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Will Our Holiday Gifts Arrive on Time? What Retailers Can Do Now

Learn how brands can master on-time delivery and overcome labor and manufacturing challenges with these tips for retail fulfillment in 2021.

Store pickup has moved from a nice-to-have to a must-have. [Stocksy]

What’s top of mind for every retailer going into the 2021 holiday shopping season? Getting their products into consumers’ homes — on time, every time. But that’s not so easy when it’s difficult just getting goods on delivery trucks and into stores.

Lower manufacturing output and increased labor and fulfillment challenges are poised to drive prices up and customer-satisfaction scores down. After global digital revenue surged by 58% year-over-year in the first quarter of 2021, retailers must be ready to meet this holiday shopping moment head-on, with inventory from branded manufacturers and consumer-goods companies in stock and ready to ship. Our latest holiday retail strategy and planning guide will help retailers navigate the upcoming shopping season. Let’s look at some of its suggestions for preparing your fulfillment channels and finding alternative solutions to save every gift.

Plan ahead for retail fulfillment challenges

Fifty-eight percent of consumers expect to do more online shopping after the pandemic than before. Retailers need to avoid a crush during the five weeks between Thanksgiving week and Christmas Day. The earlier your holiday shopping season starts, the fewer roadblocks to fulfillment. 

Here’s why: High demand and shipping bottlenecks have caused leading retailers like Walmart to rush to restock early. According to proprietary Salesforce research, blending first- and third-party data, store visits by field representatives for consumer-goods brands are increasing as much as 200% quarter-over-quarter, to ensure that shelves are stocked for the pivot back to in-person shopping. Stay ahead of the pack by anticipating delays and ordering goods from suppliers early. Try pre-orders, particularly for limited-edition products. This creates a sense of urgency for your most sought-after goods. Customers are comforted when they receive that must-have gift ahead of time, and retailers more accurately forecast production based on pre-order demand. 

Expand pickup capabilities 

Store pickup has moved from a nice-to-have to a must-have. In fact, 83% of customers expect flexible shipping and fulfillment options, such as buy online, pickup in store (BOPIS). 

To quickly set up low- and no-contact pickup options at your stores, try Quick Start for Curbside and Store Pickup solutions. The out-of-the-box capabilities have enabled brands to offer store inventory online while giving associates the tools they need to streamline and optimize retail fulfillment, and avoid costly margin loss at the same time. 

And don’t forget to encourage splurging during pickup to drive conversion and revenue. When a shopper gets a text or email that their order is ready for pickup, use AI-powered product recommendations, such as matching socks to go with new sneakers. Consider adding a coupon incentive, or even placing a digital screen at pickup points to showcase available merchandise. 

83% of customers expect flexible shipping and fulfillment options.

State of the connected consumer report

To further incentivize shoppers to pick up purchases in the store (or choose “no-rush” or standard ground shipping for deliveries), offer discounts for doing so. For example, if they choose a rush delivery, they pay a premium shipping charge. Why not offer a reduced price if they choose to pick up at the store?  Other incentive options include bonus points through your loyalty program, access to exclusive products or events, or vouchers for future free shipping.

(But be selective about offering discounts. Great brands can easily get pigeonholed and lose customer loyalty because they play too much with pricing. Implement new best practices for pricing and promotions as early as possible. A good first step is to set up a pricing and promotion dashboard. This keeps everyone aligned on what’s driving profit and empowers users to make better decisions at scale with built-in AI predictions and recommendations.)

Reskill holiday helpers

Having an extra set of hands during the holiday season is always helpful. Associates can double as deliverers based on store radius — Michaels did this early in the pandemic — or create fulfillment-only roles at your “dark stores” designated for picking, sorting, and packing. To reskill associates on new processes, use digital learning tools like Salesforce’s customizable online learning platform, Trailhead. Be sure to offer additional incentives, such as enhanced store discounts, to encourage them to learn new processes.   

Partner with local providers

Retailers appreciated how ride-sharing services helped them deliver essential products when traditional parcel-delivery partners experienced unprecedented demand. As we enter the holiday season, consider forward-buys with crowdsourced transportation and delivery services to shore up capacity.

To make this work, you need complete inventory visibility. This way, you can move products from distribution centers to a local store so a driver can pick up and deliver within their particular geography. 

Make over-communicating a habit

This holiday season, every detail matters. Over-communicate with shoppers. 

  • Be clear about backorders and shipping delays. Feature updates prominently on your website. Direct shoppers to your help center for more information on operational delays or updates.  
  • Make inventory visible on your website and through email. Shoppers may be apprehensive about purchasing an item that’s not available nearby because of the risk of delayed delivery. Lowe’s and Home Depot go so far as to show the number of units available in a local store. With interactive email, you can send real-time inventory updates in the body of an email instead of making them click-through to a website. 
  • Nurture first-time digital shoppers. Put shoppers on a simple digital journey by marketing, selling, and engaging them from anywhere. Provide regular updates on orders and access to service channels in the event of an issue. 

Matt brings 30 years of experience in consumer retail. He was previously the chief operating officer at Bergdorf Goodman, where he transformed the iconic 120-year-old brand to a digitally enabled customer experience. Matt approaches the business as a consumer anthropologist and is obsessed with human behavior, relationships, and experience.

More by Matt

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