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Preparing for peak isn’t so easy unless everyone collaborates

No one needs to be told that Peak 2020 will be different from any previous year, but the way many retailers are preparing is going to cause problems as the demand starts to climb.

The problem is there are many different stakeholders in online retail – from internal departments to IT suppliers and 3rd party vendor, and of course, the most challenging and uncontrollable of all, the customer.

Each stakeholder comes with their own set of instructions for best practice and in theory, if everyone does exactly as they are told, they should all rise on the same tide of performance.

If only. When it comes to Peak, and indeed all of retail in the new or next normal, or whatever we come to call it, collaboration around shared goals and insight is key to retailers getting their share of business from the 17.2 million consumers who say that they will only shop online during Peak 2020, never mind those who will also head into store.

A lot is riding on Peak this year, not least because there is a strong likelihood that friends and wider family will not be together at Christmas, which is likely to see a shopping splurge as consumers try to have fun regardless. Add the fact that many people have cash to spare because they have been unable to eat or drink, go clubbing, go to the cinema or visit live theatre.

It therefore makes sense to be ready for this pent-up demand first by ensuring that key departments and functions can collaborate, chiefly marketing, IT, merchandising and UX teams. The shared target is, of course, the customer, so all these departments should share the lens on what it looks like for these consumers to shop. For instance, if marketing is pushing out promotions, it is critical that the promotions actually work and that the UX does not screw up the business as usual that many customers want to make.

When these departments work separately, they can introduce rather than reduce friction; collaboration is the best way to remove it.

Together, they can access a more intelligent view of demand and then create better forecasts based on insight, forecasts that will dictate what each department has to do to make the customer journey as friction free as possible. This should include third party plug ins for things like payments; buy now pay later tools such as Klarna and Paypal Credit are both essential to reducing friction and increasing conversion at the checkout.

At the same time, bear in mind that adding third party tools such as payments and personalisation can add friction in terms of site performance and load speeds, which the TikTok generation will absolutely not put up with. It is essential therefore that third party plug ins are monitored constantly to ensure that no bugs or bad code have slipped in and risk undoing the benefits to CX they are trying to achieve.

Site performance can also be compromised by internal activities such as testing, essential of course but any measurements that are taken of performance must be timed right so they are based on the customer’s experience. For instance, during the crisis, odd shopping behaviours have emerged because so many people are at home – they are using their desktops more and they are shopping late at night. Making an assumption that it’s OK to do maintenance then may be false.

While this will seem to contradict everything that has just been said, but keeping customers happy is about managing their expectations and this may sometimes mean restricting access. For instance, if Operations tells you that stock is low of a certain item it makes sense not only to stop promoting it, but to be upfront and say it is not available, and then perhaps offer alternatives.

Or if the volume of orders is stressing order management, you could consider putting a digital queuing system in place. Whilst best practice means testing ahead and making changes to the site to ensure its robustness is already in place to deal with surges in visitors up to a higher level than you forecast will come on to site, this could be a useful back-up. While people don’t like to queue, it’s infinitely preferable to know the parameters of how long the wait will be, rather than saying nothing and may mean you can lessen abandonment levels in doing so.

And don’t assume all this spiky traffic is coming from home. One of the biggest opportunities available to ecommerce retailers is cross border commerce. Indeed, the latest data from eShopWorld suggests Christmas shopping is expected to start earlier than usual in 2020, with international online sales predicted to increase by 120% year-on-year in October alone. Naturally, the habits, timelines, payment and fulfilment methods will have to adapt and that’s a whole new challenge but in terms of Peak, but you should look at the traffic and think about how you may need to respond.

All great pieces of advice on their own, but once you start to collaborate across the business and out into your suppliers, things will in time start to get easier because everyone is doing their job well around objectives you can all agree on.

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