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Holiday Retail Readiness: Making Lists and Checking Them Twice

It is officially October, which, for most of the country, means Halloween decorations, pumpkin spice everything and the arrival of cooler weather. Retailers, however, are already deep into “Holiday Mode”, preparing for the exponential increase in customer, sale and return volume that begins before Thanksgiving and continues through to the New Year.

Over the years, we’ve supported many Retail IT clients (both traditional and e-Commerce); some of our consultants have even worked in Retail IT themselves. This experience has given us a huge appreciation and respect for the effort it takes to execute and deliver a successful holiday season, both for customers and employees.

For many retailers, the best way to prepare for the holiday season is to create detailed checklists and plans of action. Of the questions we’ve seen retailers ask, some of the most common are:

  1. Will all IT projects and critical bug fixes be completed in time for the holidays?
  2. Will both store and call center systems operate seamlessly to minimize system interaction time and maximize customer experience?
  3. Are controls in place to maximize data security?
  4. Will the website support the anticipated record breaking Cyber Monday at its peak performance?
  5. Will distribution center systems be able to handle increased order and subsequent return volume?
  6. Is there time to test system preparedness and document results to avoid unexpected malfunctions?
  7. Can employees keep up with daily financial settlement cut-off times?
  8. Are IT systems equipped to monitor accurately data regarding inventory volume, availability and pricing?
  9. Will the Accounting Department have the support they need during year-end close process?
  10. Last, but certainly not least, have we provided for 24*7 monitoring and availability to support both customer-facing and back-office systems and processes? How will this coverage affect the already understaffed and overworked IT department?

We are extremely confident that the answer to all of the above questions is a resounding “YES!” However…in the off-chance that the holidays have sneaked up on you (as they are apt to do) and your “YES!” is not quite so resounding as you might like, we’ve outlined a few tips and suggestions that can be easily and quickly implemented:

  1. Talk with every business department about their plans and their absolute “Must-Haves” to deliver exceptional service
  2. Communicate to all departments what issues are not going to be resolved and agree on workarounds
  3. Set a firm code freeze date – do not allow any system changes beyond that point
  4. Get with your key vendors (technology, product, etc.) to get their status on holiday readiness – it takes multiple parties to deliver great service
  5. Stress test your e-Commerce infrastructure to make sure it can handle double the expected volume. Be sure to resolve issues before Cyber Monday
  6. Implement a sales audit process
  7. Have a Plan B to transact manually should your systems experience an outage. Train your staff in this protocol, as well as in the subsequent catch-up and reconciliation process
  8. Do not schedule physical inventory during holiday season (or too close to it) – your employees will thank you!
  9. Start year-end close process now – this way, you can resolve exceptions and clean up interfaces ahead of schedule
  10. Take the time to train a robust IT support team. Provide them with a full list of additional tasks, functions and expectations for 24*7 coverage (Monitoring and maintaining these systems is no small feat: the complexity of Retail IT Systems, and their varied interactions, inspired Value Global to create a Managed Services offering specifically for retailers, BPSM², which monitors both individual systems and their cross-functionality)

Happy Holiday Season, Retailers! We hope we’ve made it a little manageable by outlining a To-Do List that addressed at least a few of your most pressing items. Next week, we’ll help you start that 2016 Strategic Road Map by reviewing the pros and cons of a new Point of Service system, so stay tuned!

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