Exclusive Q&A: Inc. cultivates holiday success all year

Dan Berthiaume
Senior Editor, Technology
Dan Berthiaume profile picture
Image Inc. pursues a yearlong, integrated omnichannel strategy to ensure its front- and back-end operations are ready for the holidays.

Chain Store Age recently spoke with Abi Sachdeva, CTO, Inc., about how the leading specialty gift retailer keeps the holiday spirit alive throughout the year with an intensive focus on seamless shopping and fulfillment, as well as enterprise resiliency during peak shopping periods.

What are the biggest challenges Inc. expects to face this holiday season?
We are in a unique position, as customers are shopping online now more than ever. Across age groups, consumers have shifted spend to online channels and that is not likely to revert back. We’ve also seen e-commerce convert to e(verywhere)-commerce as consumers expect ease and convenience throughout their shopping journey regardless of how they engage with a brand – whether it is on desktop, mobile, app, conversational commerce solutions, etc. 

With the increasing need for customer convenience, and the rise in demand we’ve seen across our family of brands as more shoppers turn to us to help them connect with the important people in their lives – the main focus for us will be consistently delivering an elevated, and best-in-class, customer experience. 

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Our intuitive e-commerce platform hosts our dozen all-star brands, including,, and Harry & David. Delivering so many gifts from these different brands in such a tight time frame, as with the holiday period, is a highly complex operational process. 

While challenges arise, we have been an e-commerce innovator for decades and have extensive data from past holidays that we utilize to effectively predict how and what to prepare for peak periods. We continuously leverage this data to deliver the best possible customer experience and offer consumers ease and convenience across the shopping journey. 

How is Inc. preparing back-end systems for the holidays?
Our e-commerce platform provides customers with a single destination for gifting and sharing – where they can accommodate multiple shopping needs through one platform as part of one customer journey. Every day, and especially during peak periods such as the holiday season, our team works hard to ensure the platform is continuing to provide users with a best-in-class experience.

We start preparation for the holiday period with data. We review data from across our family of brands, including information from previous peak periods and past challenges, to uncover any potential vulnerabilities and implement solutions. We also look at forecast metrics from across the business that we use to determine our target traffic and order metrics, which we then use to load test the system. The entire platform, including e-commerce front-end and back-end services, are load tested simulating production peak traffic. Following the tests, our teams then review all results and make configuration adjustments as needed.

We also work closely with our vendor partners, in addition to our internal stakeholders, to prepare the system for peak periods and ensure proper communication channels are in place for quick escalations. 

Our teams are continually testing and reviewing metrics to support reliability across all components within the platform. We make necessary adjustments to prepare for and ensure the smooth handling of the high increase in traffic and order volume while continuously monitoring the platform’s performance – so when customers come to shop with us, they are consistently met with a seamless, easy, and convenient experience.     

How is Inc. preparing front-end systems for the holidays?
The customer experience is our number one priority, and we continually innovate and implement new features and services to create a seamless shopping journey. Similar to how we prepare the back-end systems, we look to our collection of data from past holidays to help us streamline the front-end systems for peak demand. We optimize our user-facing systems to ensure they can easily manage the influx in traffic we see during the holiday period. 

Customers can shop across our dozen brands on the e-commerce platform, including holiday favorites like, Harry & David, Cheryl’s Cookies, and Shari’s Berries, and this requires a high level of flexibility and intuition from our advanced technology stack. 

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We are a destination for gifting and sharing, and when it comes to the customer experience, we leverage innovative technologies such as AI, automation, and conversational commerce, to provide customers with a best-in-class shopping journey. We want customers to be able to shop with us wherever, however, and whenever they choose, and we continuously evolve the capabilities of our platform to accommodate consumer needs. 

What are your expectations for traffic and purchase volumes in-store vs. online?
As an e-commerce company, we’ve seen a seismic shift of consumers shopping online more. In fact, we recently reported record-breaking revenue which was driven by e-commerce growth of more than 80%. We’ve continued to see a rise in demand nationwide in gifting and self-consumption, with consumers turning to our family of brands to help them reach out and celebrate birthdays, new babies, anniversaries, and more from afar. So, we’re excited for the holiday season ahead and the continuing momentum in our business.

We believe this shift to e-commerce, which was dramatically accelerated during the pandemic, is not likely to revert back. We’ve also seen an increase in consumers shopping via mobile devices, with more than half our traffic coming from mobile during peak periods.

We anticipate the increase in consumer demand will continue to accelerate through the holiday season as more consumers shop across multiple brands on our platform and realize the benefits of our Celebrations Passport® loyalty program, which provides members with free, standard shipping and no service charge for one full year on purchases made across our family of brands.

As with all of our peak times, we plan for the holiday season a year in advance. We have been analyzing and reviewing every aspect of the business for this important period to ensure we deliver smiles on behalf of our customers for this holiday. And then, as you might expect, we will conduct a comprehensive review of this 2021 holiday season starting January and immediately begin the planning process for next year.