christmas sproutsChristmas shopping puts huge demands on retail capacities

Retailers need to think fast to meet Christmas shopping demands and ensure shelves remain stocked and customers are not disappointed.

Love it or hate it, Christmas shopping is a part of British culture that we have all experienced. At times, it can certainly be frustrating from the customer’s perspective, whether we are trying to find a parking space at a busy shopping centre, searching in vain for this year’s “must have” toy or facing “trolley rage” in a supermarket.

For retailers, however, the Christmas shopping season can be even more stressful. The massive spike in sales at this time of year makes it make or break time for sales targets and ultimate success. It also means that resources in logistics, storage, parking and staffing that are sufficient for the rest of the year are no longer enough.

While it is reasonably simple to recruit extra staff over the festive season, other capacities can be more difficult to adjust, requiring imaginative solutions. In recent years, for example, a growing number of retailers have turned to temporary storage containers with their own independent power supply, to cater for the additional demand.

Hard times?

We are constantly reminded that the UK is facing difficult financial times, but there is very little indication of this when it comes to Christmas shopping habits. Last year saw record festive sales, not least due to the phenomenon of “Black Friday” really taking off and being better organised than in previous years.

The rise in online sales has been well publicised, and while this might ease congestion in the shops themselves, it brings its own challenges in terms of storage and logistics to ensure everybody’s purchases arrive on time.

Many buyers still prefer to visit their favourite shops in person, particularly when it comes to supermarket shopping, and last year’s sales were as healthy here as ever.

Managing demand

Tesco Extra in Slough holds the accolade of being Britain’s busiest supermarket. This is a store that knows all about capacity management. Its peak food-shopping day of the year is 23 December and if you visit then, you will find all 29 tills manned and the 60 aisles being kept as clear as possible, despite extra staff working constantly to replenish shelves as items are sold out.

Behind the scenes, delivery trucks arrive regularly with additional supplies, many of which require controlled storage handling. This is where specialist additional storage facilities become key.

The Branch Manager is Natasha Hammond, and she had a baptism of fire when she took on the role just five weeks before Christmas in 2015. In an interview with a national newspaper on 23 December last year, she commented: “Today is absolutely huge for fresh food and my main aim is to ensure a good experience for all our shoppers. They don’t want to find that things they need are already sold out and they don’t want to have to queue for a long time.”

Getting it right

Tesco is a company that understands how important it is to successfully meet these challenges, at a time of year when adverse weather and staff illness can create additional complications.

Christmas is a time when emotions can run high, and the social media channels that are now available to all have shown that the season of good will does not necessarily extend to retailers that are inadequately prepared.