It’s no secret that the holiday season is one of the busiest times of the year for shipping and retail industries. In fact, It’s the most important time of the year for direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands. With increases in technology, ecommerce has become the driving force behind the yearly surge in sales. Shoppers spent $122 billion with online retailers alone in the past year. To keep up with the surge in demand in a short span of time, you need to have a streamlined shipping strategy and fulfillment process in place for the holidays.
These days, customers have high expectations when shopping online. They want free and fast shipping, free returns, and share-worthy unboxing moments. Businesses that are able to keep up logistically both bring in more customers and retain them better.
In this article, we will go through common challenges that DTC brands face during the holiday shipping season, and how you can streamline your shipping process for your online store’s success.
What is considered the holiday shipping season?
The holiday shipping season refers to the time of the year (Q4, or October through December) when order and shipment volume spikes, leading to more orders to fulfill and more returns to process. The holiday shopping season includes Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and general gift-giving that leads into Christmas.
In this period, supply chain management can get disrupted as online brands rush to keep up with demand, manage inventory, and fulfill a massive amount of orders. Shipping carriers get busier than usual and work harder to deliver packages on time.
When does the holiday shipping season start?
The holiday shipping season starts earlier than many people think. The shipping industry and eCommerce sales ramp up as early as October, and high demand continues until the new year. Here is an overview of major milestones and holidays that occur during the holiday shipping season.
Halloween (October 31)
Even if it’s an American holiday, Halloween is popular among consumers in Europe, too. Whether you’re selling “spooky” decorations, costumes, or other items, sales opportunities increase during this time. Many brands will try to capitalize on the holiday by running special promotions.
Thanksgiving (November 24)
Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the holiday shopping season. You have Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Small Business Saturday all occurring over the same long weekend. That’s when holiday shoppers begin to search for the best deals and try to purchase their holiday gifts early.
Christmas (December 25)
Holiday shoppers expect to get gifts delivered before Christmas Day (or even Christmas Eve). You must take note of your carriers’ holiday cutoff dates and communicate those with customers. They want to know when they’ll have to place orders for on-time delivery.
New Year’s Day (January 1)
Although the holiday shopping season starts to slow down by this time, return volume is at an all-time high around January 1. This often requires more from customer service and logistics operations teams for smooth returns and exchanges.
Other important dates
- Black Friday: November 25,
- Small Business Saturday: November 26,
- Cyber Monday: November 28,
- Free Shipping Day*: December 14,
- Super Saturday**: December 17.
*Participating merchants provide free shipping on all orders, with promised delivery by Christmas Eve.
**The last Saturday before Christmas is a huge shopping day for brick-and-mortar retailers.
Common challenges during holiday shipping season
Expected or unexpected, whenever there’s a major change in the supply chain, it can throw off inventory management, shipping, and more. That’s why it’s essential to find ways to build supply chain resilience and ensure a successful holiday shipping season — even if there are delays and disruptions. To prepare your supply chain for Q4, here are a few holiday shipping season challenges to be aware of.
Black Friday sales
One of the biggest challenges to growing eCommerce businesses is managing an increase in order volume. Obviously, this is most apparent during the holidays. Black Friday sales add even more chaos to the mix.
Partnering with the right 3PL can take fulfillment challenges off your plate and put it into the hands of experts (even if the volume increases by 1,200% in a couple of weeks). This is a great way to avoid making common holiday season mistakes.
If you decide to keep fulfillment in-house, you must prepare to hire more packers (and be ready to ask family and friends to step in as required). You should also plan your holidays around running promotions and fulfilling orders on time.
Supplier holidays and factory shutdowns
Many brands partner with multiple suppliers and manufacturers to ensure they are not at risk if a primary supplier can’t deliver during shortages or shutdowns. Whether it’s a planned shutdown like Chinese New Year, or an unplanned one like what happened during the pandemic, manufacturers can go through shutdowns at any time.
Unfortunately, this means that receiving and replenishing inventory can be significantly delayed or disrupted — which could affect your entire eCommerce supply chain. As part of your business contingency or continuity plan, partnering with various suppliers can help reduce the risk of the inventory shortage. You can even get ahead by ordering surplus inventory. This helps avoid stockouts and gives you some wiggle room for the holiday shipping season.
