Preparing for Peak: Love it or loathe it, the festive season of goodwill is upon us

It’s hard to believe that until 2014, Black Friday hadn’t properly arrived in the UK or the rest of Europe; the image of customers wrestling over discounted flat-screen TVs was limited largely to Boxing Day, not the end of November.

Fast forward four years and Black Friday is firmly in the European and US retail calendar and a chance for you to reap the spending bonanza of your customers.

In the UK during December alone, 35% of people think they will blow at least £500 on presents. But of course even before Christmas, you’ll have Friday 24th November to navigate – Black Friday. Last year, £1.4BN1 was spent online – up 11.7% from 2016.

It’s clear your customers are far more open to spending during these peak periods, and how you prepare determines how big your slice of the spend is.

Throughout 2018, our members have come together at Retail Hive meetings in the UK, Europe and US to muse over the biggest issues facing the industry. Here, we’ve rounded up some of the most prevalent conversations that have taken place.

Read on to recap on the 2018 trends that can help you increase your takings during periods such as Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Boxing Day.

Merchandiser or Machine?

A topic that has cropped up again and again in our meetings – whether they’ve been focussed on engagement, fulfilment or innovation – is Artificial Intelligence (AI). Specifically, how to use it to enhance the customer experience – across all channels.

● A key outcome of these conversations is that an effective approach using AI requires a careful blend of both machine and merchandiser
● AI can do much of the analytical heavy lifting once key decisions and rules are defined, leaving your staff to increase time on using the insight to provide more personal experiences
● AI exposes more products to the right people, providing additional selling opportunities you may otherwise miss

As surmised in February’s Retail Hive Connected Customer meeting, do not be discouraged by previous (AI) experiences; it is time to trust this technology. So during peak, use the insight AI provides to inform product placement and promotion decisions. Greater customer intelligence means more sales.


However…it’s also important to remember that this season can skew your statistics. For instance, as discussed at our May meeting, that best-selling Santa suit might be great before 25th December, but do you want to keep pushing it in January? No. Make sure your manual overrides can pick this up.

Bricks & Mortar – Make it Count

When you search product details online, in general, everything is at your fingertips – size, weight, colour, dimensions, material, price, offers, related items etc.  This is now an expected part of online retail.

While you can’t offer the wealth of information (or stock) in store that you can online, the ‘bricks and mortar’ experience has some key differentiators. Use them to your advantage.

● People prefer to buy from people. In store might not have PPC cookies, but good service can just as easily close the sale
● An in-store experience offers a more compelling buying environment – if effort is put in to creating it
● If you can’t offer the same convenience in store, offer something sensational. During peak, this could be as a simple as a visit from Santa or a gift evening

Speaking from the Retail Hive’s Focus on Fulfilment meeting, Ian Howes, Supply Development & Imports Director at Sainsburys Argos, said, “The human touch is just as important as technology – we still want to talk to and connect with our customers along their journey.”

It’s for this reason that forward-thinking retailers are shifting their physical stores towards a marketing and experience led platform, rather than sales.

What is your data telling you?

The data you hold on your customers should allow you to offer a more personal experience, for example:

● Build your online offers around past purchase history to increase relevance
● Create your in-store experience and product strategy around historical area spending patterns

But a word of caution from members at our July event; strike a balance between making personalisation ‘useful’ and avoid it becoming ‘unnerving’.

Customers like to feel like they are getting a bespoke experience. They don’t like to feel that their retailers know ‘too much’ or are pursuing them.  Note that personalisation only works well if you get it right. A special Christmas freebie based on past shopping behaviour is great, but are you 100% sure your information is correct? Perhaps they were buying a children’s toy as a present for someone else?  If you get it wrong it taints the experience.

Your greatest peak asset …Your colleagues

In a study by retail strategy firm WD Partners 75% of respondents said the experience of human connection was the reason they bought in store. For this reason, it makes sense to increase training of store assistants to increase their value to the customer experience.

Research conducted by Hive partner Manhattan Group found that 51% of consumers felt that the sharing of product information was the most important role of the store assistant. Yet only 30% of retailers are planning to invest in tools to support customer-facing employees in this role.

While innovation was a recurring theme through the year (we all agree that without it, retailers won’t survive the challenging years to come) let’s not forget, people matter. Whether they are answering chats online, serving in-store or packing at your DC, your people represent your brand, encourage upsells, deal with complaints and queries: they are your retail front line.

As Tim Ceci, former North American Vice President, Retail Stores & Operations Management for CÉLINE attested during the first Retail Hive Live meeting in New York, “Have an internal client mentality. The manner in which you treat your teams will directly affect what your customers see and feel about your brand – across all channels.”

So in summary, from the hundreds of senior Retail leaders who have shared and collaborated with The Retail Hive this year the message is clear;  the people in your business matter and the data in your business matters – use them both, value them both and learn from them both.

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