TECHNOLOGY

Tech Bytes: Four Tips for Pre-Holiday Prep

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

The back-to-school shopping season has barely ended. The east coast is still experiencing a smattering of 90-degree weather. The top trending Halloween costumes haven’t even been confirmed yet. But consumers don't care — for them, preparing their holiday shopping strategies are priority one. Note to retailers: it’s never too soon to follow their lead.

Industry observers are already predicting a 3.2% year-over-year (YoY) lift in holiday sales —a jump that will be driven partly by a 14.9% increase in YoY sales through digital channels, according to data from RetailNext.

That said, any retailer with an eye on their slice of this holiday pie shouldn't waste time getting their operations in order. Unsure where to begin?

Following are four projects sure to bolster any holiday IT prep list:

Improve Network Connections. With RetailNext predicting that digital sales could climb to 16% of total retail sales this year, unreliable retail networks are the fastest way for an unprepared brand to end up on the “Naughty List.” It is time to consider retiring legacy-based landlines, and future-proofing operations. The result: increased bandwidth and more secure information flowing through the pipeline. To achieve these goals, some brands will begin running networks in the cloud.

Attracted to its agility and low total cost of ownership, cloud-based networks enable companies to maintain traditional network functionality and services, including connectivity, security, management and control. The only difference is all capabilities are delivered as a service — a move that drives efficiency and lowers operating costs.

Adopt Unified Commerce Platforms. Customers have made it clear they want to channel-hop across a brand’s touch-points as easily as Santa’s reindeer can fly. This requires retailers to eliminate omnichannel back-end barriers once and for all — a move that enables them to deliver a holistic customer experience across the brand.

Expand Mobile Strategies. With the Rubicon Project’s “Holiday Consumer Pulse Poll” predicting that one in three consumers plan to shop on mobile devices this holiday season, retailers must be ready to service them. While mobile apps and optimized mobile Web sites are pre-requisites in a mobile strategy, brands must remember to leverage devices to personalize the shopping experience. This includes paying more attention to beacons and geofencing, personalized mobile-specific promotions, and maybe even Pokemon Go!-inspired in-store scavenger hunts. All efforts will further boost customer engagement.

Feature Flexible Fulfillment. Gift-givers have no intention of disappointing their loved ones this holiday season. This puts brands in the hot-seat to get merchandise into shoppers’ hands in a timely manner. Gone are the days when a retailer can operate a single warehouse or network of distribution centers dedicated to fulfilling omnichannel orders.

The unified shopping experience requires flexibility, visibility into customer demand, and immediate access to inventory. This is prompting retailers to step up “click-and-collect” efforts that leverage stores as fulfillment facilities for digital orders — a move that gives shoppers more flexibility in shipping time, product availability and reduced shipping costs.

Ready or not, the countdown to the 2016 holiday shopping season kick-off is underway. Rather than be left out in the cold, retailers need to pull out their holiday IT prep lists, and check them twice, if they want to compete for wallet share this holiday season.

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