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How to Analyze Your Numbers to Prep for Seasonal Peaks

In e-commerce, major sales spikes tend to come around the same time every year. Why is it that peak seasons still manage to hit your business like a whirlwind?

If you’re like most retailers, you already know that with a little extra planning, you could capture more revenue from massive sales events like Black Friday. However, making time to focus on the right peak season strategies at the right time is easier said than done.

This year, don’t just “get through it alive”. With Amazon Prime Day around the corner, it’s time to fine-tune and optimize. In this guide, we’ll show you how the right data and planning can help you build a stronger peak season sales strategy for your e-commerce business.

E-commerce Peak Seasons and Holidays

In the US, and throughout much of the world, e-commerce sales tend to peak around the three key times of year.

  1. The Q4 Holiday Shopping Season: Including Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday, Christmas, and more. This season typically spans November 1 to December 25, but with the increase in early holiday shopping it has been starting as early as October.
  2. Back-to-School Season: This season is typically from July 5 through early September, but can vary from market to market.
  3. Amazon Prime Day: Typically held mid-July (roughly July 11-12).

Of course, the shopping events you choose to participate in will always depend on your market and category. Other major shopping holidays in the US include:

  • The Super Bowl – second Sunday in February and throughout the following week
  • Valentine’s Day – February 14
  • St. Patrick’s Day – March 17
  • Easter – Varies based on market
  • Graduation – May to June
  • Mother’s Day – second Sunday in May in the US and fourth Sunday of Lent in the UK
  • Father’s Day – third Sunday in June
  • Independence Day (US only) – July 4
  • Halloween – October 31

If you sell internationally, consider planning for additional peak times in other countries, including:

  • French Winter Sales – early January to early February
  • Chinese New Year – late January to early February
  • Diwali – mid-October to mid-November
  • Singles’ Day (China) – November 11
  • El Buen Fin (Mexico) – mid to late November
  • Boxing Day (UK) – December 26

How to Prep for Optimal Peak Season Sales

The most successful e-commerce businesses take the time to prepare for peak season sales long before they hit. The great news is, once you know what you’re looking for, it’s not hard to do. 

Here are some of the most impactful ways to use your business data and core key performance indicators (KPIs) to create a game plan that helps you get the most of every season.

1. Analyze Your Profits And Losses

To make the most of the busiest seasons, you first need to know where you stand. Is the business cash flow positive? How much capital is available to invest in holiday season campaigns and promotions? 

Your profit and loss (P&L) statement will give you the big picture of how much cash you’re spending and making, so that you know exactly how much capital you have available to invest in your peak season initiatives.

Your core P&L metrics will include your:

  • Gross Sales
  • Net Sales
  • Cash Flow

If possible, ask your accountant or financial advisor to take a closer look at your current numbers compared to previous years. With a little tweaking and fat-trimming in the quarters leading up to your peak season, you may be able to put together a healthy Q4 marketing budget faster than you think.

2. Review Outsourcing Costs

Why do yourself what someone else can do better and cheaper? 

With more time and energy to focus on your highest-impact tasks, it pays to outsource things like web development, logistics, marketing, and customer support to an external specialist. This is especially true ahead of peak seasons, when you have multiple priorities competing for your attention.

To perform an outsourcing cost analysis, define the exact business function you want to outsource and add up all the costs required. Then compare this figure against what it would cost to perform the same function in-house. Don’t forget to consider “hidden” staffing costs, like employee benefits, taxes, overtime, etc.

To secure top talent at a potential discount, consider sourcing from an agency in one of the following countries:

  • For IT, technical support, web development, cybersecurity, and software needs: Albania, Argentina, Bosnia, Brazil, China, Croatia, the Czech Republic, India, Mexico, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Ukraine, and Vietnam. 
  • For customer support, finance, HR, and related functions: Argentina, Brazil, India, Mexico, the Philippines, South Africa, and Uruguay.
  • For content, marketing, design, and data entry: Bangladesh, Colombia, India, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Romania, Venezuela.

As with every hire, make sure any partners you contract with are well-treated, compliant with international labor laws, and paid fair and transparent local wages.

3. Audit Your Inventory Management

Nothing’s worse than stocking out of your best-sellers during peak season.

To keep the revenue flowing, make inventory planning a priority in the weeks leading up to a major shopping event or holiday season. With a strong inventory strategy, you can make sure the right products remain in stock, while reducing the likelihood of overspending on carrying costs.

Here are some of the key metrics to consider as you streamline your inventory strategy:

Inventory Turnover Ratio (ITR)

Your inventory turnover ratio is a measure of how often you sell and replenish your stock of a given product within a given time period (typically, one year). To determine your ITR, divide your cost of goods sold (COGS) by the average value of inventory within that time period.

A high inventory turnover ratio is generally good, because it means your products are moving quickly and you’re not tying up too much capital in slow-moving stock and storage costs. To improve your ITR, use demand forecasting software to identify key patterns in seasonality and adjust your e-commerce fulfillment process to make sure you’re keeping just the right amount of inventory in stock.

Stockout Rate

For peak shopping events like Prime Day and Cyber5, it’s critical to have enough inventory on-hand to meet increased demand. That’s where your stockout rate comes in.

Your stockout rate tells you what percentage of your products aren’t available when a customer made a purchase. At least three months ahead of your peak seasons, take time to assess the stockout rate of every product in your inventory. Then use your inventory planning software to adjust your purchase order quantities.

If you’re still worried about stockouts after reviewing your past order volumes, you can also look at implementing a backordering system to capture sales from customers willing to wait for the product to come back in stock. 

