How online stores can take steps to stop the Grinch from stealing Christmas

The Christmas rush has started. The postal service warned South African residents that if they want their Christmas parcels sent abroad to arrive on time, they must have been sent by October – so they may already be too late.

Can purchasing gifts online for local delivery also experience delays? Sadly, yes. Even if gift orders are placed online today, the parcels may still not arrive on time for Christmas.

It was reported last year that a major South African online retailer had experienced a massive amount of online ordering in November and December, only to disappoint 7% of their shoppers with late Christmas delivery. A Johannesburg mother who chose to do her Christmas shopping online, was only notified on 20th December that the book she had ordered on the 1st December, was out of stock. She also had to break it gently to her nine year old daughter that her DVD would arrive only two days after Christmas because the online retailer originally sent it to the wrong address.

However there are steps that online stores can take to stop the Grinch from stealing Christmas.

Data Integration for Happy Holidays

Holiday orders can be managed more efficiently by integrating data automatically across different ERP, CRM, and eCommerce systems. By enabling data to flow seamlessly through every stage of the sales cycle, from order to delivery, it’s easier to track deliveries and to know in advance if there is a problem, so that presents can still arrive on time.

Integration also helps manage the data tsunami by reducing the amount of time it takes to manually enter data. Systems can share data and automatically update each other. Agents can process more sales in less time while reducing the likelihood of data being entered incorrectly, like when a gift is sent to the wrong address.

Data integration can also include real time updates of what’s ordered minute by minute to know which items to re-order to prevent a customer from ordering out-of-stock merchandise. Real time tracking should also include all the necessary shipping materials.

A point-to-point integration based on a short term ROI, can be the simplest form of integration. But if in the near future more than two systems will be connected, it’s better to consider selecting a robust process-based integration platform that can use certified connectors to bring together systems from all of the major vendors.

Scale Up for Bigger Volumes

Data integration is important, but it’s also important to predict with a certain level of accuracy the amount of processing power you will need to manage potentially the highest volume of transactions during the busiest time of the year. One of the worst nightmares for retailers is a poor user experience that can sabotage online orders. Heavy transaction loads can lead to slow processing, making customers abandon their shopping carts.

If you have seasonal products, designed to be sold especially during the holiday season, you need to prepare for unusually higher levels of online activity. Comparing month over month, year over year to predict data volumes may not be enough. It’s also important to take into account business growth over the year.

When the holiday season is over, your data processing volumes will continue. The week following Christmas can deliver up to 10% of overall sales over the holiday period. The speed of processing during the post-holiday season is also important for handling returned items. There is typically a high level of price volatility over the holidays, so when there is a return, it’s important to have processes that track the exact amount charged so that the correct amount will be refunded.

An integration platform, besides managing data consistently across systems, also has elastic capacity that can accommodate a dramatic increase in data volumes.

Research suggests that more South Africans will shop online this holiday season. PayPal research reported that 58% of online adults in South Africa shopped online over the past 12 months, amounting to an estimated total spend of R37.1bn.

Managing data with a high degree of efficiency and confidence is essential to providing the best possible customer experience. Data integration can be an important factor to ensure that Santa and his elves deliver the presents on time this holiday season.

By Kerry Hope, Business Development Manager, Magic Software South Africa

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