Learning Our Lessons From Black Friday

It’s never too early to start planning for the biggest date in the retail calendar, but still each year Christmas seems to take the retail sector by surprise. After the frantic scenes captured during Black Friday last year and the numerous reports of struggles to meet online demand, what should retailers be doing this year to prepare in advance? Diane Coolican, Managing Director at Redsky Learning, provides her top tips on getting Christmas right in retail.

Say the word ‘Christmas’ to a retailer during the first part of the year and they will probably shudder at the thought of the challenges that they faced only a few months ago. We’ve always prepared early for Christmas, but increased demand with the improvements in the market and advances in technology combined with smaller teams on the ground, mean that actually retailers have been caught off guard the last few years.

If we think back to last year’s Black Friday weekend, a surge in online orders and shoppers in store (in some cases literally) fighting for the best prices, left many retailers unable to cope with the demand and the volume of footfall through their doors. Many did not recover in time for the key December trading period, which meant they missed a big opportunity to make crucial sales and engage customers. When you pair this with the percentage of temporary staff, many of whom are inexperienced and learning on the job, manning the shop floor, it’s easy to see how wrong the sector has got it in many cases over the last few years.

So what can we do to guarantee a best practice approach? Preparation is undoubtedly the key. Inevitably, we don’t want to think about Christmas in Spring and early Summer, but those organisations that do will surely be better prepared to go above and beyond simply ‘handling’ the busy period. They will be better placed to maximise the opportunity – to use their ongoing sales strategies including cross-selling and up-selling even during the storm to increase their profits.  The key question is really how do we prepare more effectively for the Christmas period?

Timing is crucial
You should be planning Christmas now. Don’t wait until the summer to start thinking about your action plan – get things moving as soon as possible after the busy Easter period but well in advance of the summer holidays. Maximise the inevitable dip in the retail calendar to prepare for the busy times ahead.

Do your homework
Undertake a SWOT analysis on Christmas last year. What worked well? What could you have done better? What did you need to enable you to do things better? Do your homework on the trends you are seeing generally in stores and online and anticipate how these things will make Christmas more challenging this year and ways to overcome those challenges. These things should inform your planning.

Have a team reshuffle now
Do you have some great skills that aren’t really being used in the right place or the right way? Now is the time for that team reshuffle to give people time to embed into their roles and ensure that they have the support they need to establish them in their position. This will allow them to approach Christmas with confidence. Also evaluate what you are missing in teams and use this to inform your recruitment.

Onboarding of temporary teams
Temporary staff are essential to the smooth running of the Christmas period but we frequently see employees who are inexperienced and under-qualified to deal with difficult situations or customer enquiries and who are often not given the support they need during induction. Although retailers need a cost-effective induction programme and there will inevitably be some learning on the job, it is in the long-term benefit of the organisation to provide some up front development. Enhancing knowledge and skills so staff can upsell and talk to your customers in the right language will ultimately not only make the team more effective and better placed to maximise new opportunities, but also  will decrease the number of mistakes that are made.

Ensure that team members have clear responsibilities and plan in advance where and how resources should be spread. Ensure that you always have a best and worst case scenario so that you can plan for staff sickness and unexpected absence so you aren’t caught off guard on the busiest day of the season. Consider having staff on standby for busier days just in case you need extra resource.

Evaluate the best ways of communicating with your teams and put together an action plan. Importantly, stick to this through the Christmas period so staff are informed and have clear direction. Meet with different areas of the business in advance to agree on procedure, for example, online purchase and return in store can be a drain on time during busy periods so you will need store and warehouse teams to collaborate to minimise disruption.

Analyse risk
Consider the threats to your Christmas trading period however big or small and ensure you have procedures in place. Is your health and safety protocol and training up to date? Do you have a process if there is an accident in store? What is the contingency plan if there is an incident at a warehouse? These are worst case scenarios, but if they happen during the Christmas period can have a detrimental effect on your performance.

Does the shop floor work?
Is your shop floor fit for purpose? During the quieter times, lavish and intricate displays may entice customers, but during the busy period do they just take up too much space or cause a tripping hazard? Consider your customers and their journey through the store. Have you made a clear provision for the inevitable queues at the till? And, importantly, is there a way to upsell to customers while they wait. During the quiet times, work with your merchandising team to make your store fit for purpose and regularly reassess challenges throughout the period.

Team workshops
Uniting a team that is made up of established staff and temporary teams working varying shifts can be one of the biggest challenges. Consider recruiting teams earlier than you have previously to give you time to hold a team workshop in advance of the busy season. This will not only give you the chance to encourage your team to bond and find ways of working together, but you’ll also get the first pick of staff so you can attract the best talent.

Give individual and team targets even throughout the busy period. Encourage collaboration and creative thinking so that you continue to drive the wider company strategy even when it is busy.