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Ron’s Thoughts: Preparing for the Holiday Season

By
Ron Sellers
October 12, 2020
Couple looking in a store window while holiday shopping.

For furniture retailers, the holiday season represents the biggest quarter of the year. While this year may look a bit different, we’ve seen solid indicators that consumers plan to buy just as much this holiday season as they have in years past. 

That’s great news for the furniture industry that had a rough spring, but it also comes with some significant concerns. What we’re seeing right now, in addition to record changes over the past few months, are record problems in getting merchandise where it needs to be. Many retailers are operating weeks to months behind, depending on various vendors’ lead times, overseas shipping container delays and other factors. And now we’re bumping up against the holiday season, which is going to exacerbate those supply chain issues.  

To make it through, and make the holidays a success, what retailers need is real-time information, so they can make fast, educated decisions. When a product is out of stock, they need to know what other vendors they can turn to, or what other products they could start ordering instead to fill the floor. If merchandisers don’t get data fast enough, they can’t make those shifts in time, and that begins a domino effect that furniture retailers can’t afford this season.  

A lot of ordering for the holidays has already been done, and much more will be done over the next 4-6 weeks. The number one issue in the furniture industry right now is getting product. Everybody is fighting for inventory, and there’s a limited amount of it out there. Buyers who can electronically change and submit a PO to a different vendor are going to be faster than those who need to write a new order by hand. If you’re one or two days behind, you’ve lost critical time. You might not get that product, which means your customers will be buying it from your competition.  

Because there is still so much up in the air, it’s imperative that retailers get up-to-date information as soon as possible about the orders they’ve just placed. It needs to happen as quickly as possible, and that can’t happen in a manual world—which is why retailers need to be using EDI over a commerce network.  

Processing purchase orders over a commerce network lets your business operate in near-real time. It takes seconds to submit an order, get back an acknowledgement and lock that order in. You don’t have to wait for someone to see an email or receive a fax. You don’t have to create new orders by hand. The technology puts everything you need right there. 

Retailers also need to make sure they understand ship dates vs. arrival dates. A sofa might only take three days to get from California to Mississippi, but if it’s coming from overseas on a container, now you’re looking at seven weeks. Advance Ship Notices play a key role here, so getting those quickly and electronically can help retailers give the right information to their customers. Shipment Status Messages (EDI 214 and 315) are important, too, because retailers need to know if those arrival dates change, so they can alert customers quickly to avoid frustrations. 

In the brick-and-mortar world, it’s all about spots on the floor, and having the right lineup there on time. For eCommerce sellers, it’s about making sure the products showing online are really available and making sure you don’t break the customer promise. Without technology, it’s going to be harder to fill those spots and keep them full. 

If you’re using EDI, fantastic but make sure you are getting the full benefits that are available in today’s commerce network world, which enhances EDI with applications. You also need to invest in a good ERP system. You need a great point-of-sale system. You may need warehouse automation. You need them all to be connected, to keep your orders flowing, your warehouses full and your customers informed. You need to get and move data faster, because your competition is already doing it. 

There’s a saying in real estate: it’s all about Location, Location, Location. Now it’s time for furniture retailers to learn a new saying, because this holiday season, it’s all about Technology, Technology, Technology. 

Author Bio: Ron Sellers, co-founder and chief revenue officer of TrueCommerce-ecUtopia, is a technology advocate and leader for the home furnishings industry. With more than 25 years of industry-related experience, he offers significant expertise as a committee member of the Home Furnishings Association (HFA) and sits on the Executive Advisory Council for WithIt, a women’s leadership development network for the home and furnishings industries. When Ron is outside of the office, he can be found on his Harley Davidson cruising the streets.