Winning at peak season may mean updating internal processes and forging new partnerships.
Peak season is upon us, and this year it started earlier than ever. Major retailers kicked off their holiday promotions well before Black Friday and customers are choosing to fill up their carts sooner too.
Small and midsize retailers want to maximize their share of holiday sales dollars in November and December. But their success this year may hinge on how quickly they can deliver. Two-thirds (68%) of shoppers in one survey said fast shipping would motivate them to complete an online order. Meanwhile, another study found that nearly half (46%) of shoppers would leave their virtual carts if shipping times were longer than expected or not provided.
But while delivery speed is important, optionality is more important. Consumers want what they want, when they want it — whether it’s two-hour, same-day, next-day or choose-your-day. If a retailer can’t offer them a full array of options for every SKU at every point of sale, they know someone else can.
A successful peak season requires having enough inventory to meet demand, and the capacity to get those orders to customers where and when they want them. With demand for same-day delivery growing, small and midsize businesses can’t risk missing out on an opportunity to improve customer satisfaction, loyalty and their brand’s reputation.
That task could be especially challenging this year, with retailers facing an unpredictable peak season thanks to a combination of cooling demand and high fuel and labor costs. As a result, many retailers are now looking for more efficiency. And that may mean outsourcing non-core business functions, including store-to-door delivery.
Winning at peak season requires you to equip your entire operation for success, whether that comes from updating your internal processes or forging new delivery partnerships.
Did you start peak season early?
Black Friday isn’t the shotgun start to peak season that it used to be. Instead, both retailers and shoppers have pushed the season earlier and earlier. 61% of consumers were holiday shopping by early November last year, an increase of 10% over the preceding decade, according to the National Retail Federation.
If you didn’t launch your holiday promotions in October or early November this year, consider making plans to do so in 2023.
In modern retail, the start of Q4 is the time to start talking with your customers about peak season product offerings, promotions and order deadlines. Make sure your channels — from social media to email to your website — are updated with the latest information.
And it’s never too early to think about personalization. Will you offer gift wrapping, custom notes with each order or even let customers send gifts same-day for hand-delivery to recipients’ doorsteps? Those touches can have a big impact on customer retention. Four in five shoppers are more likely to return to brands that personalize, McKinsey has found.
Finetune your inventory processes
Having the right inventory in the right place can make or break your peak season. If you haven’t already, stock up on the products you expect will move fast, get rid of deadstock and make sure your inventory is well-organized so your team and customers can find what they need quickly.
You should be checking in regularly with your suppliers. Are they anticipating delays? Having a heads-up on potential product availability issues lets you adjust your peak season strategy as quickly as possible.
You should also move inventory as close to customers as possible. If you have retail stores, consider using them to hold inventory for delivery so you can reduce the time it takes customers to get their orders. If you work with a crowdsourced delivery partner like Roadie or Postmates, you can deliver from your brick-and-mortar locations using local drivers. Crowdsourcing can also help you move inventory between locations, and deliver right from your warehouse.
Be ready to deliver any item, anytime, anywhere
Whether you already offer delivery or are considering it for the first time, working with a mix of delivery partners ensures you’re ready to handle any kind of order. Local couriers and traditional carriers continue to be solid standbys. But their capacity and scheduling limits mean they can’t reliably handle overflow and last-minute orders, or efficiently send products that are bulky, heavy or oversized.
That’s where crowdsourcing can help. Crowdsourced delivery uses drivers already on the road in your community. You can use that delivery capacity only when you need it, so you’re not paying for vehicles and drivers you don’t need. Plus, crowdsourced drivers are available on-demand, meaning you can dispatch orders as they come in — no matter the size, shape or weight — and give your customers the option of same-day delivery for every item.
Leading crowdsourced delivery platforms offer outstanding reliability. For example, Roadie drivers achieved an on-time delivery score of 96% for peak season 2021, outperforming USPS (95%) and FedEx (85%), according to data from logistics data firm ShipMatrix.
Crowdsourced on-demand delivery can be affordable, too. Consider whether you’ll charge your customers extra for same-day delivery or offer it as a free perk. Leading crowdsourced delivery partners also allow you to set cart minimums for same-day or make it available only to certain customers, like those in your loyalty program.
Having the right mix of delivery partners, finetuning your inventory processes, and starting peak season early are three smart strategies that can help small and midsize retailers have happier holidays.
Not only will you be able to better compete with other stores — including major retailers — peak season will become less stressful for you and your staff. So, you’ll be able to spend more time enjoying what’s meant to be the most wonderful time of the year.
Thomas Angst is Head of SMB Sales at Roadie, a crowdsourced delivery platform with more than 200,000 drivers reaching more than 27,000 U.S. zip codes. Founded in 2014, Roadie works with consumers, small businesses and enterprises to enable scheduled, same-day and urgent delivery in passenger vehicles across the U.S.
Holiday season stock image by Ekaterina Pokrovsky/Shutterstock