Guest Post: Preparing and Managing High-Volume Holiday Shipments Best Practices
The holiday season is undoubtedly the busiest time for e-commerce and shipping businesses. Events like Black Friday and Christmas might seem a long way away now, but preparation takes time!
Following the best practices listed here will mean you’re not caught out once those holiday orders start piling up. We’ll explain how to manage every stage of the ordering and shipping process and be prepared for high demands.
Step one to being prepared is to understand what you’re dealing with. What level of demand will your business have to face? Take a look at the 2021 holiday shopping trends for an idea of what you’ll be up against in 2022.
For example, retail sales in the holiday period are predicted to increase every year. Approximately 11.1% over the next two years, in fact. This means that your 2022 shipping strategy should be sufficient to cover the 2021 demand, plus a little extra.
2021 data also tells us that people are starting their holiday shopping earlier and earlier each year.
Look at Trends
Industry data from previous years can help paint an overall picture, but an understanding of your own business’s trends is even more accurate. Here are some questions you need to be asking when you look at your company’s performance this year so far:
What have been your highest selling products?
Which products have generated the most profit?
What proportion of sales came from each shipping method? Eg. Buy Online Pick Up In Store, domestic deliveries, international shipping
Are any products currently seeing a large increase in sales?
Which countries/regions is your business shipping to most often?
That last point is a major indicator of when shipping demand will peak - different regions celebrate different holidays which should be taken into account. For example, Thanksgiving has a massive influence on the American market, but it isn’t celebrated at all in Europe or Asia.
These factors are likely already recorded as part of your company’s sales/performance review process. The extra step is applying those numbers to your holiday shipping plan so that you’re well prepared.
You should also consider any new products that are launching between now and the holiday season. Don’t leave them out of your shipping plan! Some major launches can take over a huge portion of your business’s total shipping capacity, so you need to be sure that it won’t negatively impact other product lines.
Know the fulfillment process inside and out
Fulfillment AKA shipping and delivery logistics is usually handled by one department in a company, but it is far from a one-step process. Preparing for and managing high-demand periods requires smooth sailing at every stage.
Here’s a brief rundown of how each part of the ecommerce shipping process might be impacted the holiday shopping peak:
After putting the items in their digital basket the customer moves to the checkout page. This is where the delivery method and ‘postage and packing’ costs get calculated.
Free delivery is one of the biggest factors in getting a customer to follow through with an online purchase. What used to be a nice bonus is now an expectation for many online shoppers - 48% of customers who abandoned their carts did so because of unexpected delivery fees.
(Image Source: SaveMyCent)
Holiday shopping season may be the most profitable but it is also the most competitive. Part of making the most out of this high-volume order period is staying ahead of the pack. Simply offering free delivery will make your ecommerce and/or shipping business much more appealing to consumers.
2. Order Processing
The last thing you want during the holiday shopping season is a website that can’t keep up with demand. Beta test your order processing site, regardless of the ecommerce platform you use, to make 100% sure that it won’t crash during peak time.
Extra hassle with filling out delivery addresses or payment details can cause a serious traffic jam on any ecommerce platform. Back in 2019, a cosmetics company’s Shopify site crashed within minutes of a new product launch because it couldn’t handle the huge increase in web traffic. You really don’t want a repeat of that situation!
Preparing for issues like this that might occur in the early stages of fulfillment will make a big difference in managing the shipping process as a whole.
3. Picking and Packing
Okay, all the details are down and now it’s time to shift the actual product. First off, have enough inventory to meet the demand - if you forecast that a product will sell more units in November, for example, it’s probably worth getting a few extra pallets from your manufacturer.
Next comes the warehouse-to-truck picking process. Prepare for the holiday season by including increased employee costs in your budget for that quarter. That time of year often comes with more short-term/temporary employment contracts, and warehouse workers make up a large chunk of that market.
Be prepared for that influx of new employees by having a strong communications system in place, such as a VoIP contact center. This will make it a lot easier to coordinate shifts and responsibilities during peak times.
