Sendle’s holiday shipping guide: Planning for your big sales rush
Each year, the earth gets a little warmer, we grow a year older and the holiday season creeps up on us earlier than ever. This year, some of us will be reunited with our families, others will not. But despite the uncertainty brought on by COVID, holiday shopping is once again in full swing.
In early 2021, global eCommerce sales ballooned to $US 876 billion - that’s a 38% increase year-over-year! The momentum of last year’s eCommerce boom has continued, so retailers should prepare for a peak in online orders this holiday season.
A peak season is that frantic time when retailers are faced with an influx of new shoppers and sales. It is also the most important time for your business…no pressure!
Now masters of online shopping, consumers have high standards and high hopes. According to 77% of poor reviews aren’t about products but rather the post-purchase experience. Retailers and business owners must holiday-proof their store to uphold customer expectations. After all, nothing dampens the festive mood quite like shipping delays or sold-out wishlists!
You’re probably used to unpredictable times by now… but is your business? Scroll through for our best tips and tricks for prepping (and surviving) the holiday season.
- Holiday shipping tips
- Popular shipping offers for the holidays
- Encourage shoppers to get shoppin' (early!)
- Shipping, packing, and inventory tips
- Keep returns in mind
- Go green to make customers happy
- Shine up your online storefront
- Optimize for sales and avoid cart abandonment
- Keep your costs in check
- Double down on your customer experience
- Communicate early and often
Some helpful tips for holiday shipping
We know there’s a ton to do over the holiday season. Simplify all the work by being super prepared. Here are a bunch of great tips to get you well on your way to ready.
- Look at last year and learn from it. Which products sold like crazy? Stock up on those and pre-pack a certain quantity for quick and easy shipping.
- Plan for the busy times. What were your busiest days last year? If it was a struggle to get it all done, think about hiring some warehouse temps to make it all go a little more smoothly.
- Don’t run out! Where would you be without the boxes and shipping supplies you need. Again, look at the previous year and project that into this year’s shipping rush. That box you kept grabbing over and over again, ream after ream of packing paper, stacks on stacks of packing tapes rolls, and a surplus of labels.
- Pack it like you mean it. If your package can’t withstand a toss across the warehouse, it isn’t packed well enough. Since you can’t be sure of what shenanigans occur between yourself and your customer, make absolutely sure that you pack your shipments for the worst. Plenty of cushioning and a lack of internal rattling will ensure your package will go the distance, safely.
- Things can and will go wrong. Keep that in mind. Just as you should add cushion to your packages, so should you add cushion to the delivery time. Try to aim for early delivery so you (and more importantly, your customers) won’t be disappointed when a delay occurs.
- Watch for typos! It is a real bummer for you and your customer when an address is entered incorrectly. While sometimes this is unavoidable, keep an eye out to ensure that the address is real and correct.
- No spoilers! If you are shipping perishables, make sure you ship them out on Monday or Tuesday with expedited shipping (2-day should work). You don’t want your precious cargo sitting around a depot all weekend long and neither do your customers.
- Insure against loss. If you are regularly shipping expensive merchandise, make sure you add insurance to cover incidental loss and damage. Even with the best carrier, mistakes happen. At least you can get reimbursed if it does happen to you.
- Broadcast your ship-by dates. Find a good way to tell your customers when they need to ship their Christmas gifts by. Create a banner on your site, send out some holiday planning emails, create a countdown timer—whatever you need to do to keep your customer in the know.
Holiday shipping offers to wow your shoppers
The holidays are a great time to offer up limited deals on shipping to drive shoppers to purchase.
They have the opportunity to buy from a lot of retailers, so you want to make sure that your store is the one they choose. Be transparent and don't surprise them with costs when they get to checkout.
Here are some options to woo them:
- Expedited Shipping: Like it or not, consumers are now expecting super quick delivery. If you can offer quick shipping site-wide (with regional caveats), your shoppers are more likely to purchase. Even better, with a positive post-purchase experience, they are likely to come back. You can either make this a free offering for a limited time or a simple flat-rate option.
- Totally Free Shipping: While the cost of shipping for shoppers may not be that significant, it has become a psychological barrier to purchase. Free shipping removes that barrier and translates to increased conversions. By increasing product prices a little, unconditional free shipping becomes a feasible option.
- Conditional Free Shipping: When the idea of unconditional free shipping is too much to bear, you can still offer it up with conditions. That may be with a minimum cart value ($35 is common) or on certain products. This is a great way to still offer up free shipping while driving your customers to buy more per order.
