Black Friday and Cyber Monday are just around the corner, which brings with it an online shopping extravaganza. It’s the start of the busiest shopping period of the entire year. According to Reuters U.S. shoppers spent a record $126 billion on online shopping during the 2018 holiday season—Black Friday through the end of the year—and this year is projected to rise between 3.8% and 4.2%.
Every single one of those orders must be fulfilled and shipped to customers all around the world. Not an easy task. Creating a positive shopping—and shipping—experience for your customers is critical to ensure they are satisfied, and become repeat shoppers.
- If you promise a delivery before Christmas and your customer’s package doesn’t arrive in time, they will be far from impressed.
- If the wrong item is sent, you’re not likely to get any repeat business from that customer.
- If the item arrives damaged, you’ve probably lost that customer for good.
A study from Pitney Bowes identified that, during the 2016 holiday shopping season, 47% of online shoppers reported frustration with everything from shipping to returns to lost products.
During the holiday season, when many items are being purchased online as gifts, the stakes are much higher for getting customers’ order sent out on time, in full, and with no damage. Your company’s success lies in your ability to deliver an unbeatable customer experience during a time when customers’ expectations of their experience with you is even higher.
Plan ahead for the peak holiday shipping season with these three tips to ensure the holiday shopping season is smooth sailing for your business, whether you’re an e-commerce based business or a marketplace seller.
Tip #1: Review your fulfillment operations to be sure you can efficiently manage an influx of holiday orders.
If you currently fulfil your orders in house, now is the time to determine if you have the capacity to manage a rush in orders towards the end of this month. It may sound like a no-brainer but there are some areas of the process that busy business owners overlook.
- Do you have enough products in stock to fulfill every anticipated order? This is going to be your number 1 priority. If you don’t have inventory, you can’t sell it, it’s that simple!
- Are inventory levels up to date on your website so that it will be accurately reflected when a product is out of stock? Heading into the busy shopping season you need to know how many of every product you have available to sell. There’s nothing worse for a customer than ordering an item only to receive an email a few days later that it’s actually out of stock.
- Have you stocked up on extra packaging supplies? Making sure you have enough boxes, bubble-wrap, packing tape, and labels etc. is something that can easily be forgotten in the rush. You can stock up on free Priority Mail and Priority Mail Express Flat Rate packaging directly from USPS.
- Do you have enough staff on hand to ensure the orders get out the door on time? Using past months and seasons as a guide you will be able to forecast how many staff you’ll need on hand to handle the influx of holiday orders. It can be hard to forecast, especially for new businesses, so a flexible staff is ideal. Have extra people you can call on if needed.
- Do you have support staff at the ready? Holiday shoppers want a positive customer experience, so ensure you have people available to answer calls and emails about customer orders.
- Have you reviewed the order fulfillment process with all of your staff? Do you see any potential for bottlenecks that might slow down the process?What can you do to streamline those steps or make them more efficient?
There is a lot to think about when it comes to your fulfillment operations. If it’s giving you a headache just looking at this list, consider partnering with a third party logistics company (3PL) to take all of these items off your plate!
Tip #2: Know the Holiday Service Schedules and Prices from FedEx and UPS
It’s critical to know exactly when the last date for orders is so that they will arrive in time for Christmas. Review FedEx and UPS schedules to accurately inform your customers. For example, these are UPS’ key cut off dates for Christmas arrival:
- December 13 – Last day to ship by Ground for delivery to US & Extended Areas
- December 17 – Last day to ship by Ground for delivery across Canada (domestic)
- December 20 – Last day to ship by Air for International delivery
- December 23 – Last day to ship by Air for delivery across Canada and the US
Conditions apply to be sure to check the carriers’ website directly.
Also bear in mind that shipping carriers may introduce peak shipping charges over the holiday season. For example, UPS peak shipping charges include an Additional Handling Packages surcharge of anywhere from $3.60 to $31.45 depending on the size of the package, and FedEx package surcharges start at $4.10 per package.
Most order fulfillment companies ship same day on items received before a cut-off time in the afternoon (Simple Global’s cut off time for same-day delivery is 2pm) and will work with you to accurately determine when the last day is for orders to be shipped and delivered before Christmas. If you’re in the market for an order fulfillment partner, consider those with multiple fulfillment centers in different parts of the country or worldwide. Shipping costs often depend on how long it will take a package to reach a customer—determined by shipping zones—so by spreading your inventory between multiple fulfillment centers, you can offer quicker shipping times to customers, and it makes ground shipping less expensive.
Tip #3: Optimize your website for the holidays
Once your order fulfillment and shipping strategies are taken care of, it’s time to think about turning as many website visitors into customers as possible.
- Make sure your website can handle the increase in traffic. A slow site is going to drive visitors away. If your site takes more than a couple of seconds to load, you could lose up to 40% of site visitors who simply do not have the time to waste. Test your website speed with Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool. Then, try to cut down the size of your pages by removing some of the unnecessary ‘extras’ from your site and compress your files.
- Does your site work on mobile as well as desktop? According to Adobe’s holiday sales recap for the 2018 season, mobile accounted for 60% of online holiday shopping traffic and 40% of online holiday sales. Websites that are optimized for mobile devices will show up more prominently in Google searches than those that are not.
- Review the checkout process. The average eCommerce store loses over 75% of its sales to cart abandonment, which is incredibly frustrating for ecommerce business owners Why are people putting items in their cart but not purchasing? Conduct an audit of your check out process using your site’s analytics to see where people are abandoning.
- Is it because they are forced to register on your site? If so, allow guest checkout, but offer the option to save their details after purchase.
- Is it when shipping costs are shown? Consider offering free, or reducing shipping charges, and show the charges earlier in the checkout process.
- Is it because there are too many steps to the checkout process? Condense the checkout process to as few steps as possible.
- Make it clear when the cut off date is for pre-Christmas delivery. This is going to be the biggest question people will have the closer it gets to Christmas. Will this arrive in time? Make sure the last dates are clearly marked on your site, and if people order past the cut-off date, let them know the item isn’t likely to arrive in time.
- Ensure the returns policy easy to find on the site. Research indicates 67% of ecommerce buyers will check your return policy before buying. Communicate your return shipping information clearly and prominently—it’ll save you time and customer support effort if people do decide to initiate a return.
- Make it as easy as possible for people to find the items they are looking for. Make sure that your holiday offers are featured prominently on your home page, and update your website’s images, keywords and search engine optimization to help shoppers find your business in search results. There are tons of eCommerce sites for people to purchase their holiday items from, so make it easy for them to find what that want on your site. Consider creating a gift guide (e.g. “great gifts for mom”) or bundling items that are often bought together into ‘kits’ (e.g. hats and gloves).
- Use social media to drive more traffic to your website. Frequently post your special offers to your top social media sites, such as Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.
Being prepared for the holiday sales rush is something that every ecommerce website must do. It can be difficult to predict how the holiday season will impact your sales, and even the most prepared e-commerce brands might find themselves twice as busy as normal in a rush to fill orders. Preparing early is key in order to avoid the e-commerce peak season fails. For ecommerce companies considering moving from inhouse order fulfillment to partnering with an order fulfilment company, this could be the year that solidifies your decision.
Order fulfillment companies are experienced at handling peak season spikes in sales and will efficiently scale with you as your orders increase, ensuring there are no delays in shipping orders. A 3PL will manage your incoming orders, pick, pack, and ship them, and also handle returns, taking the stress away from you, plus, using a third party 3PL frees up resources that can be better diverted to providing quality customer service.