Holiday sales: It’s never too early to start planning

Industry News

It may seem early to start thinking about holiday sales, but after the struggles many merchants encountered last year, it’s never too soon to consider the most important time of the year for retailers. Especially as online sales increasingly overtake traditional retail sales.

Several merchants noted a variety of problems during the 2013 holiday season, but chief among them was the short time span between Black Friday and Christmas Day, which is the window in which most holiday sales take place. That crunch led to many inventory management and delivery problems for sellers – because consumers had fewer days to shop, they made more purchases all at once, which made it difficult for sellers to keep inventory in-stock throughout the holiday season.

2014 holiday sales will be just as trying for retailers as it was last year.

Delivery was the bigger problem, albeit one that merchants didn’t have the most control over. Many shoppers procrastinated to the last minute and did their holiday shopping online, and although many of these online sales were made within the deadlines retailers set for Christmas delivery, carriers struggled to actually get the packages to shoppers in time. Even though merchants did their part and picked and packed purchases quickly enough to make deadlines, the late deliveries from the carriers meant the retailers had to deal with the angry shoppers.

This year’s holiday season will be another tough one

A recent report released from IBM noted that 2014 holiday sales will be just as trying for retailers as it was last year. Once again, they are dealing with an accelerated holiday shopping period, with only 26 days between Black Friday and Christmas. Although that’s one more day than last year, it’s still five less than they had in 2012.

This means merchants will need to carefully consider their holiday sales and other promotional tools carefully. Promising last-minute deadlines like they did last year may not be the way to go if they want to avoid angry customers – either that, or they reconsider their third-party logistics partner and find other delivery services.

A new focus on eCommerce operations may also be a significant boon. As the IBM study found, consumers are increasingly spending more money with online sales during the holiday season. Compared to 2011, the average person spent nearly $20 more shopping online in 2013.

Online sales across both smartphones and tablets accounted for nearly one-fifth of total eCommerce sales in 2013 – a threefold leap from the same time in 2011.

At the same time, holiday sales on smartphones and other mobile devices are also on the rise. The IBM report suggested online sales across both smartphones and tablets accounted for nearly one-fifth of total eCommerce sales in 2013 – a threefold leap from the same time in 2011.

“To succeed this holiday season, retailers will need to pay attention to both device type and operating system, to better focus their mobile app and analytics investments, while at the same time ensuring a flawless customer experience between devices and operating systems,” the IBM report added.

Investing in digital holiday sales

Capturing more online sales during the holiday season will require merchants to make meaningful investments into their eCommerce operations. This isn’t simply limited to websites either – everything from inventory management to order fulfillment systems need to be coordinated across multiple channels to ensure merchants can process orders quickly and fulfill the expectations of those customers shopping online for the holidays.

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