- Members-Only Free Shipping: One more way to offer limited free shipping is to give it only to paying members. This encourages a strong relationship with your member customers and gives them a consistent reward for their loyalty.
- Flat-Rate Shipping: If free shipping isn’t in the cards for your business, another way to lessen the sting from shipping costs is to go flat-rate and make those prices known early on. No matter what they get, same flat rate. This incentivizes larger orders and makes the shipping less of a nasty surprise on the other side of the cart.
Encourage shoppers to get started early
It's no secret supply chain disruptions have put small businesses in a tough spot over the last year. As we head into the holidays, the best way to minimize the chance of disruption is to encourage shoppers to get started early. Most people have come to understand the impacts of COVID on shipping timeframes, but there's very few things you can say to a customer who's kids wake up to empty stockings (oh, that's sad!)
Try out some special incentives to get people shopping early, and communicate your shopping cut-off dates early and often. (All your shipping carriers, including Sendle, will be releasing their cut off dates in the coming weeks, so be on the lookout so you can plan accordingly).
The important things: Shipping, packing, inventory management
To truly be ready for the holidays, you need to have your warehouse fully prepared for the action to come.
Now, warehouse is a big word. It doesn’t have to be some big echoey space with giant shelving units and a forklift. It’s wherever you keep your stock. This may be your stockroom, the basement, or that backroom in your apartment.
However it looks, you want to make your packing process as easy as possible. As the orders multiply, the flaws in your system will become more and more pronounced.
Here are a few inventory management tips to help you stay on top of things:
- Keep your warehouse clean and organized
- Maintain minimum stock levels (especially those popular items)
- Update your inventory as close to real time as possible
- The ‘first in, first out’ inventory method is your friend
- Forecast your demand and buy accordingly
- Complete regular inventory audits
- Have contingency plans for the what-if scenarios
- Keep safety stock on hand
Once you’ve got your inventory situation well taken care of, you can move your focus to the most effective pick and pack processes for your particular business. Read about some of the methods for picking to see what will work best for you.
Finally, you are ready to pack up your fine products for shipping. Whether you are shipping apparel or fine art, you’ll want to pack things up nice and neat (we’ve got a great guide to help you through it). Your customer’s magical unboxing experience is at stake if you just leave it to chance.
Then you ship it out! Just remember to get your shipping policy in order so your customers know what to expect.
Keep returns in mind
Taking returns is not a particularly romantic part of the retail story, but it is important nonetheless.
Shoppers usually expect retailers to take back whatever ware they had second thoughts about.
And that’s OK! But, you can always do your best to prevent returns by giving the customer as much information as possible (accurate product descriptions, sizing guides, great photos, customer reviews, etc).
Where you can’t prevent returns, you want to make them easy for the customer. Respect the customer experience and you will retain great customers. We even wrote about how a good return policy can help grow your small business.
And, of course, you aren’t required to take returns if you don’t want to. Just make it known in your shipping policy. Your customers will understand (if they know it beforehand).
Make your customers happy by going green
It’s no secret that plants and animals are big fans of sustainability. But, more and more, consumers are too.
In fact, they are willing to pay a premium for products that are verifiably environmentally responsible. Check out our infographic that breaks down this amazing consumer trend.
Given the direction of consumer sentiment, going green is not only the right thing to do, it also pays to do it. While we can all make our individual sacrifices to shrink our carbon footprint, small businesses can have an even greater impact.
From the simplest actions, like recycling and shipping with Sendle, to the more complex changes, like moving to renewable energy, there are lots of ways to green your business.
And sustainable packaging can go a long way toward lowering your impact. Compostable packaging is easily your best bet for reducing waste and shrinking your carbon footprint. Luckily, Sendle has mailers and satchels that become worm food at the end of their time.
Just make sure you avoid some common mistakes on your journey toward sustainability.
Shine up your online storefront
Before the holidays kick into gear, take a look at your online presence with fresh eyes. Now's the time to polish up your site so it's ready to dazzle.
Your About Us (or Meet the Team or Who We Are) page is that personal point of connection with your customers. Don’t treat it like an afterthought! We’ve got a guide on how to make a powerful About Us page and another great post with examples to give you some ideas.
Another page that often gets overlooked—wrongly—is the Thank You page. Having found themselves on your Thank You page, these are highly valuable customers. The intent is there and you want to use that intent to gather information, build brand awareness, and ultimately, increase sales.
