Longer days and warmer weather signals the approach of peak retail season for Australia’s dynamic, resilient but embattled retail sector. Rate hikes and cost of living pressures have seen consumer spending soften in 2023, which makes the approaching peak season all the more welcome. Events like the recently concluded Afterpay Day, and the approaching Black Friday, Christmas rush and Boxing Day Sales are a great opportunity to boost sales, revenue and customer loyalty.

While discretionary spending has eased, Australians are still eager to spend – particularly during shopping events where they can capitalise on good deals and sales. And while Afterpay Day was a great opportunity to drive revenue and retention, it also enabled retailers to gain insights and learnings to optimise their strategy for the upcoming peak season.

Technology solutions

First, assess your tech stack before peak season. Based on the recent Afterpay Day rush, ask yourself questions like; Was your customer service able to effectively manage the increased load? Did you successfully handle the distribution of online orders? Were day-to-day tasks manageable? Were orders delivered on time? Were your customers happy with their shopping and delivery experiences? If you answered no to any of these questions, then it’s important to re-think your tech stack before it inhibits peak season for you.

Then ask yourself about your broader technology approach. For example, were you getting high rates of cart abandonment? Were customers calling up to ask questions that could’ve been answered on your website? Were you unsure what products were popular or unpopular? If you answered yes, it’s important to analyse your online store, and understand how you can improve the check-out process, make your site easier to navigate and that you have good access to data analytics, so all the small details are under control for the biggest time of the year.

Delivery is the next frontier

Delivery is perhaps the biggest, but most overlooked, driver of loyalty in the wake of the eCommerce boom. An efficient, convenient and transparent delivery system can play a huge role in the success of your peak season period. Get it right this peak season and customers will return time and again; get it wrong and their loyalty is infinitely harder to secure.

Consumer expectations for seamless, fast and flexible delivery are higher than ever, and their tolerance when those expectations aren’t met are lower than ever. Consumers don’t have patience to wait weeks for overseas deliveries, so we’re expecting many shoppers to find local retailers this peak season. To address this, and to capitalise on the potential demand, retailers must be strategic in their delivery and inventory management. 

Prioritising local fulfilment centres and establishing partnerships with multiple courier services can significantly reduce delivery times and build contingency into your supply chain. While not all retailers can offer 24/7 fulfilment, like Amazon, clearly communicating delivery timelines is essential – especially with cut-off times for Christmas.

Additionally, offering options such as express or same-day delivery, especially for essential or urgent items, can give you a competitive edge. Real-time tracking and free shipping incentives are some other ways to improve customer satisfaction and, therefore, retention. Delivery is essential, and leaves a lasting impression.

Inventory management

Strategic inventory management is essential for ensuring smooth operations during peak seasons. In light of recent declines in consumer spending, many retailers will likely be sat on excess inventory. Effective inventory management enables you to stay on top of your stock, managing it and promoting it strategically. For example, leveraging data-driven insights from Afterpay Day and your in-stock items could help you identify products that could be in-demand, or could be cleared  with a discount. Then there’s organising it.

Local inventory presents an opportunity for retailers to enhance their supply chains. This approach involves strategically placing inventory closer to where customers are rather than centralised warehouses. Retailers are leveraging their existing store networks to tap into local inventory, employing methods like “ship-from-store” to fulfil online orders.

The primary benefits of local inventory are meeting the demand for quicker deliveries, reducing shipping costs for both retailers and customers, and contributing to a more environmentally friendly approach.

By reflecting on learnings from AfterPay Day, retailers can gain valuable insights into how to navigate the upcoming peak season successfully. With a focus on evolving consumer needs and wants, efficient delivery, optimised inventory management, and smart technology solutions, you can create a shopping experience that meets customers’ expectations and boosts sales and customer loyalty.

Rob Hango-Zada is co-founder and co-CEO of Shippit.