The countdown to Christmas is on. With only four more Fridays to go until Santa and his reindeer come to town, the shopping season known as ‘peak’ in the transportation and shipping industry is fast approaching. Consumers have marked their diaries across a growing number of dates, from Black Friday to Manic Monday, to Boxing Day. The risk and reward for retailers during peak season is great, writes Matt Guffey, UPS director of marketing for UK, Ireland, and the Nordics.
According to a study by digital commerce consultancy Salmon, retailers in the UK are preparing for a record-breaking Black Friday, with almost £1bn in online sales expected, while online sales over the Black Friday and Cyber Monday weekend could exceed £2.2bn.
Last year, retailers faced a series of challenges. Increased website traffic caused a number of issues, resulting in too many orders being placed in too short a time, putting pressure on deliveries.
This year the outcome looks brighter. MetaPack anticipates a shift in retail strategies that will result in deliveries being offered and managed more smartly, over longer time periods. It seems the industry has responded to last year’s challenges and are more prepared for this year.
2015 will be UPS’s 108th festive shipping season. UPS will hire 1,300 additional staff in the UK to support the anticipated increase in online shopping and package volume that began in November and will continue through January 2016.
The holiday period is a chance for retailers to gain new customers. Retailers can best prepare for the Christmas season by applying three key principles: consistent communication, convenience for the customer, and embracing an omni-channel approach.
Reliable and efficient service is critical. Retailers can and should work with partners who have expertise and ability to streamline processes.
In particular, working with logistics companies provides the opportunity to have open and honest dialogue about the expected volumes. By working closely with your suppliers, you can have plans in place in the event orders exceed predicted volumes. When retailers are collaborating with their logistics team, there should be an opportunity to discuss customer-service for the end user, including opportunities for choice, flexibility in deliveries and opportunities for feedback.
Furthermore, it would be detrimental to a business’s reputation to take customers through the shopping process, from browsing to checkout, only to fail at the point of delivery. Transparency is vital, too, even if it is to explain that orders made after a certain time may take longer to arrive. Customers don’t want to be waiting around for their Christmas deliveries, or left unsure of where their purchases are.
Services such as UPS My Choice can help ensure reliability and efficiency for your customer, giving consumers delivery alerts via phone or email a day in advance so they can plan ahead. It also gives customers the option to reschedule a delivery date or reroute a package to another address. This peak season, UPS expects 20 million customers to have registered for the service.
Convenience is key
UPS’s Pulse of the Online Shopper survey found that convenience dominates the shopping landscape online and in stores, and it is the main driver in selection. Particularly in the run up to Christmas, customers appreciate delivery options that suit their lifestyle.
Twenty-six percent of British shoppers said they would prefer their online order be delivered to locations other than their home. Services such as UPS Access Point offer a convenient alternative to home delivery, enabling busy consumers who purchase goods over the Internet to choose delivery and returns locations such as convenience stores or petrol stations that are near to their home or work.
Returns are also an important factor that should be addressed in the context of the Christmas season. UPS’s survey found that a hassle-free returns policy is a key decision maker for those making online purchases, influencing a consumer’s likelihood to complete a sale. With only 51% of respondents satisfied with the ability to find a retailer’s return policy, it’s essential that retailers acknowledge the value of returns to customers and prepare accordingly.
Retailers are increasingly turning to omni-channel strategies, reflecting a change in how retailers deliver on customer’s needs.
It’s vital that website and sales channels are optimised for mobile. Mobile now accounts for at least 20% of traffic for the majority of retailers and, for one in five, it represents more than 30% of their business. Consumers even use the internet when we are making a purchase in store, with 20% of UK mobile users reading product details and 19% of UK users reading peer reviews and feedback on smartphones when in store.
Embracing mobile means having a fully optimised site that is easy to navigate on any size screen. Purchase paths also need to be easy to use on smartphones and tablets, with less information entry and availability to view images. UPS’s Pulse of the Online Shopper, found that only 59% of British shoppers are satisfied with the amount of product detail available when making a purchase online. With consumers switching channels and devices to best suit their personal needs, information is paramount.
Black Friday and Manic Monday are here to stay, as is the shopping frenzy around Christmas time. For businesses, Christmas comes early as the peak season presents a great opportunity. With the right strategies in place, retailers can maintain their profit margins during the season without compromising the customer experience, building a strong base for the years to come.