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GUEST COMMENT Bleak Peak? No, Christmas 2022 will still sparkle if you have contingencies in place

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Clara Philpin is head of strategic development at Asendia UK

Expectations are muted for the Golden Quarter this year. With millions of Britons struggling to pay bills and heat their homes, festive shopping could well be cautious. One survey says approximately four out of ten households are concerned about Christmas spending, and the IMRG predicted a 5% year-on-year online sales drop for UK Black Friday week 2022, although for fashion the outlook is brighter.

It’s true there are complications this year. Black Friday this year collided with a major World Cup match. Meanwhile, supply chain challenges caused by the Russian-Ukraine war and ongoing Brexit border complexity could impact brands’ cross-border operations at this crucial time of year.

The hunt for online bargains

But let’s look beyond the doom and gloom. Cash-strapped shoppers are going to be seeking out ways to save money on gifting. They will turn to the web to find bargains, and e-retailers with great prices, seasonal deals, and reliable delivery services are well-positioned to benefit. Industry commentators have noted that Christmas gift bargain-hunting has begun remarkably early this year, which could bode well for brands that ship to shoppers internationally. There will be longer lead times to get parcels out to customers in far-flung countries. 

Even the World Cup issue could prove to be positive. If footie fans are at home watching matches on the TV, instead of being in stores, they’re more likely to jump onto their phone or laptop for quick and convenient online Christmas shopping. 

Plan, plan, plan

Peak trading success will come to e-retailers who can accurately forecast and plan, to deliver the Christmas sales they desperately need. At Asendia we use our learnings from previous years to make peak go as smoothly as possible for our retail clients. We know peak 2022 is unprecedented, but there is still much forecasting and planning that can be done in collaboration with brands, based on similar challenges experienced over the past few Christmases. 

Extreme uncertainty also underpinned peak 2021 – it was the first post-Brexit Christmas, volumes were up, yet supply chain routes were clogged and under pressure due to Covid backlogs. 3PLs had to be nimble and flexible. A big win for us was using clients’ forecasting data to inform parcel shipment planning in plenty of time. We provided ‘Peak Packs’ with tailored forecasts and action plans for retailers, and are doing the same this year. 

In winter 2022, the war in Ukraine and supply chain delays mean routes could well be disrupted once again. It will be crucial to maximise the opportunity of cross-border selling but in the most cost-effective ways. For us, reserving air freight ahead of the usual hikes in prices for December should pay dividends – again this requires careful forecast calculations on behalf of retail clients. 

Build flex into your parcel shipping 

Online sellers and their 3PLs need to be nimbler than ever this Christmas. With demand patterns upended and trading conditions and channels subject to overnight change, it’s important to be prepared to switch both what you’re offering and how you trade. If one product line is held up in port, be ready with replacement options, and dial your social marketing up and down to reflect your stock availability. 

Retailers should also choose parcel carriers who are able to flex to changing needs. Bearing in mind that air freight space is in high demand, does your international fulfilment partner have access to extra capacity at short notice? The best partners will be able to adapt their services in line with your margins, getting the cost per kilo for shipping just right for you. Shipping partners will be doing their utmost to help, by offering advice and flexibility where possible, including having dedicated account managers on hand for troubleshooting.

Warehouses must be optimised for peak 

When it comes to managing warehouses and fulfilment centres for e-commerce peak, hiring and training staff in plenty of time is essential. Black Friday discounting is getting earlier every year, and when orders flood in, retailers and their parcel shipping partners need a reliable workforce ready for the rush. 

Automation and robotics can ramp up parcel throughput at peak, supporting warehouse personnel, and improving customer service levels for retailers. In Asendia’s Heathrow fulfilment centre, for example, our new robotic arms for over-labelling, and automated sortation system (installed earlier this year) have sped up through-put of parcels. We can now process up to 7,200 parcels per hour ready for outbound shipment to international destinations. This takes the pressure off the incredibly busy warehouse team and means parcels can catch earlier flights and road haulage departures, essential for cross-border orders at Christmas. 

Deliver sparkling customer service comms

Finally, be prepared for delays at borders, and warn customers about cut-off dates and any likely problems in plenty of time. Many online sellers with cross-border customers rely on intermediaries in the EU to streamline VAT processes, and it’s likely they will be incredibly busy again this Christmas. Factor in extra time for admin bottlenecks this December, and be ready to handle calls and emails from customers waiting for deliveries.

European shoppers have come to expect accurate delivery dates but will forgive if they are kept in the loop when delays do occur. Make sure your customer service communications are clear, timely and empathetic if you want to keep that all-important Christmas cheer alive, and retain customers into 2023.

Clara Philpin is head of strategic development at Asendia UK

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