5 Things Retailers Must Do to Prepare for the Holidays

For most retailers, the holidays are critical. For some, the last few weeks of the year can represent more than half of their total annual revenue. And while we’re just barely into September, now’s the time to start getting prepared.

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Multichannel Merchant
Multichannel Merchant
Multichannel Merchant
O+F Operations and Fulfillment

Holiday planning can consist of many things, from sales and marketing plans, to gearing up for heavier operations and order fulfillment. Here are five things you can do as a merchant to help make the holidays less stressful and more prosperous.

Forecast sales
The first thing to do is to forecast 2012 holiday sales as best you can. This involves a few things, starting with a look at last year’s sales figures. It’s important to not just look at total sales, but really dig into the numbers. What products sold? What products didn’t sell? Which online or offline channels did your sales come from? What percentage of sales was from new vs. repeat customers?

Once you have a good handle on last year’s sales, take a look at this year’s numbers. How do sales for the first eight months of 2012 compare to the same period last year? Again, dig into the data.

Where do the discrepancies lie, and what are the things that are responsible for those discrepancies? For instance, did you add new products that have helped to ramp up sales? Have you entered new sales channels, or expanded your marketing efforts? What are your big sellers this year? Are those the same as last year?

By comparing year-over-year sales data, and by analyzing it to the extent that you can actually determine what’s behind the numbers in front of you, you’ll be in a much better position to accurately forecast sales this holiday season.

Consider new channels and promotions
A great way to increase your sales is by increasing your visibility. Perhaps last year all of your sales came through one channel like your own website.

This year, consider getting into other channels or marketplaces, such as Amazon or eBay, which can be a great boost to your bottom line. It can take some time to get established and learn the ropes with any new sales channel, so if you haven’t already, now’s the time to get started.

Another thing to start considering is your holiday promotions. For online sellers, here’s a tip: think free shipping. Most consumers look for free or reduced shipping as they browse online, especially during the holidays.

If you can’t afford to offer free shipping on all orders, consider other alternatives such as flat-rate shipping, free shipping on certain items, or on orders above a certain value threshold.

As you’re forecasting holiday sales, make sure to keep in mind your planned marketing efforts for the upcoming season, and the sales expectations you have from those efforts.

Get your suppliers ready
Now’s the time to also be communicating with your product manufacturers and suppliers. Using your forecasted sales, get in touch with suppliers to give them a heads up on planned inventory orders, and ask about any critical deadlines for placing those orders.

Also, inquire about any expected inventory shortages, and make sure to have a backup plan. It’s also a good idea to ask about discounted holiday pricing from your suppliers, as those deals aren’t always heavily advertised.

In addition to inventory preparations, start assessing your needs for other supplies, such as paper, toner, labels, boxes, jiffy mailers, and fillers. If you outsource your order fulfillment, you don’t have to worry about stockpiling a ton of supplies, but make sure to communicate with your fulfillment partner to coordinate inventory shipments and discuss any special requirements, such as planned kitting jobs.

Assess your technology needs
The last thing you want to have happen is to lose sales because of technology shortcomings. This may involve the server your website is hosted on, the software you use for order management, or any other technology that you rely on from third-party vendors.

Over the next few weeks, talk with your in-house or outside IT teams and make sure the technology you use can handle increased load; because if you underestimate it, it fails and you didn’t plan for it, you may miss out on a lot of would-be customers.

Evaluate your returns policy
According to a comScore survey from earlier this year, the most important thing that merchants can do to increase customer satisfaction is have a lenient, easy-to-understand returns policy.

Before November rolls around, take a look at your returns policy and make sure it’s clear and informative. If you don’t currently offer free returns, consider that as a special promotion during the holidays and prominently display it throughout your website. Because the more sales obstacles you can eliminate, and the more confidence you can build with potential customers, the jollier you’re going to be this holiday season.

Stephen Bulger is marketing manager for
eFulfillment Service.