Getting Prepared For Peak Sales Periods

Christmas is just around the corner. Most retailers would have sorted out their product lines already. Many would have secured their inventory with a view to having it ready to ship out to their customers as soon as the kids are back at school. We all know that the organised parents will start to purchase for Christmas as soon has their post-holiday pay packet lands so it’s prudent for online retailers to be similarly organised.

With social media ready to make or break company’s reputation and this time of year being so important to many company’s cash flow it is essential you do everything you reasonably can do to ensure that your customers are at least satisfied with your level of service and your cash position is rosy as you cut into your turkey and pop-open the Champagne.

Here are few tips for making the Christmas period a stress-free, profitable one.

Picking
Another important issue customers often have is inaccurate or incomplete orders. As long as your products are correctly labelled before sending them into our Arvato-Bertelsmann operated warehouse you should have no issues with order accuracy given our highly-automated, computer-led system. Your customer service staff should have fewer contacts with upset staff and your feedback ratings at services such as Feefo or eKomi should improve.

Tip: Definitely establish how you can improve picking success rates. Does your staff need additional training, do you need to outsource the picking, packing and shipping of orders?

Scale
One of the major problems that many online retailers can face is dealing with the sudden surge in orders. This may occur because of a media mention or just some great feedback on social networking sites. We all dream for our business to go viral, but if we can’t fulfil demand it can turn into a nightmare. Thankfully we have tremendous amounts of capacity. We can generally handle eye-watering upward swings in demand. Getting a front page mention on the Daily Mail website or one of the many fine product review articles in the Guardian, Independent or Telegraph, shouldn’t cause you any logistical issues.

The converse is also true. The post-Christmas lull for a traditional retailer with their own warehouse is likely to mean that you will require fewer staff and less capacity. The staff issue is relatively easy to cope with as you are likely to have hired workers on a temporary basis. However, capacity is expensive and inflexible. Can you realistically reduce the costs on your warehouse during the first half the year? It’s for this reason that we started Cloud Fulfilment. We have a strong dislike for inefficiency and excessive costs. We like to help businesses become more streamlined, efficient and cost-effective. Compare your warehouse costs, for example, with our costs of 40p+vat per day per cubic metre. As you hold more stock you pay for the storage used. As you sell your stock you pay less.

If you haven’t correctly anticipated the level of demand then we can help you further. If you need to directly ship in products from manufacturers then we can help you with that too. This way you can restock items much more quickly than having them shipped to your offices and then out again.

Tip: Ask yourself how you rapidly respond to upswings in demand, not only in terms of fulfilling orders, but also in replenishing stock.

Collection
It is the responsibility of the management of these retailers to do everything they can to reduce the possibility of delivery issues. Many small companies feel they don’t have much clout when it comes to resolving delivery issues due to their size. As a bulk buyer of courier services we don’t have such issues. And we allow you to profit from this arrangement. The couriers will collect your orders in bulk from our purpose-built and expertly-run warehouse. The couriers know where the warehouse is – they would have been here many times before. We often see small and medium-sized retailers complain about collection, but for our customers this should never be a problem.

Tip: Consider how collective buying of courier services can help reduce costs and improve efficiency – perhaps not necessarily tied in with a warehousing solution, but perhaps a stand-alone solution such as our partners Parcel Monkey.

Delivery
Monitoring online chatter about retailers as we do, we know central delivery is central to customer satisfaction. The 46 page thread on the Money Saving Expert forum about the problems Thorntons’ angry customers had with delivery is testament to this. MSE even have a page detailing consumers’ rights for failed delivery. It’s worrying that 60% of those surveyed by consultancy said they had problems with fulfilment of their order.

Thankfully this is a problem we’re determined to reduce to a minimum.We have direct feeds into the Royal Mail, TNT, DPD and Parcelforce. If things go wrong we are the ones to sort them out.

Furthermore, for customers that sell in volume any price saving on delivery can soon add up to significant contributions to the bottom line. Similarly any retailer that has relatively small sales volumes will find that any cost-saving on delivery can help a great deal when you’re faced with narrow profit margins.

Tip: Use a delivery method that helps you reduce the possibility of failed collections, failed deliveries and can help increase reduce the number of customer interactions. It is also vital that you establish methods to reduce your per sale delivery costs.

Returns
Now there is nothing we can do about customer returning items because they feel that the item doesn’t match the product description on your website. But we can help automate the process by providing a stream-lined and cost-effective solution for restocking unopened items (as opposed to unopened delivery boxes).

When this occurs you can then manually process the customer refunds and any replacement orders.

Tip: Consider how you can satisfy customers when things go wrong. Quick and efficient returns handling can often be the difference between a one-time and a repeat customer.

Monitor
The Cloud Fulfilment dashboard allows you to monitor stock levels in real-time. You should use this information to tweak your marketing campaigns. Whether its product-specific voucher codes, reduced prices on the marketing channels such as Amazon, eBay or Play.com; or your bids on Pay-Per-Click marketing solutions such as Adwords; you have the information at hand to turn your stock into cash as quickly as you wish.

We also give you the option to select which status updates you wish to receive. Some customers may require email notifications when orders have been placed, dispatched and delivered – as well as a whole host of other actions. Select the ones that help you most in making your business more efficient and leave out the ones you consider to be a distraction.

Tip: Use the readily available information to fine-tune your business.

Focus
In the lead-up to Christmas you’ll have enough on your plate. You’ll have to try and predict customer demand; purchase items you think will sell well, plan your marketing and the usual headaches that come with running a company, or a department. You don’t need the worry of stock-checking, warehouse staff sickness, what time the couriers will come to pick up the products, the health and safety of your warehouse, breakages, etc. Get your items to us and we’ll do the rest – other than organise your Christmas party.

Tip: Life is complicated enough. If a solution is cost-effective and makes your day less-stressful, go with it.