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How Salesforce Customers Fended off the Supply Chain Grinch This Holiday Season

Family online shopping

  • Inflation, shipping delays, and inventory shortages impacted the 2021 holiday shopping season. Data from retailers on the Salesforce platform found prices were up 25%, while inventory shrank 2% compared to 2020.
  • Winning retailers connected with customers early to ensure gifts were delivered on time. One such retailer is Salesforce customer and direct-to-consumer beauty brand, e.l.f. Cosmetics.

‘Twas two months before Christmas, when all through the supply chain

Not a shipment was stirring —

 2021’s version of the classic Twas the Night Before Christmas poem

Months before the holiday shopping season, headlines warned of impending supply chain challenges that could disrupt holiday shopping for consumers, retailers, and suppliers. In September, in fact, Salesforce predicted consumers would pay 20% more for their holiday gifts as retailers and manufacturers faced an additional $223B in the cost of goods.

For many organizations, this warning caused stress and panic. However, for agile retailers, this challenge became an opportunity to adapt and reshape the customer experience through proactive and personalized communication fueled by real-time customer data.

e.l.f. Cosmetics taps Salesforce to combat holiday supply chain woes

Direct-to-consumer online cosmetics retailer e.l.f. did just that — using Salesforce to mitigate ongoing supply chain and inventory challenges in unique ways – from communicating with customers early, to personalizing offers and maintaining frictionless customer experiences. 

“It came down to real-time monitoring and then quick activation,” said Ekta Chopra, Chief Digital Officer of e.l.f. Beauty. “With our site running on Salesforce, our merchant teams could easily monitor product sales and availability, and if we needed to pivot, we were ready to react quickly.”

With our site running on Salesforce, our merchant teams could easily monitor product sales and availability, and if we needed to pivot, we were ready to react quickly.

Ekta Chopra, Chief Digital Officer, e.l.f. Beauty

But how did they get there? How did e.l.f un-Scrooge its supply chain to deliver joy in a time filled with annoyance, frustration, and missed shipments? 

It’s far from a classic holiday tale, but it starts and ends with the supply chain, customer data, and a healthy amount of preparation to reduce friction between demand and supply around the world – even at the North Pole.

Maintaining customer relationships despite the odds

With shipping containers stuck at ports, a pre-holiday ripple effect slowed down inbound supply chains, limited the availability of certain products, and raised costs for retailers, suppliers, and consumers. 

Consumers noticed higher prices, fewer products, and longer wait times for packages as a result. Behind the scenes, retailers had to balance everything from managing short supplies to navigating complicated shipping logistics.

This presented more opportunities for friction in a consumer’s shopping experience, potentially making every purchase this holiday season just one negative interaction away from losing the customer forever.

“Building and maintaining brand loyalty over the holiday is incredibly important,” Salesforce VP and GM, Retail, Rob Garf said. “Our research shows that on any given shopping journey, a consumer engages with nine different touch points. That same research says that a vast majority (80% of consumers) say they’ll abandon a brand after three bad experiences.” 

Garf explained that to maintain strong customer relationships, organizations had to nimbly navigate the tangled web of supply chain issues. Retailers and suppliers alike didn’t have flying reindeer – they had to provide frictionless experiences throughout the inevitable delays. And this wasn’t the first time that the pandemic shocked the supply chain.

In 2020, the “last mile,” or the final phase in the supply chain where retailers ship goods to customer doorsteps, presented the first big pandemic-induced retail hurdle. Adapting to the conditions, retailers started using tools like Salesforce Customer 360 to proactively manage inventory across the network and communicate with their customers about real-time shipping delays. Last year, the hurdle flipped to the “first mile,” where shipping containers became stuck in harbors and infrastructure struggled to accelerate back to a normal pace. 

For both retailers and their customers, it seemed like the supply chain Grinch might steal the whole holiday season. 

Smoothing a supply chain for seamless holiday shopping

e.l.f. Cosmetics managed to navigate through these challenges with the agility of a figure skater on a frozen pond. 

Even when the market was struggling to keep pace with massive disruptions, e.l.f. managed to break through the noise by using Salesforce to monitor real-time metrics, communicate with customers early, and personalize experiences for its 2.8 million member loyalty program. 

And, while e.l.f. didn’t offer massive promotions, it did react quickly to create one offer that Chopra says helped immensely.

e.l.f. Beauty, Chief Digital Officer, Ekta Chopra

“Toward the end of the season, we created a free shipping offer on all items with no minimum transaction, because we thought that was a must-do for our customers.”

This one small act went a long way and helped increase the brand loyalty e.l.f. is known for. 

Said Chopra, “We got several messages from customers saying they were impressed with how quickly their package came, in a nice box, with nothing broken.” 

Salesforce says this is critical to a successful holiday season.

“Successful retailers like e.l.f. got smarter with how they work with suppliers, provided more visibility, and managed expectations with shoppers,” Garf said. “It all comes down to reducing friction and personalizing the customer experience.” 

Successful retailers like e.l.f. got smarter with how they work with suppliers, provided more visibility, and managed expectations with shoppers. It all comes down to reducing friction and personalizing the customer experience. 

Rob Garf, VP & GM, Retail, Salesforce

Listening and connecting helps e.l.f. save Christmas

In addition to getting customers their orders in a timely manner, e.l.f. used Salesforce to listen, connect, and communicate product and inventory updates with customers.

“We have a loyalty program of almost 2.8 million members and by creating personalized experiences to serve each of those customers in the best possible way became critical,” said Chopra. 

People say that they listen to their customers – we live and breathe it.

Ekta Chopra, Chief Digital Officer, e.l.f. Beauty

“People say that they listen to their customers – we live and breathe it,” Chopra continued. “Whether it’s our social channels, on our site, or responding to feedback through customer service channels, we’re looking at those comments and reacting to them. We take action on them, and we’re tracking them. No matter what the issue is, we bring the voice of the customer to every decision we make.”

Learn more about how retailers navigated the 2021 holiday shopping season here.

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