Your product pages are obviously important. They are a vital juncture where shoppers either turn into customers or turn to find the door. The way to keep more of them moving toward checkout is to provide descriptions that leave no questions and photos that capture your products to their fullest.
If you’re busy preparing for a holiday season store launch (that’s brave of you!), amp up anticipation by creating a Coming Soon page.
Finally, with all your pages in order and your store ready for action, you’ll want to use social media to promote your holiday sales offers. There are plenty of channels you’ll want to take advantage of, from Facebook and Twitter to Instagram and Pinterest.
Optimize for sales and avoid cart abandonment
Think of your website as an experience. The better the experience, the more likely shoppers are to buy.
What your shoppers most want is an easy and intuitive path to purchase. So, to boost your eCommerce sales you need to pay attention to how they navigate, what excites them, and what drives them away.
Understanding how they interact with your site and responding to it can be powerful, both for them (they get what they want) and for you (they buy more of your great stuff). It’s called eCommerce personalization and when you do just enough of it, your customers will love you.
At the end of their journey, with their cart filled to the brim, they can still just leave. To reduce cart abandonment, you’ve got to get rid of surprises, make the process friction-free, and keep them informed.
To learn more about boosting sales and reducing cart abandonment, check out our guide.
Keep your costs in check
You know what they say, money never sleeps.
As you're hustling to make some serious bank over the holiday season, so are your manufacturers, suppliers and distributors. Increased demand often leads to rising costs and each holiday season, the shipping surcharge cycle starts like clockwork. Remember, behind every step of the supply chain is a person needing to make a profit - just like you!
Sendle’s mission is to take care of the little guys. That’s why this year, we're giving small businesses a break as we head into their most critical 'make or break' time of year.
In Australia, we've reduced our rates by up to 30%, from now all the way through the holidays.
For Sendlers in the US, where peak season surcharges are all the rage, we've committed to remain completely surcharge free, and free of all other fees for that matter, now through the end of the year.
Now business owners can ship with confidence that there will be no hidden fees or pesky surprises, and they'll be getting the very best rates all season long. Definitely puts the ‘Merry’ back in Merry Christmas, right?
Double down on your customer experience
With so much to do and so little time, revamping your customer experience may feel like less of a priority than sales-driving activities.
But for many micro and small businesses, the holiday season may be the first (and maybe last!) time a customer shops with you. This is your one chance to pull out all the stops to make them shop...and shop again.
When you deliver top-notch customer experience, you’ll increase customer satisfaction and loyalty. This will ultimately attract new customers (never underestimate the power of word of mouth!) and generate more sales. When it comes to eCommerce, creating a great customer experience is not as easy as offering a warm in-store greeting and a groovy store soundtrack.
Here are a few ways to double down (digitally) on your customer experience:
- Automate order queries such as dispatch and shipping updates
- Communicate across multiple channels (including social media)
- Design festive landing pages
- Predict customer queries and prepare responses ahead of time
- Relax your return policy
- Update copy with cheery holiday greetings
Once your customer experience strategy has gone from drab to fab, you are better placed to collect glowing feedback and testimonials that will drive sales. Learn more about the marketing magic of customer testimonials here.
Communicate early and often
As we approach peak holiday shipping season, you'd be hard pressed to find a retailer or shopper not thinking about shipping delays. Will I be able to get my customers' orders to them on time?
While we in the shipping industry have worked incredibly hard this year to get set up for peak season success, it's important that as a business owner, you have a plan in place to communicate the status of every shipment, and be ready to communicate proactively should challenges arise.
Supply chain slowdown and unexpected demand can prove challenging to even the most prepared of business owners. No matter how stressed out you may be, your customer is still expecting efficient and clear communication before, during and after their purchase.
If in doubt, over communicate. You may hate deadlines, but when it comes to holiday shopping, your customers will appreciate the heads up.
Broadcast your ship-by dates. Do you have a sneaky suspicion products will sell out? Tell them. Does your speedy shipping track record slow down each Christmas? Tell them.
Create a banner on your site, send out some holiday planning emails, create a countdown timer—whatever you need to do to keep your customer in the know. By communicating early and often, you’ll reduce the fall-out from unhappy customers who missed out.
While you can't control everything that happens along your supply chain and delivery network, you can communicate openly with your customers, and approach the season with empathy and kindness. After all, that's what it's all about.