into your overall strategy. What non-fulfillment hiccups did you face last year and how can you work around them for 2017? Know, for instance, that goods ordered from India will take longer to arrive than goods ordered from China. Goods going to retail stores should be received by your warehouse in August and goods going directly to customers should be received by September or October.
Planning ahead allows you to better control an experience that can make or break consumer perception of your brand.
Rethink your existing fulfillment relationship
Working with a fulfillment partner ensures that your plan for peak is well-executed. Fulfillment partners are a great asset during the holiday peak season since many have relationships with major shipping carriers, potentially cutting costs with better shipping rates. Fulfillment partners also offer the benefits of strategically-located warehouses for quick shipping capabilities and warehouse performance monitoring for an in-depth look at your business’s performance. If your peak season fulfillment experience was not ideal, now is the time when you should be rethinking your current 3PL partnership. A good 3PL should make these tasks effortless on your end. If all they’re giving you is a headache, consider shopping around for a new partner.
Be transparent with fulfillment partners about what operations and fulfillment struggles you’ve had in the past and provide your lessons learned tracker for them to correct. That, coupled with a third party logistics provider’s knowledge about the challenges of holiday fulfillment, will ensure that your 2017 holiday peak season is less stressful and drives more sales and happy customers for your brand.
Analyzing your past years’ performance is the best investment you could make with your time post peak. By analyzing the season’s wins and losses and developing a forward-looking future peak season strategy with your fulfillment partner, you’re more likely to overcome any challenges you might face in the coming year. This will set up your brand up for success and enduring customer relationships.