It’s becoming increasingly important for retailers to understand how seasonal factors impact on business. Jonathan Wright introduces our inaugural Research Report on Seasonal Commerce.
Mention seasonal commerce and even many who work in retail will immediately think of Christmas, when the rush to buy presents and treats for our nearest and dearest fills the coffers of so many businesses. Yet that’s only ever been part of the story when it comes to what we might call the pulse of retail over the course of a year.
That’s because, while Yuletide may be the biggest event in the calendar for many or even most retailers, it’s by no means the only event. It’s safe to assume those in the confectionary or flower businesses, for example, will plan for mother’s day well ahead of the date. Then there’s Halloween, once a comparatively low-key event in the UK, but now enthusiastically celebrated as, once a year, our streets throng with children in fancy dress carrying buckets in order to collect sweets.
There’s an international, multicultural dimension here too. The Chinese New Year is an increasingly important event outside Asia, for example. As for those retailers attempting to make in-roads into the Chinese market, not easy for all kinds of reasons, it’s clearly crucial to understand consumer behaviour around this celebration. Then there’s the increasingly popular Chinese singles day when those without partners organise parties, partly in the hope of snagging partners.
There are further nuances for companies that trade internationally. To return to mother’s day, it’s celebrated, to take just a few examples, in October in Argentina, May in Australia, India and the USA, December in Panama, and the fourth Sunday of Lent in the UK. Even the day we open our Christmas presents varies. In most parts of Austria, Germany, Poland and Switzerland, for example, it’s customary to exchange gifts on the evening of Christmas Eve, at a time when British men traditionally do last-minute shopping in a warmly reassuring fug of alcohol.
THE INTERNET FACTOR
The complexities that such events introduce into retail can’t be seen in isolation from technological developments. Singles day, for example, has grown in popularity alongside the adoption of digital technologies in China and, to make a calculated guess, will spread around the world as teenagers and twentysomethings see YouTube footage, and decide to hold their own singles day celebrations.
But there are more subtle changes here too. Take a sector such as fashion. In a pre-internet age, retailers launched spring, summer, autumn and winter collections, and held sales at recurring times, in a pattern that didn’t change much down the years. Today, this seems quaint. A popular dress, perhaps one worn by a celebrity, may have a four-week window where it’s hugely coveted, only to be replaced by another item. Moreover, this dress may suddenly become popular not just in one country, but around the world because everyone saw it online.
Faced with such a landscape, it’s not surprising that the idea of a retail season lasting anywhere between three and six months is increasingly antiquated. Instead, we’re seeing the emergence of four-week seasons that roll into each other through the year. Further complicating matters, in parallel with this development, the selling window for many items has extended. For all the increased volatility here, summer dresses and sunglasses do sell in January in the UK, whether that be to canny customers who want a bargain on a wardrobe ‘investment piece’ or those who are grabbing some summer sunshine. Plus there’s again an international dimension here as UK retailers trading overseas sell stock via the web to countries where customers are sunning themselves rather than being lashed by rain and watching treasured Victorian infrastructure getting washed away.
Taking all these factors together, there are clearly challenges here for cross-channel retailers. These aren’t just challenges for those who work in buying, merchandising and marketing either, seasonal factors impact on the whole business, meaning retailers have to think about:
- Managing the load on servers and IT infrastructure: when peaks in demand occur, retailers need, as far as possible, to be able to guarantee there won’t be outages.
- Managing the supply chain: if an item needs photographing and will be on sale only for a small amount of time, how should this best be organised? Are a retailer’s product information management systems really up to the task of processing product descriptions for different channels?
- Maintaining levels of service: how do retailers ensure favoured customers don’t find service levels drop as customers making seasonal purchases increase sales volumes? On a practical level, is the payments infrastructure up to the job of increased sales or will customers get frustrated as they move towards checkout?
- Managing staff: are staff aware of the demands that seasonal peaks may impose? Taking a step back, does the retailer even have enough trained staff for peak times?
- Managing operations and logistics: does a retailer have plans/capacity for storing stock when needed? Will click-and-collect operations cope with peaks in demand? Conversely, what about the returns that inevitably follow peaks in demand?
In short, making the most of peaks in demand is a task that requires a mix of sales/merchandising/marketing flair and practical retail know-how around the day-to-day operations of the company across different channels. Moreover, companies can’t pause to think about the problems here. Other retail challenges, notably the move to omnichannel, which will be the feature of the months and years ahead, won’t somehow go away.
Still, let the glass be half full. For retailers grappling with issues around seasonal commerce, our research report will help. Working with trusted partners, the report will try to tease out what’s best practice in this area. It will encompass such subjects as how retailers are already working to manage peaks in demand, how to choose partners that can help deal with seasonal variations in trade (and in doing so offer retailers a genuine ROI), and how the increased internationalisation of retail may further affect demand patterns.
As ever with our research reports, we will build up a picture of what’s happening through a mix of an online survey and, digging deeper, interviews with retailers, suppliers and consultants that have expertise in this area.
The research will cover two main areas. Firstly, we’ll seek to get a clear ‘here and now’ picture of how the industry deals with seasonal peaks at the moment. What are these peaks? Are we seeing new patterns of consumer behaviour emerging? Which retailers have made the most progress in this area?
Secondly, we’ll look in more detail at what the findings reveal. How well are retailers coping with shifts in consumer behaviour? Have retailers even mapped the new complexities around peaks and troughs in demand? What lies ahead? There will be a particular emphasis on the international dimension around managing seasonal demand.
A summary of the results will be published as a two-page article in a future issue of Internet Retailing and a standalone Research Report on Seasonal Commerce will be available to download from www.internetretailing.net website. The report launch will be followed with a dedicated briefing later in the year. If you want to contribute to the research report, please email email@example.com.
Our partners in this research report
Teradata is a global leader in analytic data platforms, marketing and analytic applications, and consulting services. Teradata helps organisations collect, integrate, and analyse all of their data so they can know more about their customers and business and do more of what’s really important. With more than 10,000 professionals in 43 countries, Teradata empowers customers to become data-driven businesses that exploit data for insight and value. www.teradata.co.uk
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Accertify Inc is a leading provider of fraud prevention, chargeback management, and payment gateway solutions to merchant customers spanning diverse industries worldwide. Accertify’s suite of products and services helps ecommerce companies grow their business by driving down the total cost of fraud, simplifying business processes, and ultimately increasing revenue. Accertify Inc is a wholly owned subsidiary of American Express. www.accertify.com