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January 17, 2017

Getting the Most Out of Your Holiday Post-Mortem



The holiday shopping season has come and gone, and now is the time of year when merchants of every stripe take a hard look at their reports and processes, vowing to make improvements in the coming year.

Previously, we suggested that taking careful notes during the busy season was critical for the kind of forward-looking plans that retailers want to make. Besides just recording sales numbers, your notes should allow you to ask:

- Which items moved, and which didn’t?

- Did items get out on time?

- Did your operations scale up during busy periods, or were there bottlenecks in picking, packing, and shipping operations?

- Was staffing an issue?

- Did orders flow without error from shopping cart to shipping station?

- Did you have the right mix of promotions and products?

- What regions of the country are generating the most orders, and what are they ordering?

- What channels brought the most new shoppers? The most loyal shoppers?

- How did you stack up to competitors?

- Did the news yield any explanations or surprises?

These kinds of questions are important to ask (and answer) during your post-mortem, no matter if you are large or small, online or omni-channel.

Take some of the larger brick-and-mortar retailers like Macy’s, Kohl’s, and JCPenney. Although holiday sales were up, overall sales were down throughout November and December. Why? Part of it had to do with the shift to online purchasing. The in-store traffic that was left was concentrated on Black Friday and the few days leading up to Christmas. Even that traffic was bought at a steep price, in the form of loss-leader discounts.

And so, in their post-mortems, all three chains have decided to close stores that are less productive, revise their promotions, and leverage their growing online presence.

On the other hand, many eCommerce merchants had an opposite problem: The surge in online sales meant that inventory frequently ran out, or that orders were delayed due to bottlenecks in the pick-and-pack process. Many customer service departments were swamped, which did some real brand damage.

Your situation might be like one of these, or it could be something different. The point is that you cannot formulate a plan until you move from anecdotes to an analysis of data. This requires a post-mortem.

7 Steps to Completing Your Own Holiday Post-Mortem

So how should you proceed with your own holiday post-mortem?

  1. Get the right people in the room. This might include people from operations, sales, and IT, as well as outside partners, such as 3PLs or marketing agencies. The goal is not to assign blame for problems, but to form a strategy going forward.
  2. Take a good look at the data. Reports on sales by region, channel, and segment are a good place to start, as are some of the questions listed above. The goal here is to look for patterns and trends, looking to see where you should focus your efforts.
  3. Be sure to match these data with your website analytics as well. If your homepage generated the most sales over the holidays, that’s good to know. If a promotional microsite was the top performer, that’s good to know too.
  4. Next, take a look at things from the other end: Fulfillment and shipping. This is where the brand promise is fulfilled, so pay special attention here. Did items get out on time? What was the return rate? How many complaints were filed? Did shipping prices discourage purchases? Did customers receive their gifts in time for the holidays?
  5. Ask what the friction points were. The holidays are stressful for most merchants. This is also when friction points become most obvious. Given the analysis above, which processes need to be tweaked? Which can be outsourced for efficiency?
  6. Form the plan. This might sound obvious, but it is worth saying: All the analysis in the world will not help you if you do not in turn use it to form a concrete plan for improvement.
  7. Do it now. It is important to work through the analysis while it is fresh in your mind, establishing a plan now. Else, the changes that need to occur will come too late to prepare you for upcoming peak seasons.  Get started now so that you can continue through 2017 with eyes open.


Materialogic helps many businesses scale their warehousing, fulfillment, and logistics to accommodate changes throughout the year. If your team is interested in conducting part of their post-mortem with a knowledgeable 3PL partner, contact us today!


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