The risk of Christmas online shopping meltdown

Derek O’Carroll, CEO, Brightpearl discusses the impact lockdown could have on online shopping during the festive period – and why some families may not be getting their Christmas gifts on time. 

The BRC is warning that “Retailers face a nightmare before Christmas” after the new lockdown news. With Black Friday and Christmas shoppers being effectively pushed online during the lockdown there is now a real risk of a Christmas trade meltdown, with online shopping networks failing to cope with the huge increase in Christmas trade. Many retailers simply aren’t set up for such a switch to online, and to handle the increases in demand expected.

Shoppers normally spend upwards of £50bn on goods excluding food in the run up to Christmas, and while some consumers may limit themselves to essentials we can be fairly certain that the November lockdown will now push Brits to complete the bulk of their Black Friday and Christmas shopping online. There’s a real risk that our online shopping network will crumble as a result under the demand of Christmas trade.

Since Covid-19, reduced headcount and social distancing practices within the walls of warehouses and distribution centres mean retail businesses have already been struggling to manage the stresses and strains of increased ecommerce demand  – a problem which was only set to escalate further as online sales boomed over the holiday period.

Even before news of this lockdown, many retailers we work with warned that the tilt towards online shopping this Christmas meant they would be stretched to meet the huge uplift in orders expected. The situation is of course now much trickier, and the shift online driven by the latest restrictions could be monumental. I have real doubts that many firms are set up to cope – from warehouse, operational capacity, to their digital operations, and even delivery networks.

With more than 1 in 3 consumers having been let down by an online order this year, the November lockdown, timed with the impending influx of Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Christmas trade, could see widespread stockouts and delivery delays – and may even see people struggling to get their hands on Christmas gifts in time for the big day. Already, toy companies like The Entertainer have warned that the toy industry faces a struggle to get toys into children’s hands in time.

The threat facing the retail industry as Christmas trade soars is very real. Lockdown will present misery for much of the nation, and the one thing online businesses must do is try to safeguard seasonal deliveries – to make sure families get their gifts on time, as expected. This means retailers need to find solutions to ensure online deliveries are faster, more reliable and flexible – and the quickest way to do this is through automating everything after the buy button – from order processing to inventory and shipping.

Introducing automation into retail operations can help firms support social distancing in the warehouse, while at the same time ensuring orders are processed, picked and packed quickly and efficiently, without errors, while maintaining productivity levels. Online retailers can put a smile on all our faces this Christmas – and we need them to do so more than ever. Automation can be the answer to managing that sudden massive increase in Christmas demand – while still retaining the same high levels of service and speedy fulfilment.

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