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GUEST COMMENT Black Friday: delivering expectations

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The countdown to Christmas is traditionally a busy and immensely profitable time of year for retailers. In order to maximise sales and maintain high levels of efficiency, retailers need to be prepared for heightened customer demand during this busy period, with a particular focus on flash sales days such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

The increasingly popular sales day craze has previously seen retailers crumble under the weight of demand. Thinly stretched resources, and added pressure generated by tight timescales, can threaten retailers’ abilities to meet customer expectations and deliver at this critical time of year. It is therefore vital that retailers work with their suppliers and partners to ensure they have necessary plans in place to manage sales peaks effectively.

Fulfilling expectations

Figures released by IMRG UK Consumer Home Delivery Review 2015 revealed consumers’ online fulfilment perceptions and expectations; 70% confirmed that a good delivery experience will help keep them loyal to a particular retailer, with 85% of consumers reporting that they highly value in-transit delivery information.

The rate of online orders and deliveries are rising, as are consumer expectations. With competition between retailers running increasingly high around the festive season, retailers must work closely with couriers to guarantee satisfied customers – building a positive reputation of delivery companies and retail partners alike.

Road blocks

There are many common pitfalls that retailers must be aware of in the run up to Christmas, and once these are recognised they can be prepared for accordingly.

Firstly, customers risk being lulled into a false sense of security by expensive Christmas advertising campaigns that promise speedy delivery – sometimes even within 12 hours of purchase. During the festive period, consumer demand rises but available resources diminish due to the sheer pressure of this time of year. Normal deliveries are placed under extreme pressure and this is exacerbated by the fact that retailers continue to promote ‘business as usual’ delivery options – such as free next day delivery – when they should instead look at longer delivery windows to help manage demand. Ambitious assurances can often lead to customers being frustrated when retailers are unable to deliver their promises, so offers must be checked in advance to ensure they are realistic.

Secondly, customers need to be educated on different types of delivery, and what they should be opting for in order to receive the service they require for their particular package. To avoid disappointment at the doorstep, it is crucial that retailers give customers several delivery options at the checkout, alongside the information they need to understand exactly what different options involve and how this will affect the service they receive and final price they pay.

For example, customers may be dissatisfied when couriers will not transfer larger packages beyond the doorstep and into their room of choice, consequently adversely impacting their opinion of both carrier and retailer. By outlining what each drop-off service entails at the point of sale, retailers can manage customers’ expectations and ensure additional extras are offered to those willing to pay more for their exact delivery preferences.

Lastly, retailers must have strategies in place to deal with unforeseen hiccups along the end-to-end delivery chain. Adverse weather conditions, driver shortages, and even a customer’s failure to read the ‘small print’ in the delivery details can all result in dissatisfied shoppers and chaos for retailers and logistics teams. To deal with such circumstances efficiently, clear communication strategies must be implemented, with each partner recognising their responsibilities and planning for the worst case scenario where possible.

Sharing the Christmas presents

It is not only retailers who face the challenges of heavy demand during sales days, but also the warehouses and carriers that must cope with increased volume and limited resources at this time of year. As such, careful planning is needed in order to ensure that enormous quantities of parcels are not simply ‘dumped’ on warehouses and carriers.

Retailers can help to avoid this situation by encouraging customers to use convenient collection points and lockers. The growing popularity of in-store click and collect schemes can provide customers with another option for receiving their online purchases. Last Christmas, John Lewis announced that 56% of online shoppers chose in-store collection during the festive period, and many retailers have since introduced the alternative for shoppers to increase choice and convenience.

Delivering across the board

In order to achieve success in all these areas and manage Black Friday with confidence, retailers will need to make sure that their strategies are planned thoroughly, encompassing realistic predictions, and led by efficient communication across the entire supply chain – both internally and externally – so that they can build relationships with their customers based on accurate, reliable information. As part of this, delivery capacity must be agreed with carriers and adhered to as extra vehicles and man-power cannot be easily resourced during peak times.

Whilst popular shopping days can provide retailers with a spike in sales and a chance to grow the brand, businesses in this sector will still need to put measures in place to maximise these opportunities and provide customers with the best possible experience. Otherwise, they not only risk losing out on their short-term sales goals, but also on their longer-term brand strategy.

Despite Christmas being an extremely busy time in the retail calendar, by being fully prepared it’s possible to ensure that it’s still a business-as-usual period. In an increasingly competitive market, retailers need to deliver a top quality service – as well as the presents – to enjoy a very merry Christmas.

Paul Doble is chief sales officer at DX

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