As brisk winter winds begin to blow, our thoughts naturally turn to the holidays. We imagine great feasts, gift-giving, and time spent together with family and friends. For many entrepreneurs, however, there is looming specter of preparation, particularly for holiday shipping.
It’s no secret that in a world with Black Fridays and Cyber Mondays, that eCommerce store owners are busy. After all, holiday sales through eCommerce alone were responsible for $128 billion in revenue in 2018. It’s said that as much as 47% of online spending for the entire year happens between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday.
Having such a massive amount of sales in one period of time creates seemingly insurmountable obstacles from a supply chain perspective. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We’re here to help!
With all this in mind, let’s break down the complexity of holiday shipping into 14 simple tips.
1. Know the Holiday Shipping Deadlines
First things first, you need to know the holiday shipping deadlines. Gift procrastinators want to have their items delivered before December 25. So with this in mind, you need to know when packages need to be sure they are delivered by that date.
As you may expect, every postal carrier and every class of mail has its own deadline, and the deadlines can be as much as two weeks apart. In 2018, for example, FedEx SmartPost packages had to be sent out by December 10 whereas USPS Priority Mail Express and UPS Next Day Air could be sent as late as December 22.
2019 Shipping Deadlines
Here are the shipping deadlines for 2019, using TheBlackFriday as a source:
- Saturday, December 14: USPS Retail Ground
- Tuesday, December 17: UPS Ground Shipping
- Wednesday, December 18: UPS 3-Day Select
- Friday, December 20: FedEx Express Saver, USPS First Class Mail & Priority Mail
- Saturday, December 21: FedEx 2-Day Shipping
- Sunday, December 22: UPS Next Day Air, USPS Priority Mail Express
- Wednesday, December 25: FedEx Overnight
2. Review Your Supply Chain
Supply chain management is complex even under typical circumstances. This is doubly true when pushed to its limits by the burdens imposed by holiday shipping.
In the post we’ve linked above, we have defined supply chain management as having ten parts. Each of these ten should be examined prior to the holidays to look for possible breakdowns.
- Planning for demand. If at all possible, you need a way to either estimate demand or stockpile goods for the holidays. Otherwise, you risk running out of inventory and having nothing to sell during the best time of the year to make sales.
- Creating a continuous flow of information. If your IT architecture isn’t ready for prime-time, fix it before the holidays.
- Materials management. If you are manufacturing goods for the holidays, make sure you have enough raw materials to do so.
- Inventory management. Make sure you have a keen idea of how much inventory you have on hand for the holidays.
- Manufacturing and production. If you are manufacturing goods for the holidays, make sure you can manufacture enough goods given the amount of time you have to go.
- Transportation. Make sure that you have access to a good freight forwarder. We recommend Freightos.
- Warehousing and distribution. Make sure all your goods have somewhere to go.
- Order fulfillment. Once the holidays begin, the last thing you want to worry about is getting packages out the door fast enough. This is why we recommend outsourcing fulfillment to a company like ours if you expect a high order volume. Otherwise, make sure you are well-staffed.
- Returns management. We’ll cover this in a little bit.
- Customer experience. During this very busy time of the year, you will want to make sure customers are still having a great time!
3. Identify Your Customers’ Pain Points
Holidays can make or break eCommerce businesses. Around half of online customers during the 2016 holiday season had a bad shopping experience. You will want to be ahead of the curve. Think about the problems that could arise and irritate your customers and plan for them.
4. Identify Your Business’s Pain Points
The general holiday hustle and bustle is going to be a strain on your business. This is not just true in departments related to sales or supply chain management. It will be difficult in marketing, accounting, and every other facet of the business. Any issues that may arise in other departments can draw attention away from customers. Try to identify and correct issues outside the supply chain before the holiday season begins.
5. Map Your Returns Process
Returns are complicated enough that we’ve written an entire post about how to handle them. With increased sales comes increased returns. This is especially true during the holidays when people are going out on a limb and buying products for other people. Realistically, which are you going to be most likely to return – something you chose to buy or something that was given to you?
