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2021 Holiday Season Survival Guide Part 1: Shipping

It may be June and your sights are probably set on the summer vacation plans you have coming up, but there’s also something you should be looking forward to… the holidays!

There, I said it.

Yes, it’s time to start thinking about the holiday shopping season that gets underway in less than five months. The fourth quarter of 2020 saw unprecedented eCommerce growth fueled by a pandemic that had most of the country stuck at home and shopping online.

The fourth quarter of 2021 is expected to be even bigger. This time growth is expected to be led by those who have now grown accustomed to having items conveniently delivered to their door as well as the vast number of bricks-and-mortar stores that shut down due to the pandemic.

To be prepared for another record-breaking holiday season, it’s time to start putting a plan in place that includes a few important considerations. In this installment of our Holiday Survival Guide, we’re going to discuss one that is key to every eCommerce business – shipping.

Even today, more than a year after the start of the pandemic, shipping carriers are still overwhelmed with the number of packages entering their networks. Gone are the days when you could tell a customer that their package would take “three days to get to you from our warehouse.” Now you have to overstate delivery “estimates” and still cross your fingers that packages arrive in a somewhat reasonable amount of time.

In addition to delays, UPS and FedEx have also suspended their service guarantees for certain types of services, including Ground delivery.  This means that packages arriving beyond their “guaranteed” delivery date are not eligible for refunds.

It’s hard to say if transit times will improve as we inch closer to the holidays, but it’s best to err on the side of caution. We recommend speaking with your shipping partners to learn more about how they can help you as well as how you can help them get your packages to your customers quickly.

If you’re a one-carrier company, having all your eggs in one basket isn’t always a good idea. If Shipping Carrier A gets overwhelmed with orders before the holidays, chances are it’s too late to begin having a conversation with Shipping Carrier B to take some of your volume. Those conversations should be happening now.

If you decide to add an additional carrier to your mix, start off by slowing routing some packages to them and monitor performance.  You may find that in certain zones they can get packages to your customers quicker than your other carrier.  Having more than one shipping company handling your deliveries can be a lifesaver during times like these.

Those who have been in eCommerce for a while may recall the UPS strike in 1997.  While UPS deliveries came to a screeching halt, competitors like FedEx and DHL stopped taking on new customers in order to preserve their delivery standards.  Companies who were already using multiple shipping companies were able to continue shipping in a somewhat normal fashion while those who relied solely on UPS were scrambling to figure out how to get orders to customers.

At the same time you’re thinking about orders going out to your customers, you also need to consider orders coming to you. Your own inventory shipments are subject to the same delays. The last thing you want to happen around the holidays is to have an overabundance of out-of-stock items.

Discuss order lead times with your suppliers and adjust your inventory stock levels to account for anticipated shipping/delivery days moving forward to avoid disappointed customers and lost sales due to shipping carrier delays.

As you get closer to the holidays, make sure you set clear expectations for shipping that your customers can see up-front before they order such as:

  • How long it takes from the time you receive the order until it is shipped;
  • Realistic delivery estimates for each shipping method;
  • Order cut-off dates to ensure timely holiday delivery.

You may also want to offer expedited shipping methods, if you don’t already do so, to give customers the option to have a faster delivery time.

There’s no doubt shipping will be a challenge this year, and all of us are hoping that by the time the holiday season arrives, the shipping carriers will have a better handle on package volume and delivery issues. But in case they don’t, planning ahead will give you a little peace of mind moving into the busy season.

In our next installment, we will discuss an often-overlooked element of the shopping experience and one that can actually cost you sales if not operating efficiently – your store’s search.

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