By Jim Mann, Director of Acquisitions at Thrasio, discusses how online sellers can plan for the festive period in light of changed consumer demand
Christmas 2021 promises to be one of the most challenging and exciting periods ever for online sellers. With last year’s festive period dampened by lockdowns, this Christmas will be the first time we see how the boom in ecommerce ignited by the pandemic translates to holiday spend. However, the uncertainty around global supply chains provides an additional layer of complications for sellers.
So how should sellers tackle what is likely to be a very unusual Christmas period?
The first and most important piece of advice I can provide is to get into ‘Christmas mode’ now. We simply do not know if pressure on supply chains will improve or get worse in the weeks ahead. The safe bet is that consumers have already recognised the danger and will start to make key purchases much earlier than usual. Indeed, there are some reports from supermarket bosses that buying patterns have already started to change. If you have marketing, special offers, new product lines or other initiatives set to run in December, it makes sense to bring them forward as soon as possible.
The second area of battle will be stock management. With lockdowns all but gone, bricks and mortar will provide heavy competition to sellers. On the face of it the supply chain issue could provide an advantage to physical retailers in that consumers may prefer the certainty of having products in their hands. You can fight back by securing stock earlier and in greater quantities. This may mean increasing warehouse capacity in line with where the majority of your customer base is located. If possible, decentralise your stock so there is no single point of failure. The short term financial hit will pale in comparison to the brand damage for letting down your customers should you fail to complete orders.
Getting the stock ready is only one half of the story. To make it really count, you need to bring your A game when monitoring stock levels, anticipating demand and updating your website and marketing campaigns accordingly. This may mean investing in or upgrading your tech infrastructure, taking on staff to spread the workload or temporarily reducing some of your product lines to focus on your core Christmas offering.
When you’re certain you have the stock to meet demand you can gear your marketing to highlight this point. Actively telling your customer base that you’ve put in place measures to guarantee they will get what they need will be a powerful point of differentiation. It also means, should physical retailers run into supply issues, that your business will be well placed to capitalize. After all, no one likes making a trip to a shop only to find they don’t have what you need. If consumers can rely on your business to provide up to date reliable stock information – you will become their first port of call.
Hand-in-hand with this will be top quality customer service. Uncertainty around whether gifts will be delivered in time will be a source of anxiety for your customers. You can allay these fears by providing regular proactive updates on the status of their orders, responding quickly to enquiries and posting clear expected delivery information on all your products. Clear, quick and comprehensive communication will be the name of the game. Again, customer management software and additional temporary staff should be considered to execute this professionally.
No one knows for certain how consumers will behave over the next few months. We may find that the Christmas buying period is elongated and consequently the demand pressure is dissipated. It could be that with last Christmas being under lockdown, that people celebrate twice as hard this year and demand surges to unprecedented levels. Whatever the scenario, by putting in place solid plans and executing them now, your online business will be well prepared for anything.