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Holiday Shipping Tips: The Ultimate Preparation Checklist

Stephanie Abe

Community Marketing Manager @ AdRoll

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After a year of uncertainty, shoppers are eager to find warmth and familiarity this holiday season. Searches for seasonal inspiration exploded in April when the norm is typically September. And, because traveling to visit loved ones won’t be in the cards for many, people are in search of different yet meaningful ways to connect with friends and family, namely Zoom group dinners and gift-giving. 

But even the most well-thought-out ideas can be easily foiled by small mishaps — missing packages, delayed delivery times, and high holiday shipping costs are some of the biggest problems that might plague shoppers this year. Though the 2020 holiday season will be a massive opportunity for retailers to recoup lost dollars from Q1 and Q2, failure to meet customer expectations can have a lasting impact. 

As a result, brands must actively equip themselves with plans, resources, and information and prepare for the digital holiday shopping rush. To guarantee a positive customer experience, use these holiday shipping tips to finalize your logistics, inventory, shipping, and packaging well in advance.

To help you keep track of your holiday marketing planning, get the the ultimate strategy guide to 2023’s busiest shopping season!

1. Manage Doorbusters, Bestsellers, and Flash Deal Inventory Early

With a mid-October Prime Day ready to kick-off the holiday shopping season, you’ll want to make sure your best-selling items remain in stock through December. Prepare by taking an analytical eye to historical data. Though shopping trends of 2020 will likely differ from those of yesteryears, old data can help you gauge which products will sell out and which ones may flop. 

Keep in mind: As people stay home, their needs and desires have shifted. Therefore, old inventory management formulas will need to be updated. You’ll also want to review industry trends to see what product experts predict will fly off shelves. 

2. Encourage Customers to Start Shopping Now 

Marketing can easily fall to the wayside when you’re grappling with inventory and holiday shipping headaches. Not this holiday season! Digital ad real estate will skyrocket in the face of an extremely noisy retail landscape. 

As consumers start their holiday shopping early, the sooner you launch your seasonal promotions, the better. Most online shoppers price-compare when they’re participating in Prime Day, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday, so run early deals to stay competitive and be there when your customers are shopping. Take advantage of cheaper digital advertising opportunities now to start encouraging customers to get into the holiday spirit. You’ll also want to leverage your available marketing channels — social, blogs, and email.  

3. Communicate Honestly and Transparently

Retailers that set customer expectations early with transparency will rise to the top. If you envision shipping delays, be upfront about it! By being as honest as possible, you can avoid misunderstandings that ultimately exacerbate negative customer experiences or take up your limited customer service bandwidth.

If you haven’t already, update your shipping and return policy pages, so they are jargon-free and straightforward to understand. Make sure FAQ pages cover all common questions that may pop up, including fulfillment times, holiday shipping details, and return policies — all while conveying a sense of reassurance and understanding. 

4. Talk to Your Delivery Service Reps

Salesforce predicts that last-mile delivery will exceed capacity by 5% this year — that’s potentially 700 million packages not delivered on time. Anticipating unprecedented strain, delivery providers such as USPS, UPS, DHL, and FedEx have announced new rules, restrictions, deadlines, and surge pricing. 

Retailers must take time to understand their shipping carrier’s holiday requirements. If you’re anticipating unreliable shipping due to cost, delivery time, or coverage, start shopping around for other options — but you’ll want to ensure you allocate enough time to trial your new courier and set up efficient processes. 

If you feel like you’re running out of options, don’t worry! Think out of the box: 

  • Can you utilize last-mile solutions such as Uber or Lyft?
  • If you’re an e-commerce retailer, can you partner with brick-and-mortar stores for curbside pickup? What would a creative win-win partnership look like? 
  • Can you offer products that don’t require physical delivery? Consider adding gift cards and other virtual gifts (e-books, downloadable DIY instructions, digital experiences) to your inventory. 

With millions of packages zipping around the globe, you’ll want to research shipping insurance, too. Though it’s an additional cost, it can protect both you and your customers from packages that may get lost, damaged, or stolen while in transit. 

5. Clean Your Warehouse

Nobody likes this task, but be sure to spend a day or two organizing your warehouse before the holiday rush arrives. Clean, declutter, and get rid of things that aren’t necessary. Even better — map out your warehouse floor plan and discuss current pain points with your fulfillment team to see how you can optimize your warehouse for greater efficiency. 

5. It’s All-Hands-On-Deck Season

Most retailers will likely see a shortage of staff to properly handle fulfillment, holiday shipping, and customer service in the next few months. Hire well in advance so your new helping hands can have ample time to familiarize themselves with your company and workflow. 

With a growing team (even if it’s temporary!), review your org structure and check that the chain of command is organized and intuitively streamlined, so there are no unnecessary holdups. 

6. Transform Returns From a Headache Into an Opportunity

With more consumers shopping online without seeing or trying products in person, there will likely be a mountain of returns that retailers will have to process, sanitize, and restock. To provide a top-notch customer experience, you can include perks such as