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Now's the time to get festive-fit

4th Sep 2017
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Many UK retailers – including the largest supermarkets – have hosted their ‘Christmas in July’ product showcases, highlighting that the countdown to the festive season is already well under way.

Press, analysts, suppliers and industry representatives were invited by the likes of Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Poundland and Hotel Chocolat to check out what is planned for December and the wider build-up to retail’s busiest period of the year.

Although the baking hot weather the UK experienced in July probably meant Christmas wasn’t any further from consumers’ minds, it’s encouraging to see retailers preparing for peak well in advance. And here’s why:

In tough times, retailers must make peak count

Although some sectors are performing better than others, retail sales figures remain relatively flat – and a good performance over Christmas could make or break a retailer’s year.

Consumer spend is being squeezed, with average pay not keeping pace with inflation and people’s capacity to splash out on discretionary items stunted. But every year, Christmas gives people an excuse to spend – and retailers will need to tap into this enthusiasm and optimise their offer at a time shoppers are in spending mode.

Ensuring the right level of stock is in place at the correct price, and guaranteeing in-store, online and delivery systems can stand up to the inevitable increase in shopper demand, should be considered now. Once the Black Friday-triggered end-of-year shopping rush is under way, it’ll be too late to address these problems.

Retailers need to get the most from stores

With consumer spending sluggish, stores need to price their Christmas goods accordingly – Asda is actually selling baubles 15p lower than in 2016. And if the planning for festive products is already taking place, so too should staffing – because the role of the store associate increases in importance in December.

Our latest research suggests stores need to get maximum productivity from their staff – and enable them to deliver their key role of customer problem solving.

It also found that customer service is by far the biggest influence on shopper retention and loyalty, with half of respondents saying it was the decisive factor in whether they purchase from the same retailer in the future. Get this right at Christmas, at a time of high shopper stress and pressure, and stores can maximise their value in the eyes of the consumer.

Customers want improvements

Retailers must be on top of their game all year round when it comes to customer service, but the busy Christmas period is when they really need all their systems and platforms to function effectively and work in harmony.

Our research picked out the key areas consumers would like to see retailers enhance over the next five years – and these demands inevitably get amplified during times of stress, such as Christmas.

Better stock availability in the store and online was cited by 36% and 31% of consumers respectively, while quicker service, better product information and greater channel consistency across in-store, online and mobile were the desired areas for improvement.

If these are the major concerns shoppers have in general, it will be vital for retailers to address them as soon as they can. Such planning will be crucial to make sure their grand plans detailed during Christmas in July are delivered seamlessly when the real festive season arrives.

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