The holidays are a crucial time for ecommerce sellers. During this time of year, positive customer experiences offer opportunities to build your brand, increase revenue, boost customer loyalty, and acquire new and repeat customers.
Everything you’ve done to build your business becomes critical during the holidays, when customers not only buy products for themselves, but for friends and family. Positive holiday experiences will help improve your bottom line 365 days a year.
With operations as the backbone of your shipping function—and therefore your entire ecommerce business—you need to evaluate your processes before the busy season. Optimizing your workspace layout, workflow, inventory, printing/packing materials, equipment, and staff for the holiday season can all help lower costs.
Beyond that, smooth-running shipping operations ensure your orders are accurate, packages are packed efficiently and attractively, and that they arrive in your customers’ hands on time. Here are a few strategic areas to review to help you get ready for the upcoming rush.
Can you get enough products produced or sent in from your suppliers to fulfill your anticipated holiday demand? To answer this, review last year’s demand/out-of-stock data, products shaping up to be popular this season, and the anticipated impact of other initiatives (e.g., offering free shipping).
Be sure your purchase orders reflect the increased product inventory needs, and that your suppliers can fulfill them on time. Otherwise, it may be time to find backup suppliers or substitute products.
Something else to think about is how much room you’ll need to store the planned increase in inventory. Also, how much space do you need to accommodate your staff, equipment, boxes, and supplies?
Increased space needs can often be met by taking a hard look at your current area. If you don’t have room to handle higher holiday inventory levels, you might need to find supplemental space to lease, or—if workable—temporary solutions such as portable storage units.
Making sure you have space for all of your inventory is just as vital as your website’s ability to handle holiday traffic. With the uptick in incoming orders, it’s easy to overlook this detail.
These 3 things are all tied together. Ask yourself:
The most common piece of equipment needed is an additional scale to weigh extra packages. If you anticipate needing more people, now is definitely the time to determine how they will fit into the workflow, and make sure to leave time to hire and train them. You may consider a partial or full additional shift, adding weekend workdays or overtime.
Before the holiday rush hits, update your shipping workflow to reflect any impact on picking, packing, packaging, labeling, etc. It’s also a good idea to have a contingency plan in case something goes awry and you end up shipping gifts that won’t arrive in time.
An important piece of advice: Make sure your shipping and inventory solution is up to the task for the holidays. Can you benefit from using advanced features like shipping rules, predictive analytics, and automation?
If you are concerned about your shipping solution’s ability to support your operations, now might be the right time to explore other solutions. Ask questions about onboarding and configuration to better understand the switching costs involved before making a final decision.
Keep in mind returns typically increase by 15% during the holidays. And 20% to 40% of consumers will return at least 1 gift purchase, with percentages rising to as high as 50%.
Be operationally prepared. Make sure your return processes are clear to customers visiting your online store and are clearly explained on your packing slip, internally clearly defined from end to end, and running smoothly to handle the extra workload in your return-processing facility.
You might want to include a return label in gift orders to leave a positive impression with potential future customers. Consider scan-based returns where the label can be printed but a charge is not applied unless and until it is scanned.
Another strategic decision is over whether to offer wrapping and gift notes. You need to determine who on your team is the best wrapper, how many wrapping options to offer, the operational implications of offering them, whether and how much you should charge for wrapping, or whether to use them as a threshold purchase incentive. At a minimum, offering gift notes is essential to capture holiday sentiments and identify the gift giver to the recipient.
If you’re going to offer wrapping, your biggest preparation is setting up a wrapping process. Will you use pre-sized wrapping envelopes? How will you set up the wrapping operation and workspace? Equally important are the associated software requirements—any wrapping and note options you offer need to be reflected in your selling platform’s user experience.
Your shipping platform rules will likewise need updating so you can print notes and flag or otherwise indicate packages to be wrapped. Finally, remember to order any needed materials like gift wrap, boxes, tape, and ribbon, and have them in stock before you deploy the online functionality.
You can look at holiday-period performance data to help you decide what operational changes to make permanent and which ones you will scrap. Set up a monitoring plan going forward to ensure those changes remain a net-positive for your business (and adjust or revert as necessary).
For example, if you changed your return policy to make it more liberal, take a careful look at the impact on your conversion rates and costs to see if they are feasible to maintain long-term. It may be worthwhile to be prepared to keep free returns running for a few months after the holiday season to see and measure any positive influence on repeat orders.