In the lead-up to the peak period for online retailers, effective planning can be the difference between a highly profitable year and one full of missed opportunities. Also referred to as 'the Golden Quarter', this peak season is largely responsible for the sizeable spikes in trading activity that occur during the closing months of any calendar year, which has been particularly marked in recent years.
In 2017, UK retailers were predicted to dispatch over 330 million orders in November and December alone, the equivalent of 25% of all activity that year. This swell in sales during the peak period is a worldwide phenomenon, motivated by several key events:
Peak Period Shipping Dates Every Retailer Should Prepare For…
Singles’ Day (11 November)
A Chinese holiday (which is growing in popularity worldwide) celebrating singles, this is now one of the biggest shopping dates worldwide. Singles' Day 2017 generated over £19 billion in overall sales, 4 times greater than Black Friday Weekend sales in the United States. With an estimated 55% of China's online shoppers buying from the UK, this is a date that can't be ignored by e-commerce retailers looking to tap into this massive market.
Black Friday & Cyber Monday (23-26 November)
A U.S. invention stretching back to 2009, every year since has seen an explosion of retail activity on a global scale. In 2017, more than £12.6 billion was spent online over this weekend in the UK, France, Germany, Canada and the U.S. combined. UK retailers could expect significant surges in volume over this long weekend – over 670,000 transactions took place on Black Friday and Cyber Sunday alone in 2016.
Christmas (25 December)
Without a doubt the most popular shopping period on the calendar, the Christmas rush is historically the most profitable for retail businesses. Close to £50 billion in total retailing sales took place in December 2017, a 31% increase on the next most profitable month that year.
Peak Period Planning for Retailers – Ensure You’re Prepared
The excitement surrounding these holiday shopping dates equates to a huge opportunity for online retailers in the UK to maximise profits, especially those with a global reach. However, with every opportunity comes a high margin for error – managing this greatly increased volume of activity can be a logistical nightmare if not prepared for well in advance.
Research by Acceleration Partners revealed that 62% of UK retailers are now planning well in advance for Black Friday, meaning if you're not ready for peak trading, your competitors probably will be.
Comprehensive planning is the key to a successful peak period. Discover the key aspects you need to prepare for below, from marketing through to delivery.
1. Get your team Peak Period Ready – Business Operations
Firstly, it’s important to ensure your business is set up to handle the peak period. Even the largest online retailers in the UK look to bolster their resources leading into the final months of the year, to guarantee they have the capacity to manage the increased demand.
You should consider well in advance if temporary staff are required to manage a greater volume of retail business (both in-store and online). This way you have time to arrange training to bring them up to speed with your permanent staff, preventing mistakes due to inexperience. Or, you may look to third-party providers to cover any areas you feel need extra support.
Additionally, it is important to prepare your company’s inventory. With the peak period’s increased activity, it’s all too easy to run out of stock on a popular item, or conversely overstock for a promotion that doesn’t prove effective.
To prevent this, forecast your inventory requirements well in advance, using your recent performance and sales metrics as a guide. Analysing your previous online retail sales and forecasting for the peak season will minimise overstocking or understocking items. Finally, ensure your storage facilities are prepared to handle this greater volume.
2. Attract an Audience During the Peak Period – Marketing Strategy
Next, a well-structured marketing strategy is a must. With more and more UK e-commerce retailers identifying the peak period as their opportunity to turn a good year into a great one, standing out from the crowd is a greater challenge than ever. It’s important for your marketing to appeal to your existing customer base as well as prospective customers spurred on by holiday shopping.
Two key terms should be kept in mind when planning your peak period market strategy - personalisation and engagement. Particularly online, customers want to feel connected to the retail businesses they shop with. By employing techniques that cater to these customer expectations, you put your business in a strong position to attract heightened shopping activity and retain customers beyond this peak season.
It’s also crucial that you take time out to consider your promotions and discount policy. Shoppers will be expecting big bargains from online retailers, and many will take time to shop around to find items at the best price, as well as businesses offering the best overall shopping experience.