Can’t afford to pay that many extra salaries? Then you could consider investing in robots for shipping automation. Automation is revolutionizing the world of warehouse shipping, with the market predicted to be worth $37.6 billion by 2030.
4. Shipping and Delivery
Final step: get the product into the customer’s hands. Just like warehouse employees, postal carriers will also be under extra pressure.
Research which local couriers offer the best rates and delivery times for each region that you ship to. It may be more efficient to partner with one courier to cover all shipments, or you might need to offer different options for US and EU deliveries, for example.
This is another opportunity for automation to optimize your business. Amazon and Uber Eats already have pilot schemes for autonomous delivery by drones or self-driving robots. That mix of machine and manpower might be just what you need to manage those high-volume holiday shipments.
A commonly overlooked part of shipping is the physical shipping supplies. There’s no point processing 50,000 orders if you’ve only got 25,000 cardboard boxes available!
Are the products fragile? You’ll need bubble wrap. Are they large or heavy? Then there'll be additional delivery costs. Are you shipping lots of small parcels or dealing with a few high-value bulky orders?
Have a Clear Shipping Policy
More orders unfortunately means a higher customer service workload. You can minimize the amount of customer queries by having an accessible shipping policy available on your website. This is essential for both B2B and B2C companies.
Transparency should be at the center of any shipping policy. Be as open and honest as possible about all the timings and costs that a customer should be aware of. You shouldn’t need to use the Pandadoc template of Non Disclosure Agreement when discussing shipping policies - offer as much information as you can to reduce misunderstanding.
Having all the important shipping information together on one page makes things easier for both you and the consumer. Which means it’s super important to have it up and running in time for the peak holiday season.
‘But what do I even put on a shipping policy page?’ Don’t worry - we’ve got you covered:
1. Cut-off Dates
Even the best courier service in the world isn’t going to get a parcel delivered from China to London by Christmas morning if it was ordered at 9pm the night before. Make it clear to customers that if they need something delivered by a specific day, then it has to be ordered by this date at the latest.
Put this information on the checkout page and also send out email reminders when a cut-off date is coming up.
2. Returns and Refunds
Sometimes a well-meaning relative will buy a gift that’s just not the right fit (sorry, grandma…) and it may need to be returned. An ideal returns policy tells customers what condition the product should be returned in, how long after purchase it can be returned, and whether a return qualifies you for a refund.
As you can see from this chart (above), lack of support around returns is one of the biggest deal-breakers for online shoppers. No-one wants to feel like they’ve wasted money, so a compassionate returns policy is crucial to building a strong B2C relationship.
If you have an accessible returns policy that answers all the shipping FAQs, then you hopefully won’t have to worry about how to set up voicemail that can deal with hundreds of confused customers! Like we said, a shipping policy is a win-win for both parties.
Finally, when you’re shipping out this many orders it is important for you (and the customer) to know where all those parcels are. Use a courier with a trusted order tracking system that can be viewed by your fulfillment team and by the customer.
The ideal parcel tracker shows when the order has been processed, dispatched, received by the local courier, and is out for delivery. Look at the systems used by Royal Mail and Amazon as examples of user-friendly order tracking.
Now you’re ready to tackle an ecommerce shipment rush! Taking the time to optimize each of these steps will put you in the best possible position once those holiday orders start piling in.
So, in summary, these are the best practices for managing high-volume shipments:
Forecast demand by looking at trends
Consider every stage of fulfillment from checkout to local delivery
Have a clear shipping and returns policy
Track orders accurately
We hope that you found these tips useful and that you’ll share the article with other ecommerce professionals. Good luck!
Grace Lau - Director of Growth Content, Dialpad
Grace Lau is the Director of Growth Content at Dialpad, an AI-powered phone system for better and easier team collaboration. She has over 10 years of experience in content writing and strategy. Currently, she is responsible for Dialpad's 800 numbers and leading branded and editorial content strategies, partnering with SEO and Ops teams to build and nurture content. Grace Lau also published articles for domains such as UpCity and Soundstripe. Here is her LinkedIn.
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