Six tips for taking stock ahead of the Christmas shopping season

By Michele Dupré, group vice president of retail, hospitality and distribution for Verizon.

While summer may still be top of mind for consumers, the retail industry is laser-focused on preparing for the 2016 Christmas season. After a somewhat lacklustre 2015 season and reports of declining revenues during the first half of this year, now is a critical period when retailers 'lock in' their winning strategies for a successful Christmas season.

So what can retailers do to deliver the technology-rich and tailored experiences that consumers have come to expect? Here is an IT checklist with key items that should be part of every retailer's inventory:

  • Agile and aware supply chain management is king: The rise of supply chain experts who can best manage this critical process, including the 'last mile', of moving goods from production into the hands of consumers, is fast becoming a key ingredient for retail success. In fact, the competition amongst retailers for the 'last mile' is providing consumers with a wealth of delivery options such as 'click and collect', curb-side pickup, subscription-based replenishment and other e-commerce options which allow retailers to meet customer expectations and provide greater convenience. Now is the time to assess logistics systems to ensure customers can receive timely and accurate updates. This involves verifying that all partners across the supply chain – from manufacturers to distributors – can communicate effectively and efficiently.
  • Compelling and user-friendly digital storefronts matter: It's critical to frequently test what your customers encounter once they've followed the digital path to your website. Are your customers personally greeted and is the functionality user-friendly and fast? Is it easy to get customer service support if needed, and will your associates recognise returning customers? How good are your analytics for predicting inventory needs and customer preferences? And, most significantly, can your ecommerce and m-commerce platforms handle traffic increases around holidays and promotions? Flexible and secure network infrastructures, bolstered by robust IT hosting environments, are essential underpinnings of a sound operational model.
  • A sound Unified Commerce strategy can attract a loyal following: Recognising your customer and their shopping preferences and habits whether they are online, mobile or in store – without being intrusive – can earn the sought after brand loyalty that is the holy grail for the industry. How can this level of insight be reached? Achieving a 'single view' of your POS and CRM systems combined with your ecommerce, m-commerce, in-store and call centre channels can enable one view across your entire business for streamlining operations and ultimately improving your customer's experience.
  • The tech savvy seasonal worker will be a key ally: As retailers bring seasonal hires on board for the holidays, consider a technology background as criteria for employees who will be supporting digital ecommerce operations and distribution centres. A tech savvy skill set will be a key asset behind-the-scenes in your operations.
  • Shore up Security: In the era of multichannel retailing, ensure that online and mobility channels are secure. Protect public-facing websites and mobile applications which can be magnets for cyber thieves. While EMV, or chip & pin, appears to be helping prevent credit card fraud for in-store purchases, cyber thieves continue to focus on digital assets to find vulnerabilities. Also, use mobile device management for safeguarding employee access to corporate information; encrypting data; protecting against viruses; and, remote lock and wipe of critical corporate information from devices.
  • Prepare for the unexpected. Business continuity and disaster-recovery planning and implementation should top the lists of business concerns. It is critical to consistently monitor and test network redundancy and back-up solutions so that ecommerce platforms and physical store locations can be up and running again as quickly as possible in the event of an outage.

Will the 2016 Christmas season resemble the 'land grab' of last year where many of the old rules were broken, and competition for wallet share was fierce and often unpredictable? Only time will tell what the season will bring, but it's safe to say that the retailers who make the most of technology and cater to their customers will win.

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