There’s still time to make last-minute changes & smash your peak targets

Peak trade season is rapidly approaching and we all know just how crucial it is. In the UK retailers generate around 30% of their annual sales in the final three months of the year as key events come to the forefront of consumer thoughts - from Halloween celebrations and Christmas Day gift sharing to NYE party planning. Opportunities for businesses to sell their wares to shoppers are endless at this time, making forward-planning paramount to guarantee success.

Such preparations are typically embedded into retail strategy many months before the start of the shopping spree. eCommerce tech departments lock-down their infrastructure to guarantee smooth online shopping journeys during manic shopping days like Cyber Monday, while marketing departments dream up original festive campaigns six months ahead to capture and maintain customer attention throughout the festive period.

But shopping trends shift fast from one event and one day to the next, and brands must respond with last-minute changes to strategy if they want to stay on top. The long-term plan is simply nothing without ‘on-the-spot’ sparks of ingenuity. In fact, last-minute plans can turn your peak season results from standard to stand-out if you think outside of the box and think on your feet. Here’s how and why:

Shape-shifting demand and supply

The principle challenge in retail is to manage the subtle balance between consumer demand and brand supply, and this challenge is at its most intense during peak trading when shopping patterns can be unpredictable. Product buyers naturally attempt to purchase the right level of stock for key promotional items months in advance, but with demand being so intense during peak, surprises will undoubtedly unravel: if you’re a fashion retailer for example, just picture the scenario: that striking New Year party dress that you’ve featured in your campaigns might sell out during Halloween, while your novelty Christmas jumpers might be left on the shelves thanks to a new micro-trend for wearing fairisle knits in Autumn, inspired by an overnight Instagram post from a famous celebrity influencer. In this media-saturated online age, things move quickly, so you need to be ready to re-organise stock at the touch of a button. This is where last-minute strategies can prove their weight in gold – if you can create a diverse range of alternative product collections at different price-points to activate when things sell out or demands shift.

Caring for your categories

Another quick win is the daily management of your key category pages. Even if you have all long-term plans mastered, you need to manage your stock on a frequent basis to maintain a good shopping experience throughout the period, especially during peak days like Black Friday. Automated merchandising strategies are invaluable for this as algorithms can quickly replenish stock that will rapidly sell out, while providing appropriate alternative suggestions for the customer. Merchandisers should also supplement the process frequently by scanning newly published products on site and comparing these to what’s trending in the market. It can pay dividends to use your creative eye to personally curate the experience based on smart observations. Automated merchandising tools can do the heavy lifting in terms of category page replenishment, but merchandisers can make a big impact by showcasing unique products that suddenly gain traction, while promoting them to the max across all available channels.

Getting gifting right

A key part of peak is making gift shopping easy and enjoyable for shoppers. By creating a range of themed gift buying guides that are easily accessible across your channels, you make it easy for them to find their perfect seasonal gifts. But make sure you cover all customer bases by looking at your customer segments and tailoring themed shops around them – and don’t just create a handful of pages in advance and expect them to drive engagement over the entire period. Think intuitively as time progresses, developing new gifting guides organically as trends fluctuate. Also make gift buying easy by speedily empowering visual searches, making sure that images are tagged with relevant attributes so that shoppers can find the hot products that they’ve seen in your adverts easily. Image search now accounts for over 25% of total organic searches, so pay it some special attention during peak.

Flexibility and smart adjustments

As always, the main target over peak shopping months is to maximise sell-through of your full-price items to avoid big discounts during the January sales. But flexibility and last-minute actions are often key to realising this goal when things get busy. Make regular assessments of sales data to adjust promotional strategies accordingly and think creatively about activating innovative ways to push slow-selling products when necessary, from free shipping email and voucher code campaigns to flash sales that won’t detriment your overall margins.