By now we’ve all heard the rumblings (and the roars!) about how myriad challenges – backlogged ports, factory shutdowns, and shipping delays – are going to impact holiday shopping this year. According to Business Insider, the cargo ships waiting off the coast of California are creating record backlog. We don’t want to minimize the serious impact of these substantial roadblocks – especially as the retail industry enters the eight-week holiday shopping window that accounts for a big portion of many businesses’ annual sales – but we also want to acknowledge that there are steps you can take to prepare for and successfully work around the issues.

1. Be up-front with your customers

Chances are, your customers have heard about many of these issues and have concerns they might not be able to buy the gifts and goods they want for the holidays. Address their concerns directly, through touchpoints like social media, advertisements and emails. They want to hear from you, and they want to know the steps you’re taking. For instance, encourage customers to shop early, to sign up to be notified when an out-of-stock item is back in stock, etc.

2. Kick-off the holidays earlier than usual

Early holiday shopping is anticipated this year. Additionally, 27% of holiday shoppers plan to start Christmas shopping by the end of September. If your customers are concerned that supplies are limited, it makes sense that they will shop early, hoping to avoid out-of-stock disappointment. Be ready for them by taking steps like adding extra staff to handle increased sales volume.

3. Rethink promotions

As the price for goods – and for shipping and delivering goods – goes up, it leaves less room for discounts and sales, two traditions during past holiday seasons. This year, rather than offering big discounts or slashing prices, consider promotions that encourage loyalty (after all, repeat customers are your best customers), offer bundles (combining two or more items), and consider high-value, low-cost freebies with purchase.

4. Prepare for more in-person shopping

Ed Desmond, Executive Vice President of the Toy Association, says that more in-person shopping is expected this year than compared to the 2020 holidays, when the country was in the middle of a deadly winter surge of the coronavirus. Again, be ready for in-person shoppers by taking steps like creating plans for how to keep the shelves stocked when inventory is low. Well-designed visual merchandising and signage will entice shoppers to stop in and quickly drive up sales by displaying the most popular items in windows and high traffic areas. Give shoppers more time during the busiest time of year, especially the procrastinators and last-minute shoppers, by extending your store hours.

5. Hone in on your most popular items

With so much in flux, some companies are finding solace (and sales) in the classics. In addition to stocking up on your customers traditional favorites, consider including less variation than you might normally offer. For instance, if a cotton v-neck tee is your signature item, offer it in your best-selling colors and top-selling sizes, without taking too many chances by including unique or unusual hues, or sizing too far beyond either side of what’s standard.

6. Consider supplier alternatives

If the clogged ports and shipping delays have you rethinking some of your vendors, and your company is in a position to get your products from other sources, consider finding local or USA-based suppliers. This reduces delivery time and allows you to market the products as “local”. There are also huge benefits here in regards to reducing carbon footprint which is a major consideration for 32% of US consumers who are prioritizing companies that are actively reducing their impact on the environment.

7. Find shipping alternatives

As national shipping carriers face staffing issues and major backlogs, look for local and regional alternatives. If you can, consider building up your own delivery services, even at a local level, to help relieve some of the shipping pressures.

8. Embrace technology

The retail market is moving quickly. To stay competitive, your technology needs to be adaptable, scalable and on-point this holiday season. Worldwide eCommerce retail sales in 2020 were 4.28 trillion USD and are projected to grow to 5.4 trillion dollars in 2022.

IBM Sterling

Customers are expecting a fluid experience from end-to-end, and you can shape their overall experience to increase conversions and build brand loyalty. IBM experts can help you successfully navigate a sea of challenges with eCommerce. It’s always the right time to get on board with our offerings, or to add-on to the IBM solutions you currently employ. Here’s a trio of ways we can help:

Dynamic inventory – Avoid lost revenue from out-of-stock goods with dynamic inventory. With IBM Sterling, you can combine inventory intelligence with real-time data and be proactive about store transfers to optimize your safety stock. Keeping a minimal amount of safety stock is a balance of the right amount of extra stock while keeping reasonable inventory costs.

Intelligent promising – Improve eCommerce conversions and reduce cart abandonment with intelligent promising. Make and manage order promises with accurate delivery dates for customers, and easily support even the most complex scenarios, including orders that from third-party services and multi-brand orders.

Fulfillment optimization – Handle rising fulfillment costs from growing complexity and heightened customer expectations with fulfillment optimization. With advanced data science to achieve multiple objectives, you can optimize profitability by balancing various business goals while delivering the best customer experience, from discovery to delivery.

Preserve brand trust by providing shoppers with greater certainty, choice and transparency across their buying journey this holiday season. Explore how to improve digital conversions and in-store sales while increasing omnichannel profitability with IBM Sterling Intelligent Promising.

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