Peak performance: Why the pressure is on for this year’s Golden Quarter

By Nic Pentelow, Director of Retail at CitySprint

Coronavirus is reshaping the retail industry in real time, upping demand in eCommerce and increasing the need for business-to-consumer deliveries. And, as we approach retail’s Golden Quarter, Coronavirus has thrown yet another spanner in the works. With many networks and carriers already operating at near maximum capacity with little extra available to support the demands of peak period, something of a pressure cooker situation is developing.

Indeed, for many retailers, shuttered shops and changes in demand have meant much of their stock or excess product is currently in the wrong location, with finite capacity at distribution centres to change this and get set-up in time for peak.

Understandably, many are hoping that once social distancing recedes, shoppers will flock back to stores. However, it’s likely that with no sign of life returning to normal soon, and continued localised lockdowns, the shift to online shopping is here to stay. As retailers gear up for peak season, they must leverage unique strategies and pivot their operations to reflect current times.

There are some options retailers can consider to alleviate pressure this peak season.

Redefine the role of the traditional store

While there’s still an appetite for shopping in-store, this year, demand during peak season is expected to be concentrated online. It makes sense then that retailers should look to redefine the role of their stores to exploit an asset they already own.

As we know, the rise in eCommerce has prompted a rush for more warehouse space — but this comes at a high cost and takes years of planning. In addition, shoppers increasingly want the ease of online shopping but the instantaneous satisfaction – or as close to it as possible – of grabbing products off the shelf.

As such, small ‘last-mile’ delivery sites allow retailers to have their cake and eat it too. Whether retailers extend the use of their physical shops as local distribution and fulfilment centres, or to accommodate a click-and-collect service, retailers can exploit existing resources to remove some capacity pressures from distribution centres and warehouses. This will help alleviate some of the strain during peak and enable them to keep on top of changing consumer expectations, ultimately maintaining a better service for customers.

Make sure to manage expectations

We’ve seen in the last few years that as the way consumers shop evolves, so do their expectations. And this mindset cannot be changed overnight. Indeed, retailers must plan ahead and re-think the expectations they set with customers around fulfilment to build more capacity into distribution networks and take advantage of a longer festive shopping season this year.

A more flexible range of fulfilment options will help. Whilst shoppers demand a delivery service that suits them, for many, this doesn’t mean they need items that very same day. As such, for deliveries that don’t need rapid, instant fulfilment, emphasising slightly longer delivery windows and encouraging alternative delivery options that ease the pressure on retailers and their logistics partners, will help rationalise and prioritise the scheduling of deliveries. This will allow retailers to take back control and focus capacity on those deliveries that are really urgent.

Additionally, retailers must avoid making unachievable promises by setting sensible expectations with customers. By incentivising shoppers to avoid last minute orders and by avoiding over-promising, retailers will ensure they don’t under-deliver. Remember: regardless of the times we are in, retailers that let customers down will not easily be forgiven, but likely be forgotten.

This continues to be an exceptional year. As we approach retail’s Golden Quarter, the Covid-19 crisis has created a huge disruption for the sector. The pressure is now on for retailers to look ahead and take urgent steps now to avoid pitfalls in the period that, for many, matters most. Those who embrace change and remain flexible will be in a stronger position to manage this and more likely to come out on top.

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