How to Avoid 4 Common Pitfalls with Effective Peak Season Planning

| Retail

Retail stores in a busy mall

Peak seasons may vary from retailer to retailer and region to region. But for most, some dates – Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and winter sales, to name but a few – are guaranteed to push operational demands to the limit.

scaling for seasonal peaks

It pays to prepare for sales opportunities on this scale by looking at the level of people and inventory required to ensure success. Retailers that fail to prepare, prepare to fail. Better peak season planning before store doors open is essential.

This blog explores how it’s the ultimate stress test of operations, processes, people, and technology and discusses the four common pitfalls of not preparing thoroughly in the countdown to peak seasons.

Labor issues and poor user experience

A major consideration when planning for seasonal peaks is people. More workers are needed to manage store operations and order fulfillment.

According to the US Bureau of Labour Statistics, US retailers recruited 418,700 seasonal workers during the 2022 October and November holiday season.

However, recruiting workers in a highly competitive labor market is a significant challenge. As is training and onboarding them at speed – often in a matter of a few weeks or even days.

So how do you compete for talent and attract the right people? The answer is close at hand.

Workers increasingly want technology to make their roles easier and more interesting.

46% of frontline workers value the right technological tools to make their jobs easier stat

Retail workers also want technology that gives them the best user experience, such as intuitive interfaces, ergonomic design and real-time feedback – a need often overlooked by retailers when onboarding and placing new workers in stores.

Consider deploying easy-to-use and familiar smart devices for onboarding and empowering workers in their roles.

When paired with smart data capture, smart devices become indispensable tools for completing multiple tasks, such as inventory management, order fulfilment and customer assistance. All using a device that fits in their pocket and doesn’t have to be shared.

a retail worker fulfilling an online order

Overstocking or understocking

Meeting the demands of holiday season surges is a balancing act when it comes to inventory management. Overstocking ties up revenue and excess items cost money to store, while understocking can lead to stockouts and lost sales.

$1 tn

Research suggests that global retailers miss out on $1 trillion in sales through poor product availability.

Many factors influence inventory levels. A controllable element is accuracy when receiving goods or counting stock. However, a major cause of inaccurate inventory levels is manual counting, which in turn can impact stock availability.

Discrepancies between recorded stock and actual inventory are a major factor, with retailers reporting average inventory accuracy rates as low as 65%.

This issue worsens during peak seasons when time is tight and resources are stretched. Inventory checks are often delayed, done poorly or even fall through the cracks because workers are simply too busy.

The right technology can address the need for faster and more accurate inventory as part of smarter peak season planning.

Smart data capture on smart devices cuts the tedium of stock inventories by removing manual counting and by giving everyone access to the same, accurate stock data in real-time. It enables workers to:

stock checking in a retail store with an iPad

Below-par in-store customer experience

Calendar events such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday are undeniably a big draw for online and in-store shoppers. According to data from Adobe, sales of some items such as toys were up by 284% on Black Friday in 2022 compared to an average day in October.

This is excellent news for retailers, right? Yes, for those who are on top of peak-season planning and no, for those who aren’t.

In fact, seasonal peaks can have an adverse effect on sales (and not to mention brand reputation) if a retailer is ill-prepared.

It’s widely known that long queues lose sales. According to a study of US shoppers by Ayden, long lines in stores cost retailers a whopping $37.7 billion in sales each year.

Walkouts only worsen in a store environment bursting with bargain hunters during seasonal sales.

And it’s not only queuing that leads to lost sales. Waiting for a store associate, a lack of associate expertise, stock unavailability or long delivery times all impact the bottom line.

The trick is to plan for seasonal peaks and address the impact of poor customer experience head-on. Understanding what will make the biggest difference to your customers is the first step. More workers on the frontline, empowering existing ones with the right tools and giving customers choices in how they want to shop, for example, self-serving or spending time with skilled associates are all options that can be explored.

 Retail worker helping a customer with a mobile point of sale purchase.

Arming workers with a single, smart device equipped with smart data capture opens up many opportunities for engaging with customers. They can:

  • Answer questions with real-time stock, product and pricing information without leaving a customer’s side.
  • Complete mobile purchases anywhere in the store.
  • Quickly and accurately pick and pack online orders, ready for collection or delivery.

Read and watch how to scale up your store’s order fulfillment for peak season.

Customer using mobile self-scanning
Equally, smart data capture can power native and mobile apps so customers can:

  • Access product information and reviews.
  • Skip the line by using self-scanning or self-checkout.
  • Order products for delivery or pick up if an item isn’t stocked in that particular store.

Poorly planned promotions

Promotions are a critical part of retail operations, particularly during shopping holidays. Firstly, they entice customers back, and secondly, they help a retailer clear excess stock.

Events like Black Friday generate extra revenue and clear stock to make way for new trending items. Personalizing promotions to specific groups or even individuals can accelerate the performance of promotions.

Executing promotions requires consistency, both online and in-store, to ensure customers have the same seamless omnichannel experience. Anything less frustrates them enormously.

Promotions require a lot of label changes, which when done manually, can take workers a long time to validate and update prices.

It’s essential you prepare for this in your peak season planning by implementing an automated process for price verification. For example, smart data capture can quickly verify prices and provide immediate feedback to inform workers of a required action, such as printing a new label.

Also, the more relevant and personalized a promotion, the better it will perform.


McKinsey reports that 71% of consumers expect companies to deliver personalized interactions. And 76% get frustrated when this doesn’t happen.

Source: McKinsey: What is personalization

Consider a technology that enables customer and loyalty apps to serve up offers based on customer data, preferences and purchase history when they scan a product barcode or shelf-edge label.

Retail customers checking personalized offers using smart data capture.

Are you peak season ready?

With so many opportunities to maximize sales, why risk missing out? With effective peak season planning, you can get the most out of having more customers, more workers, more inventory, and more promotions.

Smart data capture on smart devices is a perfect technology choice that provides the necessary scalability, ease of use and insights that workers and customers need.

A Scalable Strategy for Holiday Season Success

Read our comprehensive guide to making the most of this holiday season here.

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