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How planning for the seasonal surge can help you grow your business year-round

It’s the middle of summer, and the 2021 holiday season is still a vague prospect for most consumers around the world. But for retail business owners and managers who seek an edge, planning has already begun.

In fact, “how-to” holiday preparation advice is a common online find this time of year. A bit of research will yield tips on e-commerce engagement, inventory prediction and management, seasonal marketing tactics, and logistics planning.

But what if, instead of simply launching your standard annual holiday strategy – albeit one altered by the effects of COVID-19 – you took this opportunity to integrate peak season planning and preparation more deeply into the fabric of your business? What if you use the impending seasonal shopping rush to develop a better year-round approach to engaging customers, marketing to them, and delivering your goods to their doors? 

With that in mind, let’s look at the 2021 holiday season and how it can inform your overall business plans – now and for years to come.

The holidays are just the start

Like last year, the 2021 holiday season will be tested by pandemic-related challenges. Global supply chains are strained, with many countries around the world still severely impacted by COVID-19. Production interruptions are a real concern, especially as consumer demand increases with the approaching holidays. In fact, this holiday season could see record sales growth once again, especially in the e-commerce arena: eMarketer offered an early prediction for U.S. retail holiday sales, suggesting a 2.7% rise to almost $1.1 trillion, with a record 18.9% in the form of online transactions.

The expected activity means your business needs to focus now on potential supply chain obstacles, as well as your delivery plans and policies. Does your company have alternate suppliers lined up in case they are needed? Are you in close communication with manufacturers, and do you know what contingency plans they have in place? The work you do today to ensure a resilient supply chain will position you for success well beyond the holiday season.

Similarly, logistics and delivery plans must account for expected delivery surges around the holidays, but also unexpected spikes that can occur any time of year. It is critical to work with logistics providers who have experience with high volume shipping, as well as the resources to meet changing global demand.

Customer potential is everywhere

Expect the 2021 holiday season to be global, which means your potential customers are everywhere. Growth in e-commerce and advances in logistics are fueling new international trade strategies, especially for small and medium-sized businesses. In 2020, global e-commerce reached almost $4.3 trillion, up more than 24% from the previous year, according to Digital Commerce 360. Expect continued acceleration throughout the 2021 holidays. That means your business should conduct an early assessment of potential new cross-border markets that fit well with your products and brand. This process should be repeated regularly throughout the year and years ahead, as changing market conditions in various regions could bring critical opportunities for growth.

A flexible workforce is everything

The pandemic has presented companies around the globe with serious workforce challenges. In the U.S., news of labor shortages has dominated headlines. This holiday season, staffing will likely be difficult for many retailers, and so an early start to seasonal hiring, along with some creativity, will be essential. Your company can consider outsourcing certain functions; you can work with online job placement sites to boost results; and your organization should seek partners with a reliable track record of hiring and training talent. Ultimately, strategies that will allow your staffing to expand with demand will serve you well in the long run – not just during the holidays.

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Expanded digital channels are essential

According to Adweek, a growing number of shoppers are using social media for “discovery” when looking for holiday gifts. In other words, they are exploring ideas and finding products through the “personalized inspiration and curated recommendations” provided by social channels. Adweek research shows that almost 80% of consumers polled used at least one Facebook app or service for discovery last holiday season. The bottom line is that, whether your business is solely focused on e-commerce or a hybrid of in-person and online, you need to allocate resources to build a strong social media presence on multiple platforms. Again, this effort can boost not only your holiday sales performance but your long-term success.

In addition to robust social media and online marketing campaigns, a strong mobile commerce platform is a must. Consider that in the U.S. last year, m-commerce accounted for 37% of all digital sales on Cyber Monday. On a global, annual basis, the numbers are even more impressive: by the end of 2021, almost 73% of all retail e-commerce is predicted to be m-commerce generated. Your company should work with your web developers to make sure your mobile site is intuitive and easy to navigate, and that it clearly explains shipping options and offers multiple payment options.

With more consumers buying more kinds of goods online, as they did throughout 2020, the idea of a distinct holiday surge may eventually lose some of its meaning. Yes, different marketing messages and higher volumes are inevitable as Thanksgiving nears, but your business needs to have a year-round ability to handle spikes in demand, uneven strains on the supply chain, and a digital environment that is constantly evolving.

Published: August 2021

Images: AdobeStock

Mike Parra

CEO, DHL Express Americas

With over three decades of transportation and logistics experience, Mike Parra leads the second largest region within the DHL Express network, the Americas, as CEO. His strategic direction of 56 highly-diverse countries and territories encompassing approximately 27,000 employees has contributed to the organization’s enormous success in growth, quality and employee satisfaction. As a member of the DHL Express Global Management Board, he also has direct oversight for the company’s best-in-class training and development program (Certified International Specialist), as well as its portfolio of global sponsorships. Mike exhibits his passion for social responsibility by building housing for needy families, biking for MS, and being active within his church.

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