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. Every e-commerce brand could use some peak season tips to keep things running smoothly! 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). Reuters predicts these figures 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. You could permanently lose a customer if:

  • The customer expects delivery before Christmas and the package doesn’t arrive in time
  • You send the wrong item
  • The item arrives damaged

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’ orders 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 are 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.

peak season tips - review fulfillmentTip #1: Review your fulfillment operations

If you fulfill your orders in house, now is the time to determine if you have the capacity to manage a peak season volume increase.

  • Do you have enough products in stock to fulfill every anticipated order? This is your number one priority. If you don’t have inventory, you can’t sell it!
  • Are inventory levels up to date on your website so it shows when a product is out of stock? Heading into the busy shopping season, you must know how many of each product is available. For customers, there’s nothing worse than ordering an item only to receive an email saying it’s out of stock. 
  • Have you stocked up on extra packaging supplies? Ensuring you have enough boxes, bubble-wrap, packing tape, and labels 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 can forecast how many workers you’ll need 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 their calls and emails.
  • Have you reviewed the order fulfillment process with 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?

If all this seems a bit much, partnering with a third-party logistics company (3PL) can make things a lot simpler!

Peak season tips - package carriersTip #2: Know the Holiday Service Schedules and Prices from FedEx and UPS

It’s critical to know when the last date for orders is so 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:

  • 12/13 – Last day to ship by Ground for delivery to US & Extended Areas
  • 12/17 – Last day to ship by Ground for delivery across Canada (domestic)
  • 12/20 – Last day to ship by Air for International delivery
  • 12/23 – Last day to ship by Air for delivery across Canada and the US

Conditions apply so be sure to check the carriers’ websites 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 2 pm) 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.

Peak Season Tips - optimize websiteTip #3: Optimize your website for the holidays

Once you take care of order fulfillment and shipping strategies, it’s time to think about turning as many website visitors into customers as possible. This very well may be the most important of our peak season tips since e-commerce shoppers are always looking for a fast, effiecent, and engaging shopping experience!

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 seconds to load, you could lose up to 40% of site visitors. 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 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 e-commerce 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 reduced 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. 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 e-commerce 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 they 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.

Get Help and Avoid the Fails!

Being prepared for the holiday sales rush is something that every e-commerce website must do. It can be difficult to predict how the holiday season will impact your sales. Even the most prepared e-commerce brands might find themselves twice as busy as normal in a rush to fill orders. These peak season tips can help, but they will be most useful if you prepare early and avoid common e-commerce peak season fails.

One final thing to add to our list of peak season tips: Don’t go it alone! If you’re considering moving from in-house order fulfillment to partnering with an order fulfillment company, this could be the year to do it! Order fulfillment companies are experienced at handling peak season spikes in sales. They can scale with you as your orders increase, ensuring there are no delays in shipping orders. 3PLs manage your incoming orders. They pick, pack, and ship them, and handle returns, taking the stress away from you. Using a third party 3PL frees up resources that can be better diverted to providing quality customer service.