Adapting to a new kind of holiday season

This holiday season is set to be unlike anything most retailers will have ever faced. The whole retail landscape has been reshaped by the pandemic, creating widespread uncertainty and unique challenges across the sector—especially for the holidays.

With the peak season almost upon us, what can retailers do now to adapt and prepare? There are three areas that need their particular attention.

1. Avoid a supply chain crunch

The immediate priority is to ensure the business can manage what will likely be intense ecommerce demand over the holidays.

While store footfall may be considerably lower than previous years, ecommerce is set for another big surge. Accenture’s 2020 Holiday Shopping Survey shows that three-quarters of consumers plan to do at least some of their holiday shopping online. And nearly half plan to shop exclusively online.

To meet new customer expectations around ecommerce, it’s vital that retailers adapt their supply chains, fulfillment operations, and digital capabilities now. Those who had already invested in capabilities like seamless customer experience, real-time inventory visibility, and flexible supply networks will be well positioned to step up and capture market share.

Smoothing out peaks in demand will also help supply chains manage the holiday season. That means finding ways to encourage consumers to do their shopping earlier than usual. Being smart about timings, such as staggering promotions and offers for specific items, is one way to think about this.

2. Use data to navigate the uncertainty

The reality of the pandemic is that no one can be certain what the next twelve months hold, let alone this holiday season. So, this year’s retail planning will need to be much more responsive and flexible.

The key is to embed new ways of working and be operationally agile. And for that, you need good data and strong analytics. Just as a pilot uses data from their instrumentation to fly in poor visibility, so retailers need to use insights from advanced analytics to guide their businesses through the coming uncertainty.

That means having high quality linked data accessible in close to real time. It means hyper-localized supply and demand forecasting based on machine learning. It means accelerating the use of cloud to increase operational resilience and flexibility. It means adaptive supply chains and fulfillment capabilities that can recover from disruption quickly.

3. Be true to the brand purpose

More than ever, consumers are looking for brands to live up to their values and demonstrate a genuine commitment to a new climate of environmental and social responsibility. In fact, at Accenture, we believe this is going to be such a fundamental part of retail we think of it as a new management approach.

Sustainability and responsibility should also be a central part of any retail strategy for this holiday season. There are few better examples of this than how retailers look after their employees. Our survey revealed, for example, that a big majority of consumers (76 percent) support retailers closing on Thanksgiving to give workers a well-deserved day off to spend with their families.

Consumers have seen what a critical role frontline retail workers have played in very difficult circumstances this year—and they’re watching how retailers respond. There has never been a more important time for retailers to be authentic and clearly communicate what they are doing to look after their employees and the wider community.

Looking beyond the holidays

The good news is that the capabilities needed to manage this holiday season will continue to help retailers adapt quickly in the future. Linked data, real time supply and demand analytics, adaptable and agile supply networks, resilience to disruption, and authentic commitments to social responsibility: all of these are essential components of retail’s future.

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