Tips to maximise retail success in quarter four [updated for 2022]
As the kids start to go back to school (and many parents breathe a sigh of relief!) most of us use the opportunity for a new start as well. Quarter four is where retail businesses are gearing up for their busiest time of the year, where the bulk of sales tend to be made. With so many potential sales events on the calendar between September and the start of January, there is a lot of work to be done to make sure your business makes the best possible profits.
With that in mind, getting prepared for the coming busy time is going to be absolutely key to the success of your business. Since the next three months will fly past in a blur of orders, dispatching and dealing with returns, we’ve put together our top tips to get done over the next week or two to keep you ahead of the game.
Check your metrics
As a manager of a successful retail business, you’ll be doing this pretty regularly anyway, but it is even more important while you’re planning for quarter four. Carefully assessing your business reporting and sales figures will give you an awful lot of information that will help you to optimise your listings, sales channels and ultimately, your profits.
Ensure your sales channels are working for you
Multichannel and omnichannel retail has been a thing for quite some time now, and if you’re working within either of these models, you’ll understand the benefits of adding sales channels to your setup. Most businesses that are selling online will have a presence on Amazon and eBay. But they aren’t the only marketplaces that you can sell through, and might not be the best ones for your business.
Looking at your sales figures for each marketplace separately can help you to identify where you might be able to sell more effectively. If you don’t make enough sales on a marketplace to cover the cost of the listing fees, then you need to establish whether there is an issue with your listings being found, such as typos in keywords, or whether it is as simple as your target customer just doesn’t shop there.
If you’re listing on a marketplace simply because you’re worried about missing sales but the figures tell you you’re not actually making sales there, trust the data! Don’t lose money by continuing to list there, ‘just in case’ someone decides to buy. If they really want that product, they will find it from you on a different sales channel. The beauty of eCommerce is that you can stop listing on a platform that isn’t serving you at any time, and start again if, or when, you have products that do suit that marketplace.
Assess other marketplaces
Once you’ve assessed the marketplaces you’re currently selling through, it is time to check whether there are others that could help you to make sales. Amazon and eBay can be really hard to make great profits on, since whichever listing is cheapest typically wins the sale.
Your multichannel order management software will usually have a long list of integrations, apps or connections to different marketplaces. These make listing simple and automates sending of order and shipping information between you and the marketplace, so you don’t have to send the information manually. Starting your assessment with that list is often a good first step, since it will be easy to add those channels to your existing setup, but it doesn’t have to stop there.
Selling on smaller, and newer marketplaces where there is less competition can enable you to make more sales, without needing to squeeze your profit margins on products quite as much. Many of these smaller marketplaces use a commission model rather than charging listing fees, meaning you can sell there with much lower risk, and use them to test new products.
We put together a post about choosing sales channels earlier in the year, so if it has been a while since you chose a new marketplace, head there for a refresher.
Eliminate the products that aren’t selling
You’ll know which products are your best sellers already – you can probably recite their product descriptions and SKUs off the top of your head. During quarter four, it is essential that you’re running your business with as much efficiency as possible, and that might mean not selling some of the products that are currently in your inventory. If you’re using the DropShipping model to extend your inventory, you can drop the items that aren’t selling pretty quickly, with no problems.
If your business holds inventory in your own warehouse, you may need to decide what to do with products that aren’t selling – after all, that is money that is tied up while it isn’t selling! Using options such as creating bundles, running special offers and discounts, or promoting them on your social media channels is a great way to encourage sales, which frees up that cash to invest in better stock.
Revise your listings
Checking that your listings are in perfect shape might not be a quick task, but it is an essential one. While typos happen (even to the best of us!) keeping your listings as perfect as possible is an essential factor in improving customer trust, both on your own website and on marketplaces. There are countless products being sold by overseas sellers and long delivery times, but many customers avoid buying from these sellers since they don’t know if they will actually ever receive their goods. Ensuring your listings have as close to perfect English as possible is essential to prevent customers thinking your listing is from an overseas seller, and buying from your competitor.
If you are lucky enough to have someone on your team that can proofread and edit your listings, get them on the task, and if they can make suggestions to improve your listings, so much the better. If you don’t have anyone on your team that can do that for you and your spelling isn’t perfect, then as a bare minimum you should use spellcheck in Word, and run your listings through a tool such as Grammarly to pick up any spelling, punctuation or grammar mistakes.
