Surviving the Peaks and Troughs in Retail

Posted in | | By Samuel Boult

Surviving the Peaks and Troughs in Retail

The retail calendar is tricky to navigate, it contains more peaks and troughs than a mountain range. Even at the best of times managing fluctuations in demand is a challenge for retailers, meaning advance preparation is imperative to survive the peaks and troughs and emerge victorious.  


What are the main peaks and troughs?

The retail calendar is brimming with opportunities for brick-and-mortar stores to maximise their sales: Easter, Black Friday, Valentine’s Day, Halloween, Mothers, and Father’s Day. The most lucrative event, Christmas, takes up a full quarter of the calendar (in the industry it is known as the Golden Quarter).

There are also periods when retailers are relatively quiet in comparison, for example, mid-to-late January, when many people have usually spent a lot of money during Christmas and the January Sales, and during the summer, when fewer people go shopping because they are away on holiday.  Although footfall is lower and sales aren’t as high during the troughs, retailers use these periods to prepare for the upcoming peaks.  For example, towards the end of summer supermarkets prepare their ‘Back to School’ ranges by strategically placing school uniforms and stationery throughout their stores.  

However, peaks and troughs differ for each retailer. Summertime, for example, may see less footfall on the high streets, but those supermarkets and independent gift shops located in the holiday hot spots of Britain will see a surge of activity.  Every retailer is different, and so are their calendars. Florists and confectioners will be busier during the first half of the year, whereas toy shops will see peaks towards the end.  Staying in tune with these peaks and troughs, and being able to predict them, is a retailer’s key to success.

Here are the most important actions that will enable retailers to survive the peaks and troughs that permeate the calendar year:


Forecast demand

To prepare for peaks, retailers should identify which products are affected by seasonal demand and use historical data to determine the expected popularity and sales potential of those items.

Omnichannel commerce has taken off in the last few years, so real-time data should be used to obtain a detailed understanding of the products retailers expect to sell. This means tracking the success of marketing promotions, analysing the external environment, and looking at online and social media trends.


Inventory management

In-depth sales forecasting ensures that a retailer has adequate stock to cope with increased sales and prevent a build-up of residual seasonal stock with a short shelf life. Investing in a robust inventory management system allows retailers to track goods throughout the supply chain, monitor stock levels, and facilitate stock replenishment.

Providing suppliers with advance warning of expected sales peaks will be beneficial in protecting and strengthening relationships, and this will contribute towards satisfying customer demand.

Once the peak has been reached and demand has been fulfilled, it pays to be organised regarding excess stock. Retailers could offer discounts a few days before the end of an event or season, which will boost sales and prevent the accumulation of dead stock which is difficult to sell out of season and very costly to store.


Managing people

A well-staffed store delivers an exceptional customer experience and ensures there are no obstacles to payments going through the checkout. By using insight from footfall counters, retailers can determine a store’s busiest times and prepare for them.

To prepare for peak times, it is advisable to recruit and train employees in advance. Whether you recruit in-house or outsource to a specialist company, it’s much easier to overcome potential peak-time staffing issues when you have a pool of people to choose from.

A key strategy that helps retailers manage their staff is providing flexible working arrangements. Workforces benefit from staff who are flexible, and flexible working options appeal to staff because they don’t tie individuals to set hours. Employees have the freedom to create an ideal home-life balance which boosts morale and increases productivity.  The advantage for store managers is that there will be staff who can provide support at short notice.  This is essential if it turns out you need more staff than you initially thought.

It also pays to incentivise your staff to go above and beyond. If the individuals who make up your workforce feel like valuable members of the team, they’re more likely to step up to the mark when peak demand is at its highest. You must ensure that staff don’t feel overworked or pressurised, then give them a reason to help you when things get tough.  


Streamline fulfilment

During busy periods, an organised warehouse is crucial. Locate your bestselling seasonal goods in the most convenient and accessible places in your warehouse to make picking as efficient as possible.

Also, consider if you require extra staff to effectively respond to an increase in demand. Working with a specialist merchandising company means you’ll have a vast and experienced workforce at your disposal, one that can be scaled up or down flexibly according to your requirements. The benefit is you won’t need to hire and train temporary staff during busier periods, saving valuable time and resources.


Peaks are opportunities for success

All retailers have to deal with seasonality - every company goes through slumps at certain points, while other times of the year are difficult for companies to keep up with demand.  Every peak is an opportunity for success, whereas every trough contains the risk of failure. The nature of the industry means that the majority of profit is made over a few key trading days, and therefore optimising their business is paramount for retailers who wish to capitalise on the peaks and prepare for the troughs.


RMS is the leading provider of merchandising and retail support services in the UK and Ireland. By utilising a nationwide workforce of skilled, flexible merchandisers, supported by flex, our state-of-the-art resource management system, we deploy teams of staff to support brands throughout the retail calendar and ultimately deliver a better shopping experience.