Last week, Parker Avery sent out our quarterly newsletter – Retail Advisor – which features industry news, events and resources. Below you will find an excerpt of the newsletter, a note from our leadership. We encourage you to sign-up for the newsletter by emailing us at: 

August is already upon us, and for many, this means summer vacations are wrapping up and back-to-school shopping is in full swing – at least from the perspectives of consumers and store operations personnel. Right now, in the corporate offices and halls of retailers, all focus is on the 2017 holiday season. We recently blogged about the impact Amazon’s recent Prime Day could have on this year’s holiday shopping behaviors (and retail results), and we outlined some key tenets to help make the season as joyous and prosperous as possible. I’d like to expand on these themes…namely focusing on critical activities around assessing, preparing, and communicating for retail holiday success.

Assess. One element here involves determining what your best existing – and potential – customers want to buy and how they want to shop: essentially assortment planning and consumer touch points. Now and longer term, retailers must leverage the vast amounts of data they have already accumulated, coupled with advanced analytics to understand and anticipate consumer desires. Assessing also means using historical and forecasted data to offer the best pricing scenarios and promotions that resonate with shoppers, yet maintain internal margin objectives. Lastly, retailers must comprehend their target consumers’ varied lifestyles and schedules so they can design and offer multiple ways of delivery and fulfillment, yet minimize any burdens on both customers and store/DC personnel.

Prepare. Using the outputs of assessment, sufficient time and resources must be spent in holistically designing, preparing, and enabling new or enhanced capabilities, such as “buy online pick-up in store” (BOPIS) and detailed enterprise inventory visibility. Consumer patience with the lack of reliable retail inventory information is nearly exhausted. With digital retailers and “younger” brands having a much better grip on understanding their precise on-hand and on-order quantities – and being able to communicate this information to customers – most traditional retailers have a good deal of catch-up to do if they expect to compete on this level. This is further heightened by a much shallower inventory pool overall, as retailers have naturally constrained their inventory investments in light of recent weakness in the overall retail environment.

To be fair, the highly-distributed model of brick-and-mortar retailers makes this capability much more difficult to achieve, but leading processes coupled with advanced systems capabilities make inventory management tasks much more simple, intuitive, and integrated than most legacy systems still in use today. In that light, preparing also means readying the organization for any changes that will be brought about by new processes and technologies. This comes in the form of designing new procedures and training existing store, DC, and customer service personnel, as well as ensuring communications about new policies, processes, and expectations are not only comprehensive, but also effectively reach the correct audiences in an appropriate timeframe. This year’s timing of Christmas (falling on a Monday) may have implications on last-minute shipping options; therefore, retailers must also ensure stores and customer service are prepared for a potential last-minute shopping surge.

Communicate. Closely related to preparation, and to address the potential Christmas-Eve-on-Sunday-shipping dilemma, retailers need to begin publishing ecommerce order deadlines and shipping options much sooner – ideally no later than Thanksgiving – and more frequently than in years’ past. Customer-facing store associates also need to be keenly aware of these options and be able to accurately convey them to customers. Doing so will encourage shoppers to look ahead and realize that time is indeed of the essence this year, and push them to complete at least some of their shopping a bit earlier, as opposed to waiting until the last minute. To augment this behavior, retailers must work on incentives and promotions for buying earlier. Net-net: get the word out, since again, given the state of the industry, there will clearly be less breadth and depth of available assortment late in the season.

President John F. Kennedy once said, “The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining.” While the above tenets are applicable at any time of the year and for any type of challenge, we believe that even with the hectic nature of the holidays, there is much goodwill, joy, and success to be achieved by starting early, carefully assessing, thoughtfully planning, and amply communicating. If you have any questions or would like to discuss some ideas, please do not hesitate to contact me. Enjoy the rest of your summer.