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GUEST COMMENT The secret of festive success

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Black Friday is upon us – the first of many peaks in trading between now and the end of the January sales. It’s retailers’ most lucrative time of the year, but it’s also their most vulnerable.

Last year we saw the consequences of failing to prepare for unprecedented demand; Black Friday might have netted the UK retail industry £810 million, but multiple major ecommerce websites crashed, there was chaos in the aisles, and a huge backlog of deliveries impacted fulfilment throughout the Christmas build-up.

Months of preparation have already gone into retailers’ festive campaigns; however it is the execution during this final trading period that makes the difference between an average response and something to really celebrate.

It might seem a little ‘out there’, but the North Pole is a good reference point for omnichannel retailers. Father Christmas and his helpers have been planning all year round to achieve a single aim – give everyone the gifts they want – by a finite deadline.

The same consumer-driven logic is vital in markets around the world and can only be achieved with an integrated business infrastructure. Sales associates, IT systems and operational procedures are placed under more pressure during the festive period than at any other time of year, so there must be total visibility and complete cohesion between these three elements to provide a seamless customer experience.

This challenge has been exacerbated by the fact that Christmas trading is no longer a steady build-up; now there are sharp peaks in activity as retailers put more weight behind early promotions such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Throughout the next few weeks, retailers must bring technology, processes and staff together to meet these multiple trading spikes – particularly within the store environment, which has the added complication of rising click-and-collect traffic.

Four in 10 online shoppers used an in-store collection service last year and the growth in click-and-collect’s popularity throughout 2015 points towards an even greater demand this festive season. While there will be some staffing requirement to manage additional store footfall, fundamentally, success is down to retailers’ omnichannel capabilities.

Network-wide visibility to optimise allocation and replenishment; real-time reporting to enable agile decision making; scalable and robust ecommerce platforms to support unpredictable online activity; close monitoring of business applications to ensure business software is running at maximum capacity; there are so many behind-the-scenes elements that can make or break customer experiences between now and Christmas.

At peak times, retailers should turn to staff – both within their organisation and outsourced IT support – to ensure back-end technologies are functioning well, and any system glitches are identified and repaired. Retailers must also focus on putting in place any additional processes that may be required to prepare for the selling season as quickly as possible.

Preparation is key to a successful festive period and by bringing people, technology and process together, retailers can surf each trading wave, and ensure customers enjoy a very Merry Christmas.

Gerald Heath is commerce practice principal at Oracle Commerce Anywhere provider OLR

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