The festive season is traditionally one of the most profitable times of the year, especially in retail. Between 2011 to 2019, Christmas spending in cash terms continued to rise each year. Meanwhile, last-minute shopping and the rise of in-store and online discount days such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday provide a steady stream of retail revenue throughout December.

But what will the picture look like in 2020, and how can retailers be prepared for a season unlike any other?

Many retailers hope that high street shops remain ‘open for business’ over the coming months, building back consumer confidence, trust and momentum in what has been a particularly challenging year. Being fully prepared to capture festive consumer enthusiasm can spell the difference between a game-changing sales season and a misfire.

Here are three important considerations for retailers to implement now.

1. Secure seasonal staff early

It is never too soon to ensure you have enough workforce to manage potential spikes in demand over the festive period. Many employers start their seasonal employee search in September to provide enough time for thorough training and integration before sales activity picks up. Amazon, for example, is already seeking 7,000 extra workers for the festive period in the UK, and many others are likely to adopt a similar tactic.

Seasonal workers can fill in the gaps when it comes to a wide range of back-end inventory jobs and provide extra help serving customers or bulking up call centre teams. However, it is important retailers have a well-balanced onboarding strategy to help the seasonal workforce successfully adapt to new roles and responsibilities. An onboarding programme for seasonal hires should always include a top-to-bottom review of the company, its products, history, and employee conduct rules and regulations, to ensure they’re ready and confident to provide excellent customer service, all while complying with COVID-19 health and safety measures.

2. The rise in ‘Buy Online, Pick Up in Store’

The pandemic has seen a huge surge in online orders, with many businesses now prioritising their ecommerce channel, whether they’re a traditional retailer that has already embraced online ordering or they’re just starting to sell direct-to-consumer (D2C). With likely limitations on the number of shoppers allowed in store this year, physical stores can expect decreased foot traffic and sales over the festive period.

However, that doesn’t mean the physical store is obsolete. Creative businesses will find a way to use their physical locations during the festive period.

The “buy online, pick up in store” (BOPIS) option has gained traction in recent years, largely thanks to customers who don’t want to wait or pay for shipping costs. But social distancing in response to COVID-19 has led to a significant spike in customers opting for BOPIS. This festive period, with inevitable last-minute shopping, it is likely going to be the perfect storm for BOPIS.

Ensuring you have options for your customers to pick up their items at your store location will help reduce lost sales and will improve customer satisfaction.

Most ecommerce platforms make toggling to in-store pickups as easy as clicking a tick box, but a successful BOPIS programme demands more consideration than simply flipping a switch. Poorly planned BOPIS is worse than none at all if it results in bad customer experience, so take every step possible to make picking up orders as easy and efficient as possible.

3. Reconfigure fulfilment centres to meet demand

Revenue projections are typically high over the festive period, and the need to achieve robust sales momentum for the duration can put intense pressure on everyone within an organisation.

With the anticipated surge in online orders, it will be important to identify the impact on retailers’ warehouses and fulfilment. With efficiency and accuracy being paramount to timely shipping, it will be critical to optimise your warehouse as much as possible.

Ecommerce fulfilment has pushed more companies to invest in warehouse management software which helps increase automation and accuracy, and improves speed and efficiency. Retailers can also temporarily reconfigure fulfilment centres to meet demand. Ensuring popular items are in stock and arrive quickly to the customer is paramount.

Confidence for a successful 2020 sales season

Retailers entering the seasonal rush will need a well-trained, unified team of employees who are customer-focused, tech-savvy and able to skillfully navigate a wide range of demands to create meaningful customer connections.

Amidst uncertainty with the future of physical stores, retailers must also ensure their online channel is efficient and engaging for customers in order to be truly competitive. With this in mind, they must also anticipate the impact on warehouses and fulfilment.

This festive period may be different than any other in many ways, but with the right preparation, retailers can be confident heading into the 2020 sales season.

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