Return Rate

Your return rate tells you two things: how happy customers are with your products (or with the condition they were in when they arrived), and how much time, cash, and effort you can expect to invest in reverse logistics for the coming peak season.

To calculate your return rate, use the formula:

Return rate (%) = Units Returned/Units Sold x 100

The average return rate for e-commerce is typically between 20 and 30%. If yours is on the higher end, audit your product reviews and customer service chat transcripts, or reach out to customers directly, to find out why and what you can do about it.

Inventory Accuracy

Before a major sales spike, take time to review your inventory the old fashioned way, by physically counting your products. Keep in mind that you may need to coordinate with your 3PLs to get an accurate count. Don’t forget to account for any items in transit or still in production.

Once you know your real numbers, you can compare them to the recorded data in your inventory management system to find your inventory accuracy percentage. From there, calculate your inventory accuracy using the formula: 

Inventory Accuracy (%) = Counted Items/Items On Record x 100

An inventory accuracy rate of 97% or higher is generally considered good. Knowing the difference can help you plan upcoming peak season purchasing, control for shrinkage and ensure your other calculations are sufficiently accurate.

4. Optimize Supply Chain and Order Fulfillment

During peak seasons, you may need to meet customer expectations with faster delivery and accurate delivery estimates. You can’t let supplier delays, supply chain challenges, or an inefficient last-mile put customer satisfaction at risk. 

Assess Your Suppliers

One of the most important sourcing considerations to make ahead of a seasonal peak is supplier lead times. Because of the higher order volumes during peak shopping periods, supply chain setbacks and carrier issues are more likely to occur.

Review your suppliers and products, considering both manufacturing and transportation lead times. Calculate how long it typically takes for a product to arrive at your warehouse or fulfillment center, from the time you submit a purchase order.

From there you can use a transit time calculator to compare your actual lead times with current industry averages. If they’re longer than two weeks for land transport or 1-2 months for ocean freight, consider switching or diversifying suppliers ahead of peak seasons.

Know Your Order Cycle Time

Your order cycle time tells you how long it takes from the time you receive an order until it’s delivered to the customer. This is especially important during times of increased sales, when slow order fulfillment can overwhelm your operations and end up disappointing customers.

To calculate your order cycle time, subtract the order date from the delivery date, then divide that number by total orders shipped. A lower number means you’re filling orders quickly and efficiently, while a higher number could mean you’ll need to make changes ahead of your next peak season.

If your order cycle time is too long, you may need to upgrade to a more efficient 3PL ahead of peak seasons. Or, if you operate your own facilities, it could be time to invest in a tech upgrade or retraining program.

A high order cycle time may also mean it’s time to reevaluate your shipping options or diversify your carrier lineup. ShipMatrix often publishes on-time delivery data for major carriers’ holiday performance to help you make the best decision.

Even adding just one carrier ahead of a peak season could save your sales and customer experience in the event of a strike or other shipping crisis. 

Here are some options to consider:

  • Other large carriers: For instance, if you already work with UPS, try adding FedEx, USPS, or DHL.
  • Alternative carriers: OnTrac now offers last-mile delivery in 35 states and offers weekend delivery, while gig-based, tech-heavy carriers like Veho are seeking further expansion. Whatever you choose, do your research. Some alternative carriers still rely on UPS and other large carriers, so you could wind up with a system that’s twice as complicated, but just as vulnerable to issues.
  • Buy with Prime: Even if you’re not selling on their platform, you can take advantage of Amazon’s logistics network for access to logistics that are often faster than major carriers.
  • Delivery services: Try UberDirect for white label local delivery and keep an eye on other local last-mile developments to see which new options are viable for your business.

5. Assess Your Product Portfolio

As the next big holiday or shopping event gets near, it’s important to know how much profit each product is contributing to your business.

Start by taking a close look at the margins for each of your products individually. Then decide which products deserve more investment during this shopping season and which need to be cut or reduced or in order to maximize your margins

As a founder, it can be difficult to be objective. You’re attached to your products, especially if they’re your own inventions. Remember, focusing on your numbers will always guide you to the best outcomes for your business.

The following key metrics will help you take an objective look at your product offering:

  • Net Sales: Your gross sales of a product, minus referral fees, allowances, returns, and discounts.
  • Margin per Unit: The difference between the product’s gross and net sales divided by units sold. 
  • AVG Income per Unit: The item’s net sales divided by units sold.  

6. Make Sure Your Ad Spend Counts

Advertising can get expensive, especially around peak sales seasons.

Know your ad costs and make sure your brand is positioned to get maximum value. This will help you understand when to invest in ads and when to turn to owned content, social media, and email marketing.

Don’t forget to track these essential metrics to confirm your campaigns’ profitability:

  • Cost Per Click (CPC): Your ad spend divided by the clicks generated by the ad. A lower CPC is better, because it means you get more clicks for your budget.
  • Return Over Ad Spent (RoAS): The amount of revenue generated for each dollar spent on advertising. A higher RoAS means a more effective, more profitable ad campaign.
  • Attributed Sales: The number of sales associated with a particular marketing channel. This tells you which marketing channels to lean into, and which you can let go of.

Reach the Summit with Peak Season Sales

Peak seasons don’t have to be a time for scrambling to keep up with orders, stocking out of inventory, and running your ad budget into the ground. 

With better planning, seasonal sales can jumpstart your growth (instead of your nerves).

To capture peak season demand, start early. Keep close tabs on your data and let your numbers be your guide. With the right insights into each key area of your business, you can boost your sales and margins at the times when it counts the most.

Need a simple way to track your business KPIs? Sellers Signals can help. Sign up and get free data analytics on everything from your multichannel sales, to your inventory and customer reviews.

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