For many, their favourite time of year is fast approaching. For retailers, the run up to Christmas is their biggest sales period, with a record £104bn spent over the six week Christmas period last year. 2015 is set to be even bigger.

Peak trading periods such as Black Friday offers retailers not just a chance to generate sales, but is also a great chance to win over new customers for the future. However, it also brings with it the potential for high volumes of traffic both in store and online, which retailers need to prepare for. If the customer experience during these peak periods is not up to standard, it could have detrimental consequences for retailers for the rest of the year, with customers opting to go elsewhere due to a bad experience. Retailers need to find the balance of making these peak trading times positive for their revenue, without disrupting the customer experience which could lead to lasting negative effects on their brand.

In this article, Rupal Karia, Managing Director of Retail and Hospitality, UK and Ireland at Fujitsu discusses his top recommendations for how retailers can manage the Christmas hustle and bustle, while maintaining the excellent customer experience which retailers depend on:

Preparing for the here and now and planning for the future

It is imperative that retailers plan and prepare for peak trading times well in advance. Retailers must ensure that they have the right programs in place to enhance their environment and ensure that they are resilient and stable for the Christmas forecast. Retailers need to not only be looking to survive peak times for the current year, but also look forward to the next years as some investments can take longer to put in place. With many still using legacy systems, retailers ideally will have two parallel teams in place; one ensuring that they are managing the system this year to ensure it goes smoothly, and the other planning strategically for the year or even years ahead.

Maintaining a balance between in store and online

Traditionally, in store would have been a retailers’ focus for peak trading. They would prepare by ensuring they have enough staff in store, and back-up point of sale systems to manage the influx of people. Now however, it is much more complex, with many more elements to be taken into account. Not only do most retailers need to ensure that their store environment is exactly right, being the physical front of their brand, but also that back-end systemsand online channels, are working simultaneously. In order to do this, retailers need to ensure that the back end systems organised to deliver the appropriate stock to each store, as well as the distribution channels for services such as home delivery and click and collect are aligned too.

Additionally, retailers need to prepare their online and mobile platforms for the high volumes of expected traffic during this period. An online and mobile platform are necessary to cope with these surges in traffic so as to not have a detrimental effect to the customers shopping experience.With the increasing amount of channels consumers now use, it is essential that retailers take an integrated approach and deliver the same experience for customers, regardless of whether they will be making purchases on a device or in-store.

Making sense of and utilising analytics

In order to prepare for the Christmas mayhem, the more retailers that can predict their customers’ behaviour, the smoother experience for all parties will be. The foresight that their data analytics can provide, will enable retailers to analyse trends, and forecast how many people will be in store and when. Fast food companies such as McDonald’s are an example of a brand thathas done this well for years. Predictive analyticsenable them to know in advance how much food is required. If retailers applied this principle, looking at trends through previous shopping patterns; customer footfall; weather; and other such factors that help them predict when customers will be in store, they will know when to plan for these peak points. Moreover, retailers should also be utilising these analytics to map out where best to allocate their products in store for the best customer journey. On a local scale, retailers can even look at these maps for each store independently, catering to each stores individual demographic.

The same principle can also be applied for retailers’ online offerings. The online environment to a degree is easier to track and monitor customers’ behaviour when navigating the site. As a result retailers are able to encourage upselling other items that they may be interested in, providing a helpful and better customer experience. To take this experience even further, retailers need to be taking note of the influence that real-time analytics can have on their business. It will enable them to adapt their in-store and online business at any time, providing the optimal personalised experience for their customers, making their Christmas shopping easier and more efficient.

Ensure this Christmas is a cyber-secure Christmas

Inherently retailers need to be fast paced and agile in order to cope with the change in consumer demands and trends to meet the customers’ expectations. However, retailers can hold an enormous amount of information about their customers from personal information to payment data and with the increase in online servicesretailers are becoming prime victims to cyber-attacks. Figuresrecently revealed that 45m attempted attacks against online retailers have already occurred in the 90 day lead up to Christmas this year, highlighting the urgent call to arms for retailers to get their online security measures in order.

During the Christmas peak, usual traffic will likely be confused with DoS (Denial of Service) traffic due to the excessive volumes. Implementing a strong security education programme underpinned by a robust security framework will allow retailers to get on the front foot in combating these types of threats. The cost of the fall out of cyber-attacks can be detrimental to a brands finances as well as their reputation.

In an omnichannel world, retailers must protect and secure their systems across mobile and desktop through a proactive approach to security whilst maintaining an experience that is up to speed with the modern day consumer.

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail

Preparing for the Christmas period is essential, as it will largely be retailers’ busiest time of the year. Not only is it about preparing for this year’s festive few weeks, but retailers who look to have continued success in the years to come will be planning for future peaks as well. Retailers who fail to provide a secure, efficient, and aligned shopping environment will likely see a fall-out with customers due to a fragmented and negative experience. Consequently, it is these retailers who will lose out on growing their customer base for the coming year.

To ensure a smooth customer experience throughout this time of heightened activity, retailers need to look at how the different channels – both online and in store – can play their part in ensuring success and delivering an excellent customer experience, as well as utilising their data to predict when and where their largest footfalls will be. If retailers are to make this Christmas a success, they will ensure that their customer experience is maintained to the highest standard. In doing so, retailers will reap the rewards throughout the year and for many Christmases to come.

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