News and Insights


03 Jun

Preparing for a Christmas of Retailer’s Dreams


Author: Robin Hayman

Christmas is always a critical time for retailers as the entire nation opens their wallets to spend, spend, spend. At least that’s what businesses are hoping for. However, spending increases flattened out at Christmas 2017 prompting some retailers to make bottom line savings in the new year through store closures and staffing cuts.

We take a look at the Christmas 2018 market data and footfall data for Easter 2019 to interpret what 2019’s festive period could have in store. And we take a look at how retailers can make productivity savings ahead of Christmas to bolster profit and drive long-term workforce management efficiencies.

Strong Growth is a Ghost of Christmas Past

Up until 2017, the year of the Brexit vote, strong Christmas growth was a given at 3.5%, 3.9% and 4.7% from 2014 to 2017. But in 2017 and 2018, growth was stunted at 2% and 2.7% as political and economic uncertainty loomed.

Digging a little deeper into the 2018 data from the Office for National Statistics reveals:

  • The continuation of a long-term upward trend in Christmas spending albeit a flattened one
  • Online channels were up 20% on the previous year with non-food stores contributing strongly
  • Department stores had a 12.8% year-on-year online growth

These figures indicate that investment in digital retail is money well spent. And they also show that although there’s not as much additional spend as in previous years, there are still extra purchases to be secured. Purchases that you want to secure in your retail stores.

Sitting back and expecting busy customers to spend their hard-saved cash with you won’t cut it any more. You need to proactively encourage shoppers onto the high street and into your store with excellent service and a standout in-store experience.

Success relies on having the right people in the right places with the right tools – from supply chain all the way through to the shop floor. But before we take a look at the potential solutions to your Christmas conundrum, let’s see if there’s anything to learn from Easter 2019.

A Tale of Two Easters

With Easter earmarked as a dry run for Christmas, Easter data from retail analysts Springboard casts an interesting picture. While Easter 2018 saw a 7.5% drop in high street footfall, in 2019 there was an enormous 17.5% hike in the numbers of people on the high street.

Why the reversal in fortunes for our town centres? Because of the weather – the hottest over the Easter weekend in 70 years – which drove more people to the high street where they could shop in the sun. In comparison, 2018’s weather was poor discouraging shoppers from venturing out. And when they did hit the shops they went to indoor retailers.

On white

However, 2019’s good weather had a negative impact on retail parks and shopping centres. They saw decreases of 9.9% (versus +1.5% at the same time last year) and 1.3% (versus +0.7% in 2018) respectively.

Overall, there was a total footfall increase over Easter of 4.1% indicating that, given the right conditions, people are willing to spend. A positive sign for Christmas against the current economic backdrop.

Footfall across the day remained fairly stable with a 4.4% increase from 9am to 5pm in comparison to the previous year. From 5pm to 8pm, footfall remained fairly steady at an additional 4.2% and only dropped a little between 8pm and 12pm to 3.2%.

This reflects shoppers’ appetites for longer retail hours, a clear indication to the few stores who don’t extend shopping hours at Christmas to do so.

Multi-Factor Forecasting – Critical for Workforce Management

Being able to predict and factor the weather into shopping habits is becoming increasingly important. As Springboard states: “it is evident from the footfall results that shoppers are now more rather than less weather sensitive. This increased sensitivity arises from the wider choices now available to shoppers … Today’s consumer can be much more selective about when, or indeed if, they make trips.”

Shot of a young man standing behind the counter of his store and looking downhearted

With huge surges in Easter high street footfall, retailers caught without enough staff were at a disadvantage compared to those whose retail workforce management software predicted an uptick in custom.

At Christmas, this kind of predictive accuracy becomes even more important as every customer is looking for that perfect gift. Which means more staff being asked more questions by more people. And the opportunity for highly trained assistants to help shoppers spend their money in your store.

The questions your workforce planners will be trying to answer are:

  • How many more people?
  • What impact will the weather have on footfall and sales?
  • Where do we need more staff – on the shop floor, in the supply chain, both?

And smart retailers are turning to retail workforce transformation systems for all these answers and many more.

How Tech Helps Secure More Black Friday and Christmas Sales

Data science, machine learning and AI have come on leaps and bounds in the past few years. And REPL is putting the technology to good use with a combination of retail consulting and multi-factor forecasting.

This potent combination helps retailers gather the relevant data, analyse it and predict labour requirements with a high degree of accuracy. So high that REPL is able to help retailers deliver complete retail workforce transformation.

Perfecting People Planning

Using workforce planning solution ADAPT, REPL helped one sports apparel retailer move from inaccurate top-down data analysis to highly detailed and accurate bottom-up planning. Using actual store data plus huge data sets covering weather, event and footfall trends, ADAPT enabled the retailer to gain detailed insight into their workforce management requirements.

What-if analysis inside ADAPT revealed they had too many staff on the shop floor on days when footfall was low and not enough staff when stores were busy. ADAPT enabled them to redistribute their employees to days and times where they could add most value.

By providing the sales support and customer service expected of the brand, they boosted their proposition and their sales. Without any additional cost as, rather than bringing in more people, experienced, trained staff were redistributed.

ADAPT also enabled the retailer to create more accurate labour plans by reducing their mean absolute percentage error rate from mid-thirty percentage points to 23% on weekends and just 13% on weekdays. With far more accurate forecasting the retailer is now better able to adapt their labour workforce plans driving productivity and enhancing the bottom line.

Because of ADAPT’s granular level of analysis, it’s also possible for managers to redistribute specific tasks consistently across the estate. This has enabled the entire business to function more effectively.

ADAPT Your Workforce Management Planning for a Very Merry Christmas

Apply this kind of workforce management computing power to your organisation and you’ll be ready to make the most of every period – busy or quiet. It gives you the confidence to scale back on labour at slower times – be those hours, days or weeks.

And it gives your labour planning team the power to schedule the right number of people with the right skills to serve customers and meet peak demand.

When other retailers are caught by an unexpected upturn, this could be the difference between directing a customer to the perfect present and them walking away. Between making the upsell or only taking the minimum a customer is willing to spend. And between accepting what comes or securing more market share.

To understand how REPL can help you transform your workforce management planning and make the very best of the Christmas period, get in touch on +44 (0) 808 200 7375 or at

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