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COMMENT: Fulfilment must deliver the goods during high-profile product launches

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Video gamers queue in anticipation of the midnight launch of FIFA 2015. (Photo: Press Association)

As all retailers will know, high profile product launches are one of the most exciting and challenging times of the year.

Whether it’s the latest iPhone or the most anticipated video game release of the year, creating buzz and managing the flurry of excitement that comes with a launch means that for retailers, all the normal rules for engaging with customers are put on hold.

As a partner of leading retail brands across the UK, On the dot sees this a lot. We call it “the Harry Potter effect” – a moment in time when customer anticipation peaks and retailers have to think fast and work hard to meet exceptional demand. 

This week, we are going to see the effect in full force, when the newest version of the football video game FIFA is released. Like every year, sports and gaming fans alike have been waiting for FIFA 2017 with excitement and for many, the race is on to get their hands on the game as quickly as possible after the launch.

Capitalising on the e-commerce effect

In recent years, we’ve witnessed changes in the way people shop. No longer restricted by fixed opening hours and high street queues, ecommerce has become a customer favourite and naturally, a golden opportunity for retailers.

In this increasingly digital world, more people are turning to ecommerce to get the latest products. Thanks to online retail outlets, customers can order goods at their own convenience – often months before they arrive on the shelf – with the guarantee they’ll be delivered to coincide with the launch. This is something FIFA fans will be taking advantage of this week – having ordered the game online early, some could expect it to arrive just hours after the midnight launch.

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Getting fulfilment spot on

With more people shopping online, delivery is playing a greater role in product launches than ever before and it is important retailers get it right. When it comes to new products, consumer expectations are high, and a late or missed delivery is likely to infuriate far more than usual.

How then, can retailers use delivery to give shoppers what they want and preserve the magic in the lead up to and during product launches? Planning is key to the success of any product launch – and it’s never too early to start.

Retailers need to ensure that everyone in their fulfilment chain is aware of the launch timetable, that delivery networks are well structured and equipped to cope with the demand, and that contingencies in place should anything go awry. The “sorry we missed you” card simply doesn’t work when it comes to product launches, so it’s important for retailers to make sure they’re using a hyper-convenient service to work around their customers’. Failing to get the goods into shoppers’ hands as soon as possible can pose serious risks to a brand’s reputation. 

It’s also likely a product launch will trigger a huge surge in demand, with hundreds, or even thousands of consumers rushing to make the same purchase at the same time. Retailers need to take control of this situation – or risk it taking control of them.

By planning ahead to ensure stock levels are more than sufficient to deal with a rush, retailers can ensure they aren’t caught off guard during a launch. It is much easier to plan ahead for a surge than to have to deal with the backlash when you run out of product on launch day.

Most importantly, retailers must remain transparent and honest with customers throughout a launch. 

While working with Flubit.com on the FIFA 17 launch, we offered a limited number of timeslots for delivery the night before, opening up a wider selection for the following day. By doing this, we can manage customers’ expectations and ensure that parcels arrive when they are expected to, rather than making unrealistic promises.

Levelling the playing field

While the series itself may be over, the Harry Potter effect is still very much alive. When it comes to product launches, retailers need to make sure they are doing all they can to stay one step ahead and keep their customers happy and loyal.

Shoppers today expect convenience throughout their purchase journey, and this is particularly true when it comes to product launches. Smaller, independent retailers would do well to put their flexible structures to good use by offering a bespoke service to cater to the needs of customers at every touch point. 

What’s more, by partnering with delivery platforms like On the dot, even the smallest of retailers can offer convenient deliveries and steal a march on larger competitors – taking advantage of a challenging time to boost brand loyalty and drive sales as they capitalise on customer excitement.

Patrick Gallagher is chief executive officer of On the dot

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Published on Wednesday 28 September by Patrick Gallagher, CEO, On The Dot

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