Retailers are facing a tough peak season in Q4 this year. With millions of consumers around the world struggling to pay bills and heat their homes in the northern hemisphere, festive shopping may not be the frenzy it normally is. In fact, one survey says approximately four out of ten households are concerned about spending this time of year. Meanwhile, McKinsey has found that increasing prices are the number-one worry for 58% of European consumers.
Looking beyond the doom and gloom
There is a silver lining to this cost-of-living crisis and plenty for brands selling online to be positive about. Financially-challenged shoppers are going to be seeking out ways to save money on their gifting. They will turn to the web to find bargains, and e-retailers with great prices, seasonal deals, and reliable delivery services are well-positioned to benefit from this.
Industry commentators have noted that Christmas gift bargain-hunting has begun remarkably early this year, which could bode well for brands that ship to shoppers globally. There will be longer lead times to get parcels out to customers in far-flung countries.
Even the Qatar World Cup tournament could prove to be positive. If soccer fans are at home watching matches on the TV, instead of being in stores, they are more likely to jump onto their phone or laptop for quick and convenient online Christmas shopping.
Planning gives you the edge at peak
Peak season trading success will come to e-retailers who can accurately forecast and plan, to deliver the Click Frenzy, Black Friday, and Christmas sales they desperately need.
At Asendia, we use our learnings from previous years to make peak go as smoothly as possible for our retail clients. We know peak season 2022 is unprecedented, but there is still much forecasting and planning that can be done in collaboration with brands, based on similar challenges experienced over the past few Click Frenzy, Black Fridays, and Christmases.
Uncertainty also underpinned peak 2021 – many countries were coming out of covid lockdowns, and volumes were up, yet supply chain routes were clogged and under pressure due to Covid backlogs. 3PLs had to be nimble and flexible. A big win for us was using clients’ forecasting data to inform parcel shipment planning in plenty of time. We provided ‘Peak Packs’ with tailored forecasts and action plans for retailers, and are doing the same this year.
In Q4 2022, the war in Ukraine and supply chain challenges mean routes could be disrupted once again. It will be crucial to maximise cross-border selling but in the most cost-effective ways. For us, reserving air freight ahead of the usual hikes in prices for December should pay dividends – again this requires careful forecast calculations on behalf of retail clients.
Flexibility in parcel shipping pays dividends
Online sellers and their 3PLs need to be nimbler than ever during this festive period. With demand patterns upended and trading conditions and channels subject to overnight change, it is important to be prepared to switch both what you’re offering and how you trade.
If one product line is held up in port, be ready with replacement options, and dial your social marketing up and down to reflect your stock availability. Retailers should also choose parcel carriers flexible to changing needs. Bearing in mind that air freight space is in high demand, does your international fulfilment partner have access to extra capacity at short notice?
The best partners will be able to adapt their services in line with your margins, getting the cost per kilo for shipping just right for you. Partners will be doing their utmost to help, by offering flexibility, including having dedicated account managers on hand for troubleshooting.
Automation in warehouses takes the strain
When it comes to managing warehouses and fulfilment centres for e-commerce peak, hiring and training staff in plenty of time is essential. Black Friday discounting is getting earlier every year, and when orders flood in, retailers and their parcel shipping partners need a reliable workforce ready for the rush. Automation and robotics can ramp up parcel throughput at peak, supporting warehouse personnel, and improving customer service levels for retailers.
In Asendia’s fulfilment centre at Heathrow in the UK, for example, our new robotic arms for over-labelling, and automated sortation system have sped up through-put of parcels.
As a result, we can now process up to 7,200 parcels per hour ready for outbound shipment to international destinations. And in turn, this takes the pressure off the incredibly busy warehouse team and means parcels can catch earlier flights and road haulage departures, essential for cross-border orders at Click Frenzy, Black Friday, and Christmas.
Let your customer service communications sparkle
Be prepared for delays at borders, and warn customers about cut-off dates and any likely problems in plenty of time. Many online sellers with cross-border customers rely on intermediaries in the European Union to streamline VAT processes, and it’s likely they will be incredibly busy again during this festive period. Factor in extra time for admin bottlenecks this December, and be ready to handle calls and emails from customers waiting for deliveries.
Shoppers have come to expect accurate delivery dates but will forgive if they are kept in the loop when delays do occur. Make sure your customer service communications are clear, timely and empathetic if you want happy festive shoppers.
Lou Milicevic is the Managing Director at Asendia Oceania.