Knowing what items that you expect to sell quickly across these months and your expected profit margins puts you in a far stronger position when planning for the peak period.
3. Optimising Your Website for the Peak Period Rush
Next, we come to the shop window for any e-commerce retailer, the ultimate tool for opportunity – your website. Especially in relation to international shipping, optimising your website to remain at peak performance during the peak period takes time to implement. So, make sure in advance you can cover the following:
- Ensure your website can host a greater influx of visitors during peak trading times. Having your website crash as a result of excess traffic means you could lose business, and potentially lose customers long-term. Explore potential cloud-based hosting systems to increase your capacity.
- As an extension of your marketing strategy, take time to analyse your customers' journeys after first arriving on your website. Is it easy for them to find the items they are looking for, and order them quickly and conveniently? Refining this process is a great way to convert the increased clicks from the holiday season into sales.
- For online retailers interested in an international reach, ensure your website is easily translatable for customers across the globe, including the checkout process for customers purchasing from overseas.
- Finally, with nearly 59% of worldwide e-commerce sales last year coming from mobile shopping, make sure your website performs well across all devices to maximise mobile sales.
4. Your Delivery Options During the Peak Period
Once you've settled on how to attract this highly active audience and how they'll interact with your website, it’s time to talk about delivery. More than ever, customers across the globe expect delivery that is quick, cost-effective and transparent, with support should any issues arise. Despite the demand the peak period creates, there is no room for complacency.
At P2P, we have a wealth of expertise on this particular subject, specialising in helping UK retailers reach their international audiences. One of our most important tips for e-commerce retailers planning for the peak period is to manage expectations. You may not have the resources to ensure one-day delivery, especially to customers across the globe. But, it is critical to deliver on the timeframe you present to customers when they purchase, so ensure this is within your means.
Check that your approaches to packaging are efficient, your linehaul facility is geared to process greater quantities of parcels, and that you are synced up with your final mile delivery partners both domestically and globally. Plus, you may need to place a greater focus on online returns – buyer’s remorse can be quite high following a holiday shopping spree.
Moreover, look into opportunities to offer fully-tracked delivery and systems to personalise the delivery experience for customers in different countries – focusing on little details like this will set you apart from other online retailers.
If you are looking to expand into new, international markets and would like to discuss your delivery options, we are happy to discuss our flexible e-commerce solutions.
5. Organising Contingent Carriers for the Peak Period
Finally, the peak period in retail often presents challenges that put your delivery partners under excessive strain. Depending on the volume of traffic you receive, your traditional carriers may not be able to fulfil their obligations during the most crucial time of year, whether it is due to limited capacity, weather disruption, or commitments to other clients.
The average cost of a failed delivery in the UK is £14.35, and during peak trading times, these costs can quickly add up. That's why well-prepared online retailers enter this rush with every risk accounted for and secure backup plans in place.
Research and contact an experienced contingent carrier in the lead up to the final months of the year to arrange for an alternative delivery service should your regular partners be stretched during the peak period. If you ship to customers globally, ensure this carrier has a strong history in international shipping.
Our team at P2P acts as contingent carriers for many e-commerce retailers in the UK to help them handle a significant increase in online sales, and we understand how valuable that this substitute service can be in maintaining customer satisfaction and keeping the wheels in motion.
6. Make Your Peak Period Shipping Preparations with P2P
Hopefully these tips into peak period planning will help you navigate these incredibly active months, maximising profits and minimising disruption to quality and customer service.
If you’re looking to explore new markets for the peak period, a reliable contingent carrier to help navigate the upcoming trade spikes, or a new partner to support you through these challenging months and beyond, P2P help online retailers connect to customers across the globe.
- 15 million parcels processed in 2017
- Delivery to over 220 countries and territories
- Choice of trusted final mile delivery partners
- Fully-tracked delivery options
We’re there at every stage of your parcels’ journey, from preparations to its destination. Even during the busiest times of the year, our innovative global delivery solutions like TRAKPAK break down the barriers of international trade and introduce your business to a worldwide audience.
If you’d like to learn more about how we can help your company, get in touch today.