If you want to partner with a 3PL, make sure they have the expertise, technology, and experience to deal with the increased volume that comes with the holiday shipping season. The wrong 3PL partner can cause major disruptions in your fulfillment process and lead to mispicks, slower deliveries, and inaccurate inventory levels.
The right 3PL, on the other hand, will always offer visibility and transparency into the supply chain. That includes real-time inventory data, information on shipping and fulfillment performance, and much more.
How to perfectly execute the holiday shipping season
If you are curious about how you can perfect your shipping strategy during the holidays, here are a few things to try.
Break the shipping process down into smaller steps
How long does it take you to fulfill an order? If you can get accurate data on each element, you’ll be able to better answer this question. You can break things down into the following:
- Time to pack a product,
- Time to take out the packaging material,
- Time to collect all items in one place,
- Time to print shipping labels.
Once you know where every second of your time is going, you can streamline some of the processes and add some minutes back to your day. Small changes can lead to big improvements in efficiency and customer satisfaction.
Effective communication with customers is a huge part of your relationship with them. As you ship orders you should make sure they receive updates, shipping times, delivery notifications, and more. This practice keeps customers in the loop and makes them feel as though they know what’s going on with their shipment.
Give your customers multiple payment options
Allowing your customers to pay in multiple ways gives you an edge and provides your customers with the flexibility they want. Since many customers use wallet payment options, accepting payment via wallets can simplify your customers’ shopping experience.
Save time with labels
Did you know you can save a significant amount of time by printing shipping labels in bulk? You can also integrate orders with Cin7 to print your labels in seconds.
Keep an eye on your supply
Each seller predicts how many sales they will make during a holiday season. Suppose you offer 50% off on apparel. You’ll need to make sure you have adequate stock lined up to cater to urgent requirements. Print labels in advance and stock your supplies for shipping. Most importantly, make sure you don’t get stopped midway during the peak season. Purchasing supplies in bulk quantities saves you the cost and headache that comes with last minute sourcing and production.
Display a shipping rate calculator
If you don’t offer free shipping, you should provide your customers the exact cost they’ll pay while ordering any given product. You can do this by offering a shipping rate calculator. This is usually based on factors like the customer’s delivery location and is a very important part of the checkout process. In fact, 44% of customers abandon carts due to high shipping costs.
Set a free shipping threshold
Many eCommerce sellers offer free shipping during the holiday season. This can help increase sales, but it can also burden you with higher shipping costs. Instead, try the following:
- Set a threshold order value before providing free shipping.
- Set a countdown for free shipping.
- Send coupon codes for free shipping.
Setting a threshold on orders may help increase your average order value and encourage customers to buy items they might not have previously. Plus, opting for lower-cost regional couriers might be a smart option, too.
Offer international shipping
Scaling your business to ship internationally could be an excellent opportunity for sellers during peak season. Even if you haven’t shipped internationally before, there is no reason why you should not ship internationally this holiday season.
Seasonal peaks are an excellent opportunity to expand your options — especially when audiences look forward to shopping outside their borders for holidays. There are many low-cost global shipping options from Cin7, so you can quickly ship with premium carriers like FedEx, Aramex, and DHL.
Partner with an experienced 3PL
Partnering with an experienced 3PL company can help make the chaotic holiday season more manageable, especially for businesses that are:
- Transitioning fulfillment from in-house to third party,
- Preparing to launch a new brand,
- Looking for new inventory management options or a hybrid approach.
Fulfilling holiday demands by your own can be challenging, and leasing a warehouse can be time-consuming and expensive. The sooner you start with a 3PL, the easier the process becomes. Cin7 can help you get onboarded quickly to start preparing for the busy holiday season that’s right around the corner!
One of the best ways to improve customer satisfaction during the holiday season is by making sure your shipping is quick, organized, and transparent. If you want to build your brand, stand out from your competition, and win repeated business — shipping times is a great place to start. Cin7 can help you manage your supply chain and help you reach your goals. Our inventory management software makes the process easy, painless, and profitable. Book a demo now to get started today.