Delivering on Your Holiday Promise

You can have the best marketing program and creative concepts for the holiday season, but if you can’t deliver on the offers you make, you will lose sales and customers for years to come. Is your operation ready for the holidays? Here are a few key areas to focus on.

Inventory. Have you bought the right amount of merchandise? Help your open-to-buy (inventory needed vs. inventory available) by selling off obsolete stock now.

Did you buy deep enough into one-time-buy vendors, those where you will not be able to place a second order for the holiday season? Do you have enough inventory to support the events and promotions planned for the season?

This is where you have to have great communication between marketing and merchandising. If you are going to promote all outerwear at 20% off, for instance, you must have the inventory levels to support it. You have to buy into those offers, not just plan on promoting your overstocked merchandise.

Fulfillment. Will you have enough staff to fulfill orders? Can you leverage some early buy incentives to shift some of the sales forward? Do you have a hiring and training program in place?

You also have to consider your cutoff for Christmas delivery—what is the optimal date for you? You don’t want to make it too early for competitive reasons, but you want to make sure you can ship all of your orders to deliver on time.

Site availability. Website traffic will spike during the holidays. More consumers now shop online or research their purchase on the Web to determine what they should buy and from where.

Is your server ready for that kind of traffic? Do you have a monitoring system that will alert the right people if the site becomes slow or goes down? Do you need to add capacity? Will consumers be able to check out efficiently?

The last thing you want to experience during the holidays is disruption of service on your site. Being prepared is key.
Contingency plans. No matter how well you plan, there will always be some surprise. Make sure you have contingency plans in place ahead of time. What if sales are soft? What if you are selling out of key products—can you get more or promote a good alternative product?

If you have too much inventory, start having “Plan B” sales during the season and prepare for an after-Christmas sale. If you have consistent promotions or Plan B sales every year, make sure plan for them ahead and include them in your print marketing. Not everyone will visit your Website or open your e-mails.

Holiday shopping has been moving to later and later in December in recent years. Consumers have now been trained to wait to take advantage of late-season pricing discounts. This is a challenge for retailers, and we need to work harder to drive those sales earlier in the season in addition to capturing the late season sales.

Michelle Farabaugh is a partner with Lenser, a multichannel direct marketing firm.

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