By Stephen Duncan, Pronto Software

With just a handful of shopping days left before Christmas and post-Christmas sales, are you prepared for the last minute rush of shoppers? Recent data from the Australian National Retailers Association (ANRA) shows 9.7 per cent of men and 3.6 per cent of women expect to wrap up their shopping on Christmas Eve.

Is your supply chain optimised?
Ensuring the right stock is in the right stores might sound like a no brainier but it relies on a number of components all being in sync to ensure that no one cripples the greater ecosystem. Focus on what has already been a hot seller and what is proving harder to move off the floor. Ensure the warehouse is organised to cater high turnover lines as opposed to standard stock service and low turnover lines. How does your ecommerce structure integrate within the larger system? Are you stealing from Peter to pay Paul or is your infrastructure buoyant enough to manage both aspects of the supply chain.

Remember that a large percentage of clients evaluate products online and go into store to make the purchase. Knowing what products are being searched for will potentially give us an insight to what stock should be available in our bricks and mortar locations.

Another question to ask is there a store allocations structure in place to ensure the most appropriate stock is in the most effective locations to capitalise on the sale? These last minute shoppers don’t have time to spend digging for the right product, ensuring those products that will make great gifts take pride of place will make purchasing time faster.

Can customers find you?

Some reports claim that between 60 and 90 precent of customers research products online prior to making a purchase. Whatever the number is, it’s high. Do you have a search engine optimisation (SEO) plan? If you haven’t already, then now is the time to set up a Google Adwords campaign. This can provide an easy path to your website and invite your customers to engage with you early so it’s embedded in their subconscious when it comes time to purchase. Incorporating words that will appeal to the post-Christmas sales shopper will add a boost come time for those January sales!

Effective promotions
Managing promotions is an important aspect of driving sales during this and any other period. If you have stock to move, why not have a flash sale?  Whether it’s through advertising campaigns, catalogues or in-house promotions understanding their effect on your sales provides a valuable insight into the future. Although updating prices within the system works it makes sense to have a specific promotions engine that can consolidate all aspects of the promotion into the one campaign. Being able to aggregate the data is critical. Evaluating promotions and their effects on the greater sales and GP across the business enables us to generate a plan of attack as opposed to just incentivising your customers to spend less and focus on low margin specials.

Speak to your customers
Do you know your customers and what they are telling you via their purchases? Gone are the days where we blanket market in the hope that someone will respond. Having systems in place to capture customer information and purchasing patterns provides our businesses with the most effective opportunity to reach out and create a long term relationship. Whether it’s via a voucher system, points system or targeted SMS/email campaign the backbone is the data. Investing in a CRM system that consolidates the data into a single repository is critical to evaluating your customer base.

For larger companies like Coles and Woolworths this is what drives their purchasing and promotions. For the rest of us, I would suggest keeping it simple; make it easy for your staff to capture basic information within the POS system or via an online portal. Ensure that you electronically identify the customers whenever they purchase or interact with you. Encourage them to log in each time they are online. If you can view their previous purchases then this places you in a stronger position to service them. All this might sound obvious but often the integration points become too hard to manage. Maybe it’s time to overcome this hurdle.

Christmas is a great time to focus on the future of your business. Obviously we’ll be focused on customer service but don’t lose sight of the bigger, long term picture when it comes to improving the foundation of our operations. Evaluate where improvements can be made and put plans in place for 2013 to reconcile where the effort should to be focused. Who knows, this time next year you might be looking at improved sales with a revitalised landscape.