Seasonal Sales Patterns

Understanding a product’s seasonal sales patterns and planning for them is a key to successful export selling.

Send too much stock at the wrong time and warehouses are filled with products that aren’t selling. Send too little and best-selling products will sell out, sales momentum will disappear and hard-won customers will be lost to competitors.

An understanding of seasonal demand and careful planning taking into account shipping lead times can get the right quantity of stock to market at the right time.

So what does a typical seasonal sales profile look like?

seasonality-graph-USA-retail

Monthly non-store retail sales in the USA.

The bar graph to the right shows month by month the pattern of sales throughout the year in the USA. Non-store retail is largely e-commerce.

The graph shows that from a June-July nadir sales build throughout the second half of the year to a pronounced peak in December, 50% higher, the “holiday season”. Sales drop off dramatically in January and February.

Although few products would sell with this aggregate seasonal profile, the fact is that most products do not sell at a consistent rate throughout the year, and some products show pronounced seasonality.

Sales commonly peak in the fourth quarter of each year; October, November and December. For some the peak sales period extends post-Christmas into January.

In contrast other products might sell well in the northern spring or summer; the March through July period.

The graph below shows two examples of seasonal sales profiles. These are based on product lines World Wide Access sells online in the USA.

seasonality-graph-summer-vs-winter

The ‘winter product’ barely sells at all between April and August, and sells strongly through the northern fall and early winter months with an extreme peak in December.

In contrast the ‘summer product’ sells primarily in the northern spring. Both these examples highlight an important consideration; that seasonal products generally sell ahead of their season. People buy ‘summer’ products in the spring, when they’re thinking about the summer ahead.

Once these seasonal sales patterns become evident the knowledge can be put to good use in planning production and shipping.

For example, if the selling season starts in September, product needs to be in the warehouses in America before the end of August. Assuming a 60 day seafreight lead time before the product can be available for sale in the USA, the stock needs to be on the water before the end of June to be there in time for the selling season.

For products being first introduced to a market it’s possible to make some assumptions about the likely seasonality based on trends with similar products or how a product sells in other markets. But those are just guesses.

Ultimately the best way to understand the seasonal sales profile for a product is to be selling it in the market and to monitor sales for a year. The sooner you get started selling in-market, the sooner you’ll know.

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