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GUEST COMMENT Delivering in time for Christmas: two key areas to focus on

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On the first day of summer, it began: I received my first Christmas-related pitch of the year. The email advertising advance rates for booking a Christmas party drew a groan, but wasn’t as badly-timed as it may have seemed, of course. It’s a reality of retail life that Christmas-related work never really goes away; by the end of May, British people had spent more than £2bn on presents for Christmas 2017.

Christmas sales periods are so important that there is a lot for retailers to think about. This means it can be difficult to know where to focus attentions, so what should they be focusing on in particular? Here are two key areas they must excel in if they want to do well in future Christmas periods:

Building and maintaining scalable, flexible delivery networks

When it comes to deliveries, it can be a dangerous tactic to put all your eggs into one basket: relying too heavily on one carrier can leave you high and dry if it is suddenly unable to fulfil an order. In the build-up to Christmas, the stakes are raised significantly, and a retailer struggling to fulfil orders could find itself in real trouble.

Relying heavily on just a handful of carriers and distribution channels could lead to problems if one of them is disrupted. This could leave them scrambling for other options and risk paying a higher price to couriers who know they are in a poor bargaining position, if they’re even able to help at such short notice at all.

In addition to the potential financial knock-on, there’s also a risk that customer loyalty will be damaged: perhaps a customer will suddenly find their preferred type of delivery (next day, for example) is unavailable, or worse, they might not get their item delivered in time for Christmas.

This could prove fatal to retailers: the most recent JDA/Centiro Christmas Customer Pulse report revealed that more than three quarters (76%), would switch to an alternative retailer because of a poor home delivery experience.

This means the pressure is really on for retailers. To take action, they must develop a wide network of carriers who are able to provide a range of delivery options for customers, and be in a position to onboard new carriers at short notice, so that reinforcements can get to work quickly once they have been called upon.

Ensuring delivery deadlines don’t set you up for a fall

Accepting an order and then failing to deliver it in time for Christmas could spell disaster: if a customer has been left in the lurch, red-faced without a present to give to a family member, the relationship will suffer long-term damage. This is why retailers set deadlines for Christmas orders that will arrive in time for the big day.

At first glance, being faced with a final deadline might seem like something that would irritate customers, driving them elsewhere. However, the good news for retailers is that this practice is already a factor people take into consideration: the Centiro/JDA Customer Pulse revealed that in 2016, more than a quarter (27%) of Christmas online shoppers ordered items online earlier than planned.

At the same time not every shopper is that organised when it comes to Christmas presents, so retailers must work to ensure they are able to fulfil orders as late in the day as possible. Of course, this will only stretch so far for standard delivery, so having a strong mix of delivery options can also prove invaluable during a peak period. For example, if there is no way to guarantee a standard delivery will arrive for a certain date, Click & Collect or a premium delivery service should be offered as alternatives.

To put themselves in a position to make this call, retailers need to make sure they have visibility into the delivery networks to ensure they have the capacity to fulfil orders and meet their customer promises.

Laying the foundations for a great brand experience

For retailers to be confident the presents will be under the tree in time for Christmas, they must build and maintain a strong delivery network, and be able to draw the right final delivery deadlines in the sand. These two areas will lay the groundwork for success not just at Christmas, but for life. Customers will be content in the short-term, with presents to gift to loved ones, which means they will feel confident building a longer-term relationship with a retailer they can rely on to deliver the goods, whatever the occasion.

Bobby Shome is business development director EMEA at Centiro

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