As every retailer knows, peak season plays by its own rules. Thinking about the holiday-centric commercial period at the end of the year requires a look beyond the trends that determine the rest of the year. Really, the only way to consider this year’s peak season is in the context of last year. The sales and logistics approaches that defined retail in 2016 are a great place to start when projecting areas to focus on in 2017.
The pressures at the end of the retail calendar are relatively consistent from one year to the next, but the evolution of consumer technology and preferences has changed the industry in major ways. For this reason, 2016 is a far better lens in which to view 2017 than a general overview or a look at any previous year. Fortunately, industry news sources and researchers have aggregated the year’s lessons.
Treating the whole peak end-of-year shopping season as an undifferentiated mass is likely a mistake. Trends within the months of November and December have the potential to change when logistics networks will be most strained and sites will have to stand up to intense traffic. Practical Ecommerce explained that 2016 data shows that the first half of the holiday season was an especially busy time in 2016.
Quoting numbers from Adobe Digital Insights, the source pointed out that 48% of total holiday spending came in November, and 86% of peak season resume rolled in between November 1 and December 20. While consumer stereotypes may point to last-minute rushes and late shopping for Christmas and other winter holidays, it’s unwise to shift into holiday mode too late.
Channel Balance Shifts
The gap between brick-and-mortar retail and eCommerce is a complex topic in retail, but it’s become inescapable when discussing peak season. EMarketer’s recap of the 2016 holidays explained that, while online retail is going strong, in-person shopping is a persistent source of trouble. Omnichannel companies will have to be especially cognizant of the shifting balance of power as they plan their logistics strategies and allocate resources for the 2017 season.
The changes in consumer habits are ongoing, with both desktop and mobile shopping seeing increases. None of the changes right now are favorable to brick-and-mortar retail traffic. In cases where legacy brands are moving to omnichannel models, their historically strong in-person units may be holding the organizations back from further growth. Dealing with the changes in consumer behavior and preferences will be a defining battle for many sellers in 2017 and beyond.
Watching the Economy
Peak season – despite being the defining event of the retail calendar – is reliant upon outside forces. Your planning for the end of the year will be incomplete without taking macro-economics into consideration. The National Retail Federation, in its wrap-up for 2016, explained that the gradually improving U.S. economic picture was the backdrop for a 4% year-over-year sales rise. When markers such as wages and unemployment show positive results, it’s only natural for shoppers to be more active, and this includes your audience.
The NRF also offered its own take on the divide between brick-and-mortar and online sales, essentially declaring the battle between the two channels over. The organization’s president and CEO, Matthew Shay, stated that there’s no longer any separation between online and offline sales. Of course, if your business hasn’t optimized its back-end fulfillment operations to deliver items through the channels where the greatest demand exists, you may beg to differ. This is just another reason to keep a close eye on current conditions.
Taking on the Challenge
When putting last year’s numbers in context, both your company’s and those of the market, you probably see a few changes to make for this year. Finding and implementing potential improvements is all part of the annual ritual of peak season preparation. Facing a new year with the same setup that was in place last year ignores the fact that the industry is always progressing and following its own trend lines.
When deciding what to change for this year, you can look to the eCommerce platform underlying your company’s retail experience. A strong new framework could help get your company in line with the preferences directing your particular sector – and making the change soon is essential, if you want to be ready to face the shoppers.