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GUEST COMMENT Retail opportunity: The changing shape of retail peak periods

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The UK retail sector is facing an extended period of uncertainty as a result of the global pandemic. 

Over the course of the last year, with high-street footfall at an all-time low due to Covid restrictions, we’ve seen a number of retailers — both big chains and small independents — go into administration. 

While this is evidence of a very tough climate, the pandemic has also seen significant innovation across the industry — packing a decade of ecommerce growth into a single year, with ONS figures revealing that spending online surged by 46% in 2020.

Homebound consumers dramatically changed their shopping habits— with those who used to veer towards online as a last resort now choosing it as their primary method of shopping. This has, understandably, meant that millions of businesses across the country have had to pivot their services and invest more heavily in their existing, or even new, ecommerce offering.

Another direct effect of this boom has been that the traditional pattern of peak periods throughout the year has been thrown out of the window, with the rise of internet shopping creating a much flatter base from which smaller peak spikes appear around traditional dates throughout the year. But with ecommerce sales at record levels and Covid continuing to disrupt the industry, retailers will need to think smarter than ever to keep up with demand this year. 

Here are three things to consider: 

Encourage early shopping 

No matter how shopping behaviours continue to evolve, retailers need to remember that convenience is vital to customer satisfaction all year round.

By starting promotions and nudging consumers to start shopping earlier, retailers can be sure to draw in shoppers ahead of the yearly shopping milestones — from Mother’s Day to Summer Sales, Back to School and of course the Black Friday/ Christmas bonanza. Such advanced planning will enable retailers to put themselves in a good position to avert last-minute surges in online purchases that lead to shipping chaos and delays. 

It will also reduce the number of consumers frantically rushing to shops to make that last minute purchase — a win-win for everyone. 

Use high-street locations as local distribution centres

With demand for online shopping already sky high, peaks throughout the year will present an even greater challenge for retailers. And while a retailer may have a number of strategically placed distribution centres across the country, these will likely not be as widely dispersed as their brick and mortar stores. 

By switching on physical stores as local distribution hubs, retailers will be able to alleviate the increased pressure that typically comes hand-in-hand with peak periods and help them achieve business continuity. This is an extremely cost-effective way of expanding their distribution capacity as it utilises existing facilities that are already close to where their customers live — creating more responsive fulfilment.

Not only this, from a retailer perspective, the ability to dispatch products from nearby stores (as opposed to more widely-spread warehouses) will also result in much swifter turn-around times — a benefit to the bottom line for stores and increased satisfaction and loyalty for shoppers.

Avoid overpromising

Surviving — and thriving — during 2021, will ultimately boil down to two key factors: honesty and realism. With the ecommerce boom already seeing retail operations stretched significantly, it’s crucial that retailers set sensible delivery expectations with customers and avoid unnecessary promises around speed of fulfilment. 

One way of accomplishing this is by ensuring they have a full range of delivery options that will help ease the pressure on retailers and their logistics partners. This will allow retailers to take back control and prioritise the scheduling of deliveries to focus on those that really are urgent. 

Retailers must also be transparent and clear when communicating with their customers. Being honest and forewarning customers that their purchases may not arrive in time, for instance, is always better than leaving them in the dark. Regardless of the exceptional times we find ourselves in, customers won’t easily forgive retailers that let them down during the final mile. 

Ultimately, as ecommerce markets continue to mature, so too will consumer expectations around what a great delivery experience looks like. And while 2021 may have got off to a bit of a bleak start, there is still a huge opportunity for retailers operating against a tough economic backdrop. With a year of retail peaks still ahead of us, prioritising the needs and wants of shoppers and building a convenient solution around them, will see retailers develop a loyal shopper base and avoid losing out to the competition.


Nic Pentelow, Director of Retail at leading same day distribution business, CitySprint

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