Even though most retailers have been planning their Christmas operations for months, it's still worth making a list – and checking it twice – when it comes to preparing for the busiest shopping period of the year. Paul Doble, director at DX, the independent logistics and parcel distribution company to the retail sector, and ecommerce observer, takes a look at what retailers need to be thinking about – and doing – as the holiday season approaches.
Understand the importance of Customer convenience
Although Customer convenience is a hot-topic all year round, flexible delivery options are especially important at Christmas, as consumers tend to be ordering a lot more packages – which can mean a lot more disruption unless these deliveries can be made to fit with their schedule. Retailers also need to realise that convenience is not the same thing as speed: in some cases, Customers might prefer to receive a package in three days, rather than one, if they know that they'll be working at home that day, for example.
Don't let delivery be the weak link in the chain
When consumers order a new product, they start getting excited long before it arrives. On the day of delivery, retailers need to make sure that this excitement isn't dampened by a less-than-stellar experience. For a start, the delivery options on offer at the point of purchase should be fine-tuned to reflect the product; while it may be OK to leave a DVD tucked behind the garden shed, retailers risk cheapening the buying experience if they offer the same with an iPad.
Pre-empt problems, rather than reacting to them
Christmas is a high-pressure time for everyone, from shoppers to sales staff to workers in the warehouse, with the volume of retail transactions soaring ever higher as the big day approaches. The right computer systems and management information play an essential role in making sure that both retailers and Customers know what is going on with their deliveries, so that any potential problems are identified early on.
Keep Customers informed from purchase through delivery
Delivery is the only part of the supply chain that consumers can control – every other aspect of retail logistics is actually decided for them. So let them have control by keeping them informed and giving them different options, and by letting them know exactly when the delivery left the warehouse, when it is out for delivery, when it will be delivered, and by whom.
Manage delivery expectations
In July, Customers would never dream of ordering a jumper on a Friday night and having it delivered the next morning – and yet at Christmas-time, all bets are off. Companies like Next have been leading this shift in expectations, as they now offer next-day delivery on orders placed before 9pm – which is very impressive, but certainly not the norm.
Encourage Customers to shop early
This sounds like an obvious one – and perhaps easier said than done – but it's still important. Shoppers who make their purchases earlier are much more likely to find the items they want in-stock, and also to receive their deliveries in time to get them wrapped and ready to give. Likewise, it's important to encourage Customers to shop early in the day, rather than in the evening, as next-day services are often only available up until a certain time of day.
Avoid any nasty surprises on delivery charges
If there is one thing that the likes of Ryanair have shown us, it's that Customers don't want any nasty surprises added to the price at the last minute. Shipping costs should be added to the cart as early in the process as possible, and should also be included wherever possible in price comparison sites, so that shoppers can compare 'like with like' more easily when weighing up different suppliers online.
Make delivery policies very clear
Throughout the rest of the year, an online order will typically be received by the warehouse within an hour, and will often be labelled up and ready to ship within three. During Christmas, this three-hour window can often extend to seven, eight or nine hours – and yet Customers have no way of knowing that. Don't assume that Customers know how busy warehouses get during Christmas, because they probably don't. They just want their goods as soon as possible, and it is up to the retailer to explain what 'as soon as possible' really means.
Plan capacity with your suppliers
As online retail continues to boom, capacity is becoming an important issue within the logistics space. Make sure you don't disappoint your Customers by ensuring you plan early with your logistics partners, factoring in the possibility of adverse weather conditions during the winter season.