How does Lillian Vernon prepare for the surge in holiday business? O+F Advisor has a chat with Chris Anderson, the gifts merchant’s executive vice president of operations to learn more.
Q: What kind of preparation is involved for your holiday shipping period, and when do you start?
A: We are continually working to improve our operations, so preparation for the holiday is an ongoing endeavor. As soon as Lillian Vernon’s peak holiday season is complete, we begin to focus on the process and how we can execute it better next year. Early in the year, we work on more significant process improvements or changes. As we get closer to the beginning of our peak season, we build our inventory, training, and staffing plans. We also work with the merchants to insure alignment between our assortment strategy and process capabilities.
Q: How much larger is your staff during the holiday period?
A: Our seasonal staff is three to four times greater than our off-peak staffing level.
Q: What have you learned in the past year or two as far as tweaking the operation for better efficiency?
A: We have focused a lot on our order profile and optimizing our operations based on that. We’ve worked with our merchant team to insure our product offerings align with our personalization capacity. We’ve gained a lot by carefully managing the number of active SKUs on our floor. By understanding the order profile we can optimize slotting locations and pick paths as well. Another significant contributor to our productivity improvements this year was the elimination an employee incentive program which focused on individual productivity to the exclusion of group accomplishment. Our new program emphasizes, enables and rewards teamwork across all departments, which has resulted in efficiency gains and greater customer satisfaction.
Q: Are there any new customer concerns that have cropped up in recent years?
A: Our direct relationship with our customer is a very important source of ideas for us. One of the exciting things we’ve put in place this year is PowerReviews on Lillianvernon.com and Lillyskids.com. This tag-based, fully-managed customer review solution enables shoppers to provide feedback on products they have purchased and read how other customers have rated Lillian Vernon products they are considering purchasing. Customers love it because they can make more informed choices and actually collaborate with Lillian Vernon to provide better products and services. We get lots of great feedback to use for improvement.
Customers also continue to buy later each year, so we’ve improved our order tracking capability and the tools in our call centers to simplify the process of placing and following up on those last minute deliveries. Simpler call center tools also simplify the training of our seasonal staff.
Ease of shopping is becoming more important to our customers as well. A new offering we have created to address that this year is “Build-a-Stocking.com.” This online tool lets a customer select a personalizeable stocking or tote and drag and drop stocking stuffer items into it. They enter their desired personalization and the stockings and stuffers are shipped ready to assemble and give. It’s a great experience!