Evaluate your website
Your website is the front for your business, and when customers search for your company name, it needs to convey the right impression. If your ‘back to school’ banner is still in place at the end of September, it implies that either you haven’t been bothered to update it, or that there is a problem in your business. Either way, it isn’t going to fill new customers with confidence that your brand is worth doing business with. Getting the home page of your website looking great is essential, making sure that special offers and features are prominently displayed, as is scheduling updates for your special offers and seasonal products.
At the back end of your website, be sure that everything is as secure as possible. Carry out security checks, install patches and make sure any apps and add-ons that you’re using to provide functionality are updated. If you don’t have the skills to carry out such checks and updates, getting a developer to carry out essential checks is really advisable. Although it may cost, it is money well spent, since the last thing you need during quarter four is for your website to be offline, or to be exposed to an attack by hackers that results in a costly data breach (those GDPR fines are frightening!) or for money to be stolen as a result of financial information being taken.
Get your calendar up to date
Your calendar is one of your biggest allies for keeping the fourth quarter of the year running smoothly. Time will run pretty quickly and you’ve got a lot to take care of, so knowing what is coming and exactly how long you have left at a glance will help you remain on track.
There are a number of ways that you can get yourself organised – wall planners can make it easy for the entire team to see what is happening and when, but it is easy to forget to update them, and if you’re out of the office, you can’t access that information. Keeping your planning on the calendar attached to your email account – be that Gmail, Outlook or whichever one came with your website hosting – means that you will be able to have access to it wherever you are. If you’re out and about, you can access it on your smartphone, at your PC you can have it open in your browser or view it in desktop Outlook.
Go through and add all the key dates that you know will prompt shoppers to make purchases. In the UK, these will include:
Halloween – 31st October
Bonfire Night/ Guy Fawkes Night – 5th November
Diwali – 14th November
Thanksgiving – 26th November
Black Friday – 27th November
Cyber Monday – 30th November
Hanukkah – 18th to 26th December
Last day for next day delivery – 23rd December
Christmas Eve – 24th December
Christmas Day – 25th December
Boxing Day – 26th December
New Year’s Eve – 31st December
While this list includes most of the biggest dates for retailers through quarter four, it isn’t a comprehensive calendar. You should check your target customer information to make sure you have marked any other dates that you need to be aware of. Add other religious holidays that may be relevant, sporting events and so on – although sporting events may not result in additional sales, they are almost certainly the sort of thing you will want to be including in your social media posts.
While most of us born in the UK don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, and Black Friday has only recently been adopted by the UK, we’ve included it since the dominance of Amazon and other US retailers means that customers are more aware of the holiday, and now use the date as the trigger to start purchasing their gifts for Christmas.
Plan your content and social media posts
Your content marketing efforts will have helped you to build your business to the point you are at right now, so don’t allow it to slide just because it gets busy. Planning ahead will help you to schedule posts in your preferred social media management tool (we adore Hubspot), and will keep you from feeling the pressure to throw something together the night before, when you’ve already endured a long day. If you’re going to create all your posts using a design tool, you’ll need to schedule time to get this done, even if you’re using resources such as stock video rather than original content.
If you’ve got employees that help you to manage your content, ensuring they know your vision for your social media, blog and video content during Q4 will allow them to bring that to life, while giving them some free rein to indulge their creativity.
Keeping your content and social media calendar(s) online, so that you can overlay it with your everyday calendar will help you know exactly what is scheduled for each day, whether there is anything you still need to finalise and so on.
Mark any out of office on your calendar
Knowing when you’re going to be missing a team member can help you to manage your workload, getting ahead when you have a full team and prioritising tasks to make the best use of the people you have available when people are out on leave.
Since Q4 is also traditionally when coughs, colds and flu start to impact the population, (and that is before we consider the unknown of how COVID-19 might unfold through the autumn and into the winter months!) so knowing if you already have a team member on annual leave is essential for when you get those messages telling you “I can’t come in today…”.
Add additional products
Adding more products to your inventory used to mean having to tie up your capital in stock – but as eCommerce has evolved, there are more options available to retailers who want to be able to extend their offering while keeping their cash available for other use. Adding seasonal products, without the risk of dead stock, or trialling new products without actually investing in them is easier than ever using DropShipping.
While DropShipping has traditionally been associated with get rich quick schemes, usually associated with cheap products from China that have long lead times, that doesn’t have to be the case. Many retailers – both eCommerce and those in high street locations are increasing the number of products they have available for their customers by DropShipping from UK suppliers.
While DropShipping from suppliers in China can still be an option, DropShipping from UK suppliers provides a much better opportunity for UK sellers. DropShipping from UK suppliers has the benefit of:
- The products already being in the country, eliminating delays with importing the items
- Customs fees and import taxes have already been dealt with
- UK suppliers generally pick, pack, and dispatch to the same standards that are demanded by Amazon for Prime orders
- Low risk of undelivered orders
- Where there is an issue with an order, suppliers have native English-speaking teams handling their support
- Returns and resends can be completed within a few days, rather than weeks
Finding the best UK suppliers doesn’t have to take up lots of time. Using a platform like Avasam to source products is a quick and easy way to find the items you want to sell, without having to invest any cash up front. Starting with a free account, you can add the products you want from any number of suppliers to your inventory, list them on your sales channels and start selling those items immediately. There is no wait for approval, or other delays in getting started, and if you’re already using an inventory and order management system, Avasam can connect with that so your products from the platform simply show up as another stock location, with all inventory levels updated automatically.
Once you’re listing products from Avasam, you can stop selling them at any time with absolutely no penalties. So for example, you might remove Santa hats from your inventory on the last posting day before Christmas, and replace them with the sort of products your customers want in the new year like healthy eating products and workout gear.
Of course, the Santa hats option is just one example of seasonal goods that might work for you – referring to your calendar, and those key sales dates we mentioned earlier is a good place to start adding more products. You’ll need to look at your niche, and your target customer in order to identify the right seasonal products – with the benefit of if something doesn’t end up appealing to your customers in the way that you expected, you can simply stop selling it.
Streamline your warehouse
This won’t apply to all retailers, but if you’re dispatching from a warehouse location then getting your space up to scratch with all your best sellers strategically located for your team to pick them quickly is an important thing to get done before the rush starts. If you’ve got things in your warehouse that shouldn’t be there, get them out of the way and ensure your team know the importance of keeping the place tidy in terms of keeping orders flowing out quickly. If you’re not yet using technology to help your team pick, pack and dispatch quicker, then consider investing in handheld scanners, or using apps installed on smartphones that can scan barcodes using the camera to speed up your processes.
Optimise your customer experience
Getting set up for quarter four might be mostly about you, but don’t forget about your customer experience just because you’re processing so many more orders per day. Preparing for those orders now means that you are ready for the rush. Prepare your email templates, make sure your packaging is ordered in plenty of time, and that you’ve considered the unboxing experience. Wrapping products in few sheets of tissue paper and a sticker with your company logo costs less than a penny, or you might add a leaflet offering 10% off their next purchase over £25 (for example). These are all things that can make a big difference to the reputation of your company, and help encourage your customers to convert to long-term fans of your brand.
Many customers rely on getting their orders from marketplaces such as eBay and Amazon, but those who are prepared to look outside of those platforms want proof that you aren’t going to let them down. Making your business available on review websites such as Trustpilot, Reevoo, and Feefo mean that customers can leave good reviews where they have encountered your best service. Since businesses are unable to remove or change bad reviews, they are assured that reviews are honest.
The fact that you can’t hide negative reviews often deters businesses from listing on this type of website, but in reality, most customers know that there is always at least one customer that hasn’t had a good experience with a business. In many cases, it isn’t even the business that is at fault – couriers or postal services causing delays with shipping, for example. Where this is the case, simply responding to the review in a pleasant manner and advising that you will be reaching out to them by phone or email (or inviting them to contact you if you aren’t able to identify them) will reassure other customers that your intentions are good and if there is an issue with their order, your service will be appropriate.
As we’ve been told our whole lives, proper preparation will prevent poor performance – and nowhere is that truer than in the world of retail, both on- and offline. While you’re getting geared up for the rush, and you’re identifying where there is gaps in your inventory, talk to us about getting those gaps filled so that you can meet the demands of your customers and maximise your profits with little additional effort on your part. You can sign up for your free account here, or book a call so that we can help you get set up with no downtime, and with absolutely no risk – you won’t pay a penny upfront, only after your customers place their orders with you.
The pandemic might have largely gone away now – or at least, we hope! – but the impact will be felt forever in retail. The shift further towards eCommerce means that this quarter four is likely to be the biggest ever. While the industry is like to break records this year, we hope you have your biggest success this year too – and we hope you’ll find that Avasam will help you achieve it.
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