31 October marks the date for Halloween. The week before and after is often full of fancy dress, pumpkins, celebrations and marketing promotions, as retailers capitalise on another opportunity to drive sales. Alongside this is the ramp up to Black Friday (24th November) and the peak season – making this sales period crucial to many retailers and ecommerce brands. It’s an opportunity to drive revenue, build brands and strengthen customer relationships.
However, it’s also a time when operational “gremlins” can emerge and cause horror stories. Therefore, it’s important for retailers to evaluate their processes and retail and ecommerce operations; and to do their utmost to eradicate any potential problems from their supply chains. In order to ensure that they take effective advantage of the opportunity surrounding Halloween, peak season and beyond. Ultimately, it is a time ripe for profit, as many know.
For traditional retailers, this means ensuring that deliveries to stores with goods needed for shelves take place on time and with sustainability in mind. Whereas for ecommerce retailers, this means ensuring that they can deliver products purchased by customers on time too. So that Halloween, Black Friday and festive season purchases and celebrations can be enjoyed. Andrew Tavener, Head of Marketing, Fleet Solutions, Descartes Systems explains how effective fulfilment and routing and scheduling can ensure Halloween and peak runs smoothly.
Avoiding the Little Shop of Horrors
The UK economy is up against it. Recent Office for National Statistic (ONS) figures say that the cost of living has been rising in recent months in the UK and across the world. Prices of consumer goods and services rose by 9.6% in the year to October 2022 – the fastest rate in four decades. Further, ONS has revealed 52% of adults said that their overall cost of living has increased compared with a month ago – making it important for retailers to consider how to provide shoppers with value during this difficult time. Additionally, despite financial pressures, consumers continue to buy items through the golden quarter. Research from GlobalData says spending will rise 3.4% and take retail spending to Ј109.7 billion in Q4 2023.
At the same time – and while not necessarily a new concept – the retail sector faces labour shortages. The largest grocers are seeking at least 74,000 extra workers over Christmas and M&S has explained that it is seeking 10,000 temporary workers over the festive season; Tesco is hiring 30,000 temporary staff; Sainsbury’s is after 22,000 people and others are recruiting. While the sector is optimistic about the festive season and needs staff to service customers, new faces brought in could potentially introduce customer experience challenges and rapid training demands for high volumes of people over a short period of time is needed too.
It’s not just instore retail that faces this challenge. The same applies to ecommerce retail. Amazon is bringing in 15,000 temps for the Christmas period – and many other fulfilment houses will face similar challenges. Added to this is the problem of keeping transport and fuel costs low for product deliveries across the supply chain – instore and ecommerce – as the price of fuel rises. Between August and September, petrol increased to an average of 153.6p per litre and diesel by 6.3p to 157.4p per litre (up from levels closer to 140p in June). Therefore, with these challenges in mind, how can retailers, traditional and ecommerce, ensure their brand -and deliveries – don’t become the “Little Shop of Horrors” for customers?
The Ghostbusters: Effective fulfilment
Additionally, Descartes’ Home Delivery Consumer Sentiment Study 2023 reveals insights about consumer attitudes towards deliveries. It points out that 67% of the consumers experienced a delivery failure during a three-month period within the survey, and that 68% of those affected by delivery problems took some form of action that translated into negative consequences for the retailer or delivery company; indicating that the pandemic grace period is over and consumers are becoming more intolerant of poor delivery performance.
This is where effective fulfilment – based on strategic planning, technology (AI and automation), and slick execution – mitigates this problem (or gremlin). For retailers to meet consumer demands over Halloween and across the peak season, they must deploy effective processes that ensure products are seamlessly, quickly and accurately delivered once consumers click to purchase. The value of order fulfilment optimisation has, therefore, never become more important, as part of the solution towards increasing profitability.
It combats the fallout when supply chain and order congestion occurs, and enables retailers to cope with peak demands successfully. Effective fulfilment management also enables greater accuracy and visibility – and, when coupled with powerful and proven routing and scheduling solutions into a singular package, it can provide fulfilment teams the capabilities to react in real time to events that occur across the supply chain, allowing retail organisations to adapt and flex to future trends and changes. Ultimately, this helps improve efficiency and customer satisfaction too, as goods land up in stores and on consumers’ doorsteps on time.
The Golden Compass: Effective Routing and Scheduling
Halloween doesn’t need to be a horror story – and it doesn’t need to affect the golden quarter negatively either. Any fulfilment or routing and scheduling solution used can improve operational efficiency during this period, and it should provide visibility across the supply chain: from initial collection, to the last mile of home delivery, or instore – it should “deliver”. Moreover, it should offer opportunities to maximise operational efficiencies across the quarter, by using “last mile” data to inform strategic insights and planning more effectively.
Further, in the case of using outsourced logistics firms to support with deliveries, integrated telematics and mobile data communications can provide increased visibility for fleet managers and consumers. This technology allows retailers, fleet operators and consumers to see, in real-time, exactly where a vehicle is against a delivery plan and route set out by scheduling software. This insight lets transport operators add or amend jobs to avoid disruption, such as traffic, as well as send automatic updates to the customer about any changes to their delivery.
While there are several challenges for retailers to face up to, there are opportunities to adapt, grow and thrive during the peak season and beyond. Effective fulfilment coupled with route optimisation helps retailers overcome many of the market’s current issues, offers the potential to increase sales, reduce costs, and improve customer relationships.
Now is the time to evaluate and remove those legacy processes and technologies that are holding profitability back. Now is the time to go “trick or treating” and invest in technologies that will grow the future. Without these technologies in place, retailers will potentially miss out on significant opportunities to reduce costs and deliver goods when stores or customers want and need them – rather than just the next day or next week.
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