Tis the season to test your multi-channel experience to breaking point

It might feel like Christmas is coming earlier every year, but this year it really is – according to research by the Ideal Home Show, the average person has been shopping for gifts since 24th October, and will have purchased 14 presents by the time December begins.

In theory, this should make things easier for retailers, as it spreads consumer activity across a broader time frame. However, 2014 is set to be one of the most complex Christmases on record for multi-channel retail businesses.

Why?

The rise of click and collect will see cross-channel activity surge. It’s estimated that 95% of online shoppers will use click and collect this Christmas rather than wait around all day for a delivery.

For the store, this means sales associates are having to deal with two distinct strands of shopper; those who’ve arrived to collect an order, and those in search of goods.

This influx of click and collectors increases not only traffic on the shop floor, but the strain on resources – more people logging onto in-store WiFi, longer queues, the increased complexity of processing online orders and additional transactions resulting from impulse purchases.

In theory it sounds like a fantastic opportunity for multi-channel retailers. However, gain can quickly turn to pain if your business does not have the optimum operational set-up or a robust network to cope with the pressure placed on it during the festive period.

Now more than any other time of the year, consumers’ tolerance levels are low. Particularly if they’ve ordered online, shoppers want to be in and out of your store as quickly as possible. This relies on both a well-managed in-store experience and a smooth collection process – both of which rely on operational technology being used to its greatest effect.

The Christmas rush may have already begun, but retailers still have time to act before it reaches its peak. Multi-channel businesses are well advised to align their systems, staff and stores sooner rather than later, rather than count the cost of poorly handled cross-channel custom in the New Year.