As e-commerce demand surges, we need reminders to help us preempt problems and more time delivering excellent service.

As businesses everywhere continue to operate remotely, e-commerce is experiencing a new ongoing demand peak. The growing preference of customers to engage with brands from the comfort of their own home has retailers struggling to respond.

E-Retailers are used to managing multiple peak demand periods every year—from Black Friday to Valentine’s Day to Mother’s Day—but how prepared are they for this constant online demand peak that the pandemic is driving?

While peak seasons present retailers with significant revenue opportunities, the trends also place additional pressure to deliver exceptional customer experiences. With so many retailers now competing for consumers’ attention, retailers need to ensure they overcome the various obstacles in meeting demand. This requires strategic planning across every aspect of the business.

With this challenge in mind, here are the five key strategies proposed by Lan Wang, Regional Vice President, Solutions Consulting, of enterprise information management company OpenText, that retailers should consider to ensure they capitalize on the online shopping trend, and to earn the long-term loyalty of customers.

  1. Deploy 24/7 incident management and response
    A survey found that more than 70% of customers abandon their shopping carts at the first sign of a poor customer experience. Retailers must therefore ensure they consistently provide instant, reliable and secure access to their websites.

    To prepare for the welcome onslaught from online shoppers, 2020’s retail winners will be those that establish a team dedicated to round-the-clock incident management and response. They will also have clearly-defined incident management protocols, enabling their organization to immediately attend to incidents such as web traffic overloads or coding errors that compromise website performance. On top of this, retailers must circulate incident bridges and postpone non-urgent scheduled maintenance tasks to ensure they are fully-equipped and ready to handle the increased traffic volumes.

    Peak demand seasons are also prime times for cyberattacks. Successful attacks could render a website and a retailer’s services unavailable for hours, or even days. Preparing for the possible increase in cybercrime requires retailers to monitor spike loads: both trade-related and Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks.

    Adopt an effective cyber-resilience strategy to ensure swiftly response to recovery from a cyberattack, all the while keeping operations and good service intact.
  2. Set up a web operations room
    Prepare for a peak demand period by setting up a central clearinghouse for all communications within the business. The web operations team plays a critical role in monitoring the entire customer journey and managing any risk to trading or service. A web operations room will allow strong coordination between online and offline parts of the retail journey for customers.

    Members of the web operations team need to be in constant contact with the different service parts of the organization such as marketing, logistics, store operations and call centres. They need to be alerted to emerging issues and have to ensure all departments are working in tandem to combat them.

    The web operations room is also responsible for escalating decisions to the appropriate member(s) of the management team where necessary, and providing reports and updates as required.
  3. Prepare and schedule content on all channels
    The key to taking full advantage of an ongoing demand peak is a well-timed retail marketing campaign that serves up compelling content and is offered across multiple channels to attract and engage customers.

    Implementing such campaigns requires well-planned launch schedules, which should include details around the initial go-live strategy, any scheduled changes, and the takedown plan.

    In order to effectively roll out successful marketing campaign launch plans during any peak demand period, retailers require a content management platform that will allow them to tag all prepared content by location, channel, time, and customer segment. This will help the retailer stay organized and navigate the high traffic volumes. Moreover, these tags will come in handy for processes such as media buying and assigning budgets for keyword searches.

    Competition heightens during any peak demand period. Having a content management platform will also help retailers prepare and launch new offers with greater agility in response to competitors’ actions such as unprecedented flash sales, or when competitors sell out of trending products.

    As with the extra monitoring required on retailers’ websites, employees should also be assigned to pay close attention to social media channels during the peak demand period to spot any issues. Relevant escalation paths should be identified to ensure that all queries or comments are addressed in a timely and appropriate manner.
  4. Prepare contact-center staff
    As the first touchpoint for customer service, contact center staff play a pivotal role in managing inbound requests during peak shopping periods. Contact center team members should be ready to respond quickly and efficiently to every customer outreach, from complaints about missing or delayed shipments to queries about product availability and the retailer’s return or exchange policies.

    There are several tactics retailers should undertake to prepare contact center staff for peak demand periods. This preparation begins with training staff to manage significantly higher volumes of calls. Retailers also need to adjust standard scripts, employ extra service agents and put in place special procedures to reduce escalation.
  5. Increase resources at the distribution point
    Peak retail seasons always call for extra planning, particularly when it comes to distribution. This is especially important during the COVID-19 outbreak, where consumers have been ‘panic buying’ or ‘bulk buying’.

    All aspects of distribution, including the distribution centre, dropship vendors and trunking services, must be adequately resourced to meet anticipated higher volumes. Retailers also need to book and put away extra stock to cater to the increased volumes. Over and above these considerations, additional fulfillment capacity and resources as well as alternative supply sources, should all be tested and provisioned in the event they are needed.

    Also ensure communication and synchronization between distribution and marketing teams, as this will aid in projecting estimated volumes and allow products with higher volume predictions to be moved to front racks for easier picking.
  6. Customer experience first
    Undoubtedly, what used to be a race to the bottom for discounts, in a short-lived peak retail season, has evolved into a more diverse set of approaches to maximize the opportunity of an ongoing retail peak. With competition now stronger than ever, it pays to provide the best customer experiences as much as it pays to offer attractive discounts.

    With these five strategies in mind, retailers can ensure all aspects of their operations run smoothly during this pandemic. They will be able to meet the table stakes of efficient incident management and web operations, well-trained customer service staff and proper resource management, all of which result in excellent customer experiences every time.

    In today’s omnichannel landscape, a one-size-fits-all approach is no longer feasible. As such, retailers must start actioning these strategies well in advance—this ensures that all systems and launch plans are in good shape. Only then can they can spend less time resolving issues and more time focused on delivering excellent service during the constant retail peak that the pandemic will present in the near future.