As Santa rides into Herald Square to end the 78th annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade this year, behind closed doors Santa’s little helpers will be frantically preparing for an onslaught of shoppers. For the first time in 155 years Macy’s will be open on Thanksgiving Day. Macy’s isn’t alone.

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Before the first turkey is put in the oven Kmart will open at 6 a.m., for 41 straight hours to kick start the holiday season. So when the first football game kicks off on Thanksgiving Day many people will have already finished their Christmas shopping!

After the remaining Thanksgiving leftovers are gobbled up, the next shopping event (and contact sport) is Black Friday. Still full from the day before and energized by the door buster bargains, millions of consumers will battle the crowds for even more deals. Last year, the average consumer spent $243 on Black Friday according to National Retail Federation numbers.

Last year also saw the emergence of the Black Friday “armchair shopper”, one reason why online spending saw a spike in activity. Amazon.com led the way with 7.7 unique visitors. They were followed by Walmart.com (3.5 million), Best Buy (2.75 million), Target (2.25 million) and Apple (1.5 million).

Think holiday shopping spree ends on Black Friday? Think again. Last year, Cyber Monday saw a 30 percent jump in online sales equaling $1.98 billion. Even more interesting was the reported number of consumers using mobile devices to visit a retailer’s site (22.4%), with the number of consumers using their mobile device to actually follow through and make a purchase being closer to 12%.

How have companies prepared for this Thanksgiving Shopping Marathon? How can they respond to the demand picture as it happens? How have they ensured that the right products are in the right place, at the right time?

Demand Driven Processes: In a recent blog I wrote about how, when It comes to changing the world, millennials mean business, and that when they go into a store or web page, they may know (or think they know) more about your product than you do.  I explained why it is critical for manufacturers to have the same – or better – visibility to the information that your customer has; to know what they are thinking before they do through a true 360 degree view of their world. This involves gathering insight from within and outside of your organization, from all available structured and unstructured sources. What is trending about your products? What is the current sentiment analysis? What is selling in each store, location or region?

Planning for Success: Gathering a true picture of actual demand (social data, sentiment analysis, marketing forecast and historical data) enable this complete view –in real time. Only then can you focus on delivering and targeting the right product, to the right customer, at the right time by matched the supply of products to that demand.S&OP processes will be tested to the max, and the “S” in S&OP (Sales and Marketing) must collaborative closely with the O&P (Operations & Planning)  to communicate specific product promotions and plans to ensure that the supply chain can respond to the (hopefully) increased demand.

Leveraging Logistics: Logistics and fulfillment process will also play a critical role over the next few weeks. With the increase in on-line shipping the roads will be filled with more of Santa’s little helpers (AKA FedEx and UPS). UPS estimates it will handle 4 percent more U.S. packages over the holidays thanks to an expected 15 percent increase in online retail orders. They also estimate they will pick up 34 million packages on peak days. UPS is also seeing an uptick in business from retailers who are scheduling pickups every evening of products they want to shuffle to other stores by the next day. This surge in logistics demand will only increase this year as there are “less shopping days to Christmas” than usual thanks to a late Thanksgiving. Thus the need to do more shipments with less available logistics capacity.

Monitor your performance and respond to change: The reality is, we plan in the perfect world, but execute in the real world. And in the real world you need that visibility into what is trending, what is bombing. What is Santa pushing in all the malls around the world? We must leverage real-time performance and alert management, and analyze the “big data” now available to perform what-if simulations in real-time to adjust shipments and deliveries.

Are you ready for Thanksgiving? Are the right products in place? Can you respond to your fickle customer needs?

Good luck, and have a great Turkey day and holiday season.

Follow me on Twitter: @howellsrichard

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