Rather than spend the year preparing for the holiday season, use the holiday season as preparation for January through mid-November.

Most retailers are in the thick of it right now—the annual sprint to prepare for the holiday shopping season, a 6-week period with the power to make or break a merchant’s annual balance sheet.

Stefan Nandzik, vice president of product and brand marketing at Signifyd

It’s common to hear commentators, or retailers, say merchants spend the whole year planning for the holiday shopping season. I think there is a smarter way to look at this, especially the most hectic stretch which traditionally spans the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, but has been starting earlier and lasting longer in recent years.

Rather than spend the year preparing for the holiday season, why not use the holiday season as preparation for January through mid-November? In some ways, the holiday season is the perfect accelerator laboratory for any circumstance that might occur during the rest of the year. It is the ideal time for a retailer to stress-test systems and strategies to adjust with the aim of better-serving customers all year round.

That said, no matter how a retailer approaches the holiday season—something to prepare for or something to prepare with—it comes with its share of chaos and panic. Here are five ways to help the holidays go more smoothly

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1) Don’t forget to breathe.

Don’t let the hype get to you. Take the advice of retail veteran Robert Gilbreath, vice president of marketing and partnership at shipping software company ShipStation: Appreciate the holiday rush. The ton of orders that just came in? You worked hard to get those. You did something right. Celebrate the 100th, 1,000th, or 10,000th holiday order. Take joy in the fact that this is why you got into the business.

Remember to have fun, Gilbreath adds. Host a special team lunch, bring in a masseuse, organize a darts or table tennis tournament — breaking the tension and bringing people together goes a long way.

2) Always remember: Customers want to buy from youand you want to sell to customers.

The combination of unfamiliar-looking orders and holiday stress can, at times, cloud retailers’ judgment when it comes to evaluating whether an order is legitimate or fraudulent. The natural impulse can be to decline an order if it doesn’t look right. But when orders don’t ship, revenue doesn’t come in, putting a damper on the celebration of all those milestone orders.

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The overwhelming number of your orders are legitimate. You don’t want to squander your holiday order bump by canceling perfectly good sales. Focus on putting yourself in a position where you can be confident about your decisions.

At Signifyd, I’ve seen my share of holiday orders that would give anyone pause—and yet declining the orders would have meant lost sales. During one recent holiday season, several different people ordered as many as 10 virtual reality systems at a time and had them shipped to the same address. Together the orders reached $300,000. It had many of the markings of a fraud ring. But in fact, the orders came from a group of friends who had started a business finding deals on the web and then reselling products for a profit. The address was their warehouse.

3) Automate for scale and for peak order seasons.

Besides increased sales, the holiday season has the added advantage of giving you an idea of how your future will look. You no doubt plan to grow. As the enterprise expands, the number of orders, customer demands and pressure from competitors will grow along with it.

Make it a point to review your entire operation—from merchandising, marketing, order management, fulfillment, delivery, customer service and post-purchase support for returns, lost orders and disputes. Consider what parts of the buying process can be automated or automated better. Having automation in place gives the enterprise the elastic capacity to handle a spike in orders, whether it’s the winter holidays, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, backyard-and-barbecue season, etc.

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4) Be flexible: When things move fast, things change quickly.

Of course, plans are good, and planning is especially necessary to prepare for the holiday shopping season. But don’t cling to them tightly like a security blanket when things go sideways. Your Plan A should be to have a Plan B and a Plan C.

Again, automation can help here. For instance, if the holiday shopping rush gets an unexpectedly early beginning, automated order management, fraud review and fulfillment systems can step up and handle the fast start. Or when retailers find themselves needing to satisfy consumers’ powerful desire for holiday discounts, pricing algorithms can help retailers find the highest low price that will satisfy bargain-seeking customers.

5) Take note of what goes right and especially of what goes wrong.

During the holiday season, a retailer is likely to see it all. Big volume. High velocity. New customers. Added pressure for fast delivery. Temporary employees learning on the job. And robust revenue that can help support initiatives throughout the rest of the year. Those new initiatives will no doubt come in handy when you’re back in the thick of it a year from now.

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Don’t let the need to work fast and long obscure the opportunities to focus on unusual challenges that arise, the way you address them and the results those efforts produce. Those lessons will serve you throughout the year and into the holiday shopping season 2020.

Stefan Nandzik is the vice president of product and brand marketing at Signifyd, a provider of security and fraud-protection  services. 

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