Business > Merchant Voice

Oh No, Its Christmas Again

Its September, and Christmas is coming. Like many gift retailers Christmas is our busiest time of the year. Orders double, then triple, then go through the roof. It is a very hectic time of year. It is always better to plan ahead. No doubt you will concentrate in what to stock, and what not to stock. Plan best how to spend that limited budget on getting in the right holiday best sellers. All too often it is easy to forget the non stock essentials.

First your cart. It needs to be up to date, all security patches applied, and all enhancements and changes you want in place. By the end of September you should freeze all development. You should not consider any change to your computer systems. The last thing you need is a failure on your busiest time of year.

Then staff. If you are going to need extra staff for processing orders you should be recruiting soon. It takes time to train staff, and time is what you should have little of in the holiday rush. So start now and get they up to speed for when you will need them. Like many retailers you will also limit and even prohibit planned holidays over this busy period. You must also have a contingency plan for those unplanned absences. When it is all hands to the deck to get all the day’s orders out, the last thing you need is the hangover devastation from last nights party.

What is also forgotten is packing materials. There is little point in having hundreds of orders if you have no boxes to put them in. Or packing tape to seal the boxes. Further as the number of orders will be much higher than your typical volumes you will need more materials. What is the lead time for resupply? How much can you store? If the orders exceed expectations can you pack them?

Further there is stationary. Do you have enough spare toner? Do you have reams of paper? You are hopefully going to consume far more stationary than you normally do. You also need to consider lead times. Do not get caught out like we were one year when I ran out of special Royal Mail thermal labels. All my post has to have such a label, but the Royal Mail takes 5 days to deliver replacements. Imagine sitting there with hundreds of picked and packed orders, none of which can be sent.

Finally, there is customer service. As the volume of orders go up, the volume of questions and problems will inevitably also go up. Do not forget to ramp up your customer service staff in line. It is vital that you do not let your standards slip at this busy time of year.

All the above is the barest minimum you need to cover for your holiday selling. There is however much more.

You need to know what the last posting date is for every area into which you ship. You need to know when to switch to a faster posting service to get those last few days extra business. Above all you need to look at everything from your customer’s perspective. And their perspective can be VERY different from the normal time of year. Indeed your customers may be different. The vast majority of your customers are likely to be new, and not your normal target customers. They will instead be friends and relations of your normal target customers and buying the gifts for your target customers.

The simple fact you need to consider is that over the holiday period the overriding requirement is that the gift arrives in time. That it is not delayed in the holiday post. Indeed so important is the speedy delivery, many customers do not care WHAT is delivered, so long as a good gift arrives. Now I am not suggesting mispacking, or ignoring a customer’s order, BUT if you have run out of A, phone/e-mail the customer and suggest B. If B is a suitable or even better alternative to A then you have a happy customer, who does not have to wait, and does not have to look again for a new supplier of A. Whilst we try to never run out of stock, it does happen, and we were amazed by how many orders we could rescue by this simple tactic, AND get thanked, even though we have messed up.

The other simple tactic we always apply is the selection of the postal service. As Christmas day approaches, the volume of post in the system increases, and so do postal delays. As soon as post starts getting slower, then the number of customer queries increases. The natural “where is my parcel” questions. So you either hire additional staff to handle this increase OR you spend a bit more on post and select a faster service. Not only can this work out cheaper, it offers better customer service.

So plan ahead, and have a profitable Christmas.

Richard Stubbings
Richard Stubbings
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