by Adrian Smith. A quick search of ‘peak trading’ on your preferred search engine will likely retrieve a thousand ‘get ready for peak’ blogs, all offering advice on how retailers should be preparing for the apocalypse – AKA the three-month period that embodies Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Christmas.
Given our increasingly competitive retail landscape, set against a gloomy economic backdrop, as retail sales slide – there has never been more pressure on retailers to deliver strong returns during this essential shopping period… And with preparation for Peak often starting early in the year, it has become an essential part of year-round IT strategies for many.
6 key deliverables for Peak retail season
Retailers need to take a firm, but fair stance with their suppliers and IT teams to be cognisant of the impact of peak and to be prepared. The aim being to pull together to deliver the very best customer experience and maximise sales during these pressurised times. Here are six key topics for retailers to think about, not only to help them meet peak demand, but to deliver consistently for their customers and staff – all year round.
1. SUPPLIERS: Are you in sync?
Each retailer will have their own way of communicating and working with their supply chain, but it is even more critical to take a strategic approach to supplier relationship management in the run up to peak. When looking at your supply chain, here are three essential considerations:
- Ensure that your suppliers are ready for and contactable during peak times. Define and publish exactly how to contact them and how they contact you.
- Check that your suppliers have performed a risk analysis for you and that all the necessary processes are in place.
- Have you got external readiness and peak readiness tools and plans in place? These include – IT Service Management (ITSM), as well as reporting and escalation processes.
2. SYSTEMS: Fit for purpose?
You’ll be focused on implementing measures to ensure you, your team, and stores are ready for peak – so worrying about your systems shouldn’t be one of them. Here are three critical system checks you should undertake as peak approaches:
- Peak is prime-time for hackers to strike, so make sure you undertake pen testing and have the latest security software installed in your systems checking updates in-store.
- Make sure that your business continuity and disaster recovery plans are up to date, and you have tested your fail safes, including for connectivity outage. Include both store and HQ in this planning.
- Ensure that your omnichannel capabilities are connected and consistent – for example test whether online promotions are being replicated in your store systems, to optimise customer experiences.
3. LOGISTICS: Robust and ready?
Having your logistics operations streamlined will keep your retail stores running smoothly during peak and beyond. In preparation for peak and the future, there are three crucial factors you should consider:
- Ensure you have established clear channels of communication with your logistics vendors on expected volumes.
- Make labour contingencies to counter supply chain delays and prepare for night shifts, to ensure a smooth flow of product.
- Increase testing of alternative goods receiving methods, such as logistics vendors receiving directly into the supply chain.
4. STORE OPERATIONS: Tried and tested?
When things go wrong, customers are quick to lay the blame squarely with the retailer, even when the point of failure could have been a third-party system. To keep your customers happy, your physical store should be inviting and take them on a journey. However, with your decisions underpinning so many important processes, how do you ensure optimised store operations? Here are three top tips you should consider:
- Ensure that all POS devices and Card PEDS (pin entry devices) are tested, by running transaction logs through them. Ask store operations staff to ensure that this is logged.
- Make sure that standalone credit card machines – and mobile devices are charged, tested, and have the correct software – as well as ensuring staff are trained.
- If you increase staff headcount to support Peak, then ensure your systems are all set up with new user access, and any onboarding friction is removed to help store managers.
5. SUPPORT: Resourced and trained?
Store managers have enough to worry about without chasing down IT issues if the worst happens during a major trading day. Even one POS device down, it could have significant implications for the bottom line. Here are three things to consider:
- Undertake Service Desk resource planning to cater for longer trading hours and increased capacity.
- Leverage increased vendor management resources from key store support vendors.
- Ensure that support vendors are aware of your longer trading hours, and that P1, P2, and P3 support responsibilities and Service Level Agreements (SLAs) are clearly defined and agreed upon.
6. COMMUNICATION: Defined, documented, communicated?
Don’t underestimate the importance of timely and clear internal communications, processes, and training for staff. This ensures that everybody knows what is happening, why it is happening, and what they need to do. Here are three communication essentials:
- Issue clear instructions and embargos on system upgrades internally and to your vendors.
- Ensure support teams are trained, aware, and prepared, with contact details available in emergency.
- Above all, this is where your front-line staff need your support and recognition. Ensure your comms plans are designed to engage, motivate, and reward them, with clear two-way channels of communication open back to HQ.
No more restless nights
The last thing you need as you approach peak is sleepless nights, constantly thinking of ‘what ifs?’ and ‘did we dos?’. If your approach includes thorough scenario planning, you squash a few of those niggles! And whilst every sale is important, peak trading requires extra effort and places enormous pressure on retailers’ operations, from managing capability to managing intense footfall.
It’s valuable to remember though, that such efforts and best practice benefit retailers throughout the year, not just the 10, or so weeks of peak. Hands up – this was another ‘ready for peak’ checklist. However, if you’ve picked up even just one key takeaway, even this close to peak or for next year, then your time reading this has been well spent – and may even give you a few more of those precious ZZZZZs.
Main image credit: Unsplash.com.
Adrian Smith is Senior Managing Consultant, at global retail software specialist, Retail Directions.
– Receive the Retailing Africa newsletter every week • Subscribe here.