The four weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas represent the busiest retail days of the year. Online shopping experiences an even sharper increase in traffic during the holiday period and provides an important source of revenue for most eCommerce businesses. However, despite the enthusiasm for online retail, many customers are concerned about whether their goods will arrive in time to place under the Christmas tree.
Failure to deliver products on time and in perfect condition can harm brand trust, resulting in lost customers. To ensure a positive customer experience and maintain their customer base, online sellers need to prepare a solid shipping plan to put products in their customers’ hands by holiday deadlines.
For a smooth holiday season, you need to streamline order fulfillment, invest in protective shipping materials, including air pillow packaging, and develop positive relationships with your carriers. Here are a few tips for ensuring your goods reach your buyers in time for the holidays.
Develop a Shipping Plan
Developing a shipping plan is essential to a smooth holiday season. Customers have higher expectations about when and in what condition they receive their goods during the holidays. Supply chain scheduling with deadlines may seem challenging, but taking all factors into account can make your shipping process more efficient.
-Contact all the major carriers you use to determine their last-date shipping deadlines.
-Make sure you are familiar with your supplier chains’ shipping times and obtain estimated landed shipping costs for easier budgeting.
-Plan for delivery delays and communicate estimated shipping times to your customers to help you meet their expectations. This could include marketing emails or pop-ups on your site, indicating a countdown until the cut-off date. Effectively communicating the cut-off date can also create a sense of urgency for customers, prompting them to buy more products.
-Assess the 4 KPIs for packaging and label issues; this can help you evaluate your business strategies to keep your shipping operation running smoothly.
-Consider outsourcing to a third-party logistics (3PL) company to manage warehousing, picking and fulfillment and liaising with carriers. Outsourcing these logistical aspects to your business frees up resources to divert into customer service.
Planning helps you gain insight into projected shipping delays and estimated deadlines, enabling you to notify your customers about the final day to order goods so they can receive them by Christmas.
Offer Expedited Shipping Options
You also need to consider the shipping times you offer to your customers. Online retail giants like Amazon and eBay offer expedited and same-day shipping, changing the expectations of online shoppers worldwide. Major companies who ship billions of dollars of merchandise annually have much greater flexibility of funds when it comes to waiving consumers’ shipping, so consumers have become accustomed to free shipping.
Large companies that offer fast shipping options force small businesses to do the same to remain competitive and ensure their customers receive their goods promptly and in good condition. But, during the holiday rush, small businesses may feel like offering fast shipping is cost-prohibitive. Here are a few ways you can offer expedited shipping without breaking your budget.
Be Selective with Your Shipping Providers
The most effective shipping method for your goods depends on the types of products you sell. For small packages, parcels and gift cards, UPS, FedEx, and the United States Postal Service are the best choices, as they can provide the fastest shipping times at a more affordable rate. However, for large shipments, fragile items, artwork, furniture, appliances, and bulky or oddly shaped items, the right option is consolidated freight or white glove carriers.
Set a Minimum Purchase Threshold
One way to meet this demand is by having a set order amount that meets your free shipping threshold. This also works to your advantage—the consumer who wants to buy your product may purchase more items to meet your free shipping threshold.
Consider Free Shipping
A recent study by global tech company Pitney Bowes showed that up to 75 percent of online consumers preferred free shipping with a slightly longer delivery time.
To make this a viable option for your business, consider incorporating some freight cost into the product’s price and adjusting your estimated purchase cut-off deadlines to allow for additional delivery time.
Assess Your Inventory
Determine how many products you currently have, how long it typically takes for products to get to customers and your company’s past sales history, especially around the holidays. These factors will tell you what your inventory should look like for the current holiday season and, ultimately, determine the number of supplies you will need to ship your packages.
Stock Up on Essential Shipping Supplies
The shipping supplies you need will depend on the sizes, weights and fragility of your products. Be sure to get a good selection of boxes for the types of products being shipped. Determine the sizes and amount of boxes you’ll use, depending on your inventory and your sales forecast.
Consider the types of products you’re shipping to determine what kind of packaging material to use. If you are shipping fragile products, you’ll need a large supply of protective packaging, such as air pillows, to safeguard the products during shipping. Customers prefer environmentally conscious business practices, so finding air pillow packaging that is compostable or biodegradable is an appealing bonus to many consumers.
The tape to seal the packages is essential for sealing your packaging to prevent spillage, tampering, or theft. Brown shipping tape is activated with water, and it is company logo-printable and tamper-evident. It’s a little more expensive than the more commonly used heavy-duty plastic tape, but anything imprinted with your company’s name can make an impression on consumers and build your brand.
Christmas is the busiest time of the year, and customers expect their products to be delivered in time to put under the tree. Small businesses can stand out from the competition by ensuring they meet holiday shipping deadlines, but in order to do so, they need a strong fulfillment and shipping plan to help streamline their operation through the festive season.
Cory Levins is the Director of Business Development for Air Sea Containers.