Even those businesses that choose not to get directly involved with Black Friday can find they are affected by it. That’s why it is a good idea to plan for the end-of-year peak and do as much as possible to avoid being caught out.
Here are four things for you to consider as part of your peak planning
1 – Flatten the demand curve
Christmas comes once a year. So does Black Friday and Cyber Monday and Singles Day and so on. And they all arrive in the same quarter before leading into the peak returns period. It’s a busy time – we all know this.
Flatten the curve became a phrase used frequently during the early months of the pandemic, as health services all around the world tried desperately to stop hospitals from being overloaded. A similar outlook is needed for peak preparation in retail logistics.
The early use of promotions and discounts can help persuade customers to spend in October and November, instead of saving up for Black Friday bargains. That can help flatten the curve and keep the wheels turning.
2 – Improve delivery capabilities
It might seem like a crazy question. But we are living in a very unusual time. With physical stores locked down or heavily restricted, many millions of people were compelled to shop online for the first time, or to do more of their shopping online. All the signs are that they are happy that they did. Ecommerce has jumped about five years on the growth curve due to COVID-19. There will be no return to the good old days… whatever that might mean to you.
Fulfillment is running at close-to-maximum across many retail sectors. There isn’t an unlimited supply of labour to help out in warehouses, or to drive delivery vehicles. Indeed, in some markets there is an acute shortage – the Brexit effect in the UK has led many EU citizens who were working in retail and logistics jobs to leave the country. The vacancies they left are not being filled rapidly enough.
If turning orders around and getting items delivered is already a challenge, it would not be wise to do anything that might make the situation even worse. Jumping head-first into Black Friday could be an example of making things worse. To avoid that, it is important to carry out an honest and transparent assessment of your delivery capability and find ways to improve efficiency and effectiveness.
3 – Understand your inventory
There is a finite number of vehicles, drivers and warehouse space. Unless you own your fleet and your own warehouses, you are going to be competing with other retailers for space and time.
A full vehicle is a full vehicle and it doesn’t care if you have just had a great sales event. Don’t lose out by assuming capacity will always be available. It isn’t an elastic supply.
If you can’t build your own network, there are other things you can do to avoid complications. If you have stock in separate locations, move it around so that it is more evenly spread and available faster. Find 3PL partners if that fits your model. But most importantly, understand your inventory – how much you have, where it is and where it needs to go.
4 – Don’t look back in anger – look back at data
Last year was a year like no other: all of which will have an impact on the data many businesses are using to build forecasts.
This year, it will be hard to predict things with confidence. As previously mentioned, many businesses are experiencing higher-than-ever sales and may struggle to cope with very peaky peaks. Looking back at last year’s data in an attempt to make sense of what might happen later in 2021 is unlikely to help.
Analysing multiple years’ data might be more useful. This approach may help to provide some aggregate assessments of where the highs and lows of demand can be expected.
Any lessons learned the hard way in historic peak periods can be put to good use now. It is also wise to remember that even the best plans can be disabled by events. So, always try to have a contingency plan in place too, or at the very least some kind of crisis strategy.
That way, if your website crashes, or your internal network fails, or whatever it might be, you won’t lose even more valuable time wondering how to react. You don’t have to be able to predict the future to understand the lessons of the past.
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