In a recent article, I wrote about the evolution of the department store and how many brands, such as Macy’s and Kohl’s, are embracing strategic partnerships with brands that create a stronger reason for customers to keep on returning to the stores. Macy’s is already all over the national media with their predictions of the hottest toys to buy this holiday season - thanks to their new partnership with Toys R Us.
Covid was an existential challenge for many retailers. There are now boarded-up stores all over our nation so it’s encouraging to hear about the resurgence of the department stores, but retail always faces a challenge at this time of year. Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and the following end of year holiday season creates a bonanza for sales, but can be a nightmare for stretched operations and customer service teams.
How can they prepare better? It’s probably too late to give any detailed advice for the 2021 holiday season (especially as some brands are starting early this year), but here are some ideas that I believe all retail executives need to consider as they enter the new year so they can prepare for the holiday season next year.
1. Get smart about stock: think carefully about where and when you need stock. Can you use stores instead of just warehouses and distribution centers to handle busy periods? Walmart has been making several senior management changes recently because they want to dramatically improve their control over the supply chain - not having stock in the right place can make or break your holiday season.
2. Improve e-commerce: a strong omnichannel approach can help both in-store and online customers. Look at IKEA for a fantastic example. Customers still visit their stores to see and touch furniture before buying it, but IKEA knows that over 80% of all their customer journeys start online… even if a customer plans to buy in-store they will research what they want online before visiting a store.
3. Order management: most customer problems are caused because the customer just doesn’t have the information they need. Build all of this into your order management system and not only do you make the experience better for the (more informed) customer, but you reduce the number of times that customer has to keep chasing for information… do you have this product in stock? When will my items be delivered? Why is my delivery delayed? Automate all of this.
4. Customer Service: more sales means more orders need to be delivered and more returns need to be processed. Customers will also have more questions so customer contact volumes will explode - but nobody wants to call their favorite retailer only to hear that there is a 90-minute wait before they can talk to someone. Boost your self-service options. Make sure those Google and Alexa searches return useful information. Use automated chatbots to capture customer information so a human agent can call back later. Think smarter about how your customer service processes work, rather than just assuming it can be improved by hiring temporary agents you will no longer need in the new year. Service doesn’t automatically get better if you just add more people.
This is the most challenging time of the year for most retail brands, but it is also the most potentially lucrative. Don’t miss out on your opportunities to delight customers just because your operations and service teams can’t handle this peak period.
What do you think about the challenges retailers face in Q4 each year? Could they prepare for the holiday season by doing more than just extra hiring?
Published first on LinkedIn by Katrin Langley, October 2021.