Bearing the above in mind, you need to map out your whole reverse logistics process. Understand how you will handle returns from both your perpsective and the customers’ perspective. Figure out what you are going to do with the returns when they arrive. Resell them? Trash them? There are lots of options available, you just need a process ready to go.
6. Ramp Up Your Marketing Efforts
It goes without saying that during a time of elevated sales, there will be a greater need for marketing. This can entail increasing brand awareness, acquiring new customers, and encouraging existing customers to make repeat purchases.
No matter what your strategy, the holidays represent a time of great opportunity for your company. Be sure to come up with a marketing plan in advance!
7. Plan for Gift Shipping
This will seem incredibly obvious when spelled out, but many eCommerce store owners never think of it. Because you are selling products that will wind up as gifts, one value-added service you can sell is gift wrapping. Come up with a plan for shipping gifts!
8. Consider Creating Custom Holiday Packaging
A little while ago, we had the always wonderful folks at Noissue.co write a post about creating specialty holiday packaging. One excerpt especially stands out.
[Seventy-five precent] of consumers are open to shopping with new brands during the holiday season. If you want to turn these first-time shoppers into long-term supporters of your brand, making a great first impression on delivery is vital.
Consider these stats:
- A survey by Shopify last year found that 52% of consumers dislike gift-wrapping themselves over the holiday season because it ‘takes too much time’
- According to Prego, premium packaging improves the value perception of a product by 45%
- Dotcom Distribution’s study ‘Unwrapping the Customer Experience’ found that 40% of consumers would share photos or videos of a package on social media if it came in ‘gift-like’ branded packaging
If you have been considering the possibility of creating specialty packaging for a while, the holidays are the perfect chance to try that out in practice.
9. Estimate Your Order Volume
Estimating the number of orders you will receive over the holidays is critical to your success in holiday shipping. At a minimum, make sure you have all the required personnel for shipping large volumes of orders and make sure you won’t run out of stock. If possible, outsource fulfillment and look into quality inventory management software.
10. Stock up on Critical Supplies
It may seem obvious, but the last thing you want to do during the holidays is run out of critical supplies. If you’re shipping your own packages, buy a bunch of boxes, bubble wrap, packing tape, and so on. Any supply that your business will be consuming in large quantities in order to handle the large rush of shipments, you need to have enough of.
11. Hire Seasonal Workers for Holiday Shipping
During the holidays, because you will be experiencing an abnormally high volume of orders, look into hiring some part-time help. This is an excellent way to take care of large quantities of orders and any associated work without the year-round cost of a regular, long-term employee.
12. Automate and Outsource Before You Need To
Large parts of our jobs can be automated and outsourced. We’ve made the case for outsourcing fulfillment to companies like our own, but we’re not just talking about that. If you’re keeping track of customers by hand, look into tools like Salesforce. Doing accounting by hand? Look into tools like Quickbooks. If you have multiple independent systems that need to interconnect in some way, look into tools like Order Desk.
The point is – anything that seems like a rock in your shoe now from a business process standpoint will become a glaring issue during the holidays. Why not fix it early?
13. Check All Your Timetables
When arranging large freight shipments, it can be tough to keep track of what items will be in which warehouses and when. Because of this, double-check, triple-check, quadruple-check all your freight shipment timetables. The last thing you want on December 25 is a cargo vessel sitting in a port off the coast of Florida when you expected it to come ashore two weeks ago.
Additionally, make sure your warehouses will receive goods in time to get packages out in the mail before the holiday shipping cutoff dates. Otherwise, you’ll risk unhappy buyers who expected their items to arrive before Christmas.
If everything doesn’t line up, it’s better to catch that now! It gives you a chance to set expectations which can do wonders for your business’s reputation in the long-run.
14. When the Holidays Are Over, Revisit Your Processes
When the holiday season dust settles, it’s a great time to audit your processes. Having just survived a big rush, you’ve seen how your business performs at the extremes. You know very well what works and what does not. Why not use this knowledge to make New Year’s Resolutions for your business while the memories are fresh?
Holiday shipping may seem intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. By following the tips above, you can head into the coming months with confidence, knowing your business can handle whatever comes its way.
Good luck and Happy Holidays from Fulfillrite!