Preparing For Peak In 2023

25 September 2023

As we approach Christmas faster than any of us are quite prepared for, we’re entering what is known as the “Golden Quarter” for many retailers; that last few months in the year that spark the majority of their sales. Most retailers have some sort of peak period and of course, this depends on the type of products sold. For a toy store, Christmas can account for the lion’s share of the year’s sales so it’s no wonder everyone in retail loves Christmas so much!

The downside is that Christmas carries high pressure for retailers with a lot riding on performance. How well a retailer ends the year can be make or break for the future of a business and greatly affects available budgets for the following year.

This Christmas is likely to be even more challenging for retailers as they navigate a difficult economic climate, and while inflation is (very) slowly going down, we’re all feeling the effects of the cost-of-living crisis. As a result, we’re experiencing Christmas creep with 64% of UK consumers planning to have started their Christmas shopping in October, and 79% planning to cut back spending over peak 2023 compared to last year.

But in the here and now, how are retailers preparing for peak success and what impact does that have on their in-store technology?

What’s going on in stores right now?

An influx of temporary staff

At this point in the year, it’s commonplace for retailers to actively recruit temporary workers to keep up with the short-term rise in demand. Just recently, John Lewis Partnership announced it was hiring an extra 10,000 staff to cope with the additional sales.

This means that in a short space of time, you have a lot of new and inexperienced people joining the ranks and you want additional resources quickly focused on the fundamentals of retail operations such as restocking, labelling, and general tidying of sections. But they are new to it so getting these individuals up to speed with clear tasks, software that is easy to understand and simple to use tools is most important.

Launching Christmas store layouts

Getting ready for the Christmas period, new store layouts will be launched, and areas of the store will be physically moved around to make them more prominent. Planograms have already been decided but now the store teams are putting them into action in the hope of maximising sales and attracting shoppers.

Before Summer felt behind us, as a consumer you might have already started to notice seasonal areas springing up in your favourite stores. That toy aisle is now front and centre and luxury gifts such as perfume also become a focus.

Decking the stores with décor galore

Often rolled out in phases, stores steadily put up Christmas signage and decorations. What might start with some subtle baubles around POS areas will soon ramp up to look like Santa’s Grotto around Halloween time as retailers get ready to bring home Christmas. It’s too soon for full-blown Mariah Carey just yet but come the 1st of December, we’ll all hear the familiar jingle of bells as step into stores.

A flurry of offers and promotions

Preparing for peak brings a step change in offers and in-store promotions. Retailers typically launch with pre-planned trophy offers such as the infamous Boots 3 for 2 promotions. From star buys and product of the week to deep discounts off departments in certain weeks, store managers will now have upcoming promotions communicated to them.

There’s added pressure on physical retail to compete with online too. Black Friday is no longer just a day with ongoing offers throughout November and there’s Cyber Monday too. We’re interested to see how this evolves in 2023; last year we noticed a continued movement towards not participating in Black Friday events as the extra margin erodes making it not worthwhile.

Depending on business performance, offers can quickly become commercially reactive. In this current climate with high inflation and household budgets squeezed, there’s no guessing quite how this golden quarter will go for retailers. If Christmas lines aren’t moving as fast as had been hoped, customers will soon be enticed with additional freebies, offers and more competitive promotions.

Making a move towards Sale

The move into ‘Sale’ is inevitable. Retailers need to sell through the extra stock that they bought in and free up the cash tied up in it to enable operations, but at what point retailers launch sales will greatly depend on how the Christmas period is going for them.

Long gone are the days of waiting for the big Boxing Day Sale to hit; if it’s slow, the sale will begin early – possibly the first or second week in December – but if sales have been good, the launch will come later in the month. This peak period is a constant merry-go-round of offers and promotions balanced with trying to make a profit.

Changing trading hours

Christmas ‘tis not just the season to be jolly, ‘tis also the season of extended shopping hours. As we get closer to Christmas, shopping centres and retail parks stay open until 8 pm, 9 pm, and sometimes even 10 pm to encourage late-night shopping. Stores also make use of that extra half an hour of browsing time as part of Sunday trading.

The impact? Volume goes up and this means more deliveries, more items to handle, and more in-store labelling!

What does peak mean for your in-store technology?

It’s too late to start a project to innovate your store operations through new technology. The latest you would want new tech in place is late September to early October to ensure that your teams are fully up and running and comfortable before the Christmas rush is underway.

Retailers tend to go into a complete “change freeze” before November and this means no changes to their IT and infrastructure to avoid any detrimental impact on their business at such an important time. Limiting change is key to protecting store teams as well and while it might be too late to start implementing new technology, now is the ideal time to shift focus on building resilience instead. Here’s how:

Health check your devices

In an exercise we’ve heard called “bringing out your dead wood”, retailers benefit from checking that their existing tech is in prime condition to support their business.

As a store, you might have a total of five devices, but day-to-day you heavily rely on just three because those are ‘the best’ and favoured by your store colleagues. Consider how much attention those other two devices have had and why aren’t they used. Perhaps they are older, slower, and less reliable. They could need software updates, or they could be broken and in need of replacement. Maybe they simply don’t last a full shift and need new batteries. Don’t forget to check your label printers too.

Invest in more devices

Do you have enough devices to cope with the increase in staff and volume of tasks? Can you locate all the devices you believe you have in each store or have some gone missing? What about your top-performing stores? How could more devices enable your store teams to capitalise on increased demand?

We strongly advise checking all of this while there is still time to do something about it. Yes, it’s too late to start a full-scale deployment to introduce something new, but more of the same isn’t a change in your technology and it could make all the difference to reacting fast.

Order plenty of labels

The same applies to checking your label stocks, with impending sales, offers and promotions, you’re going to need a hefty supply of labels and consumables to keep your operations running. Think ahead about what each store is going to need and what label formats they will use.

Replenishing label stocks is usually quite a quick process, but you won’t be the only retailer expecting a surge and this means demand for labels is about to spike too. As a result, production lead times will increase so if you need more labels, we encourage you to place that order sooner rather than later.

Supporting your resilience building

As retailers batten the hatches for another exciting, hectic and no doubt incredibly busy and turbulent Christmas, we’re playing a supporting role in ensuring resilience in their operations. To help you prepare for peak, be sure to get in touch with us for all your hardware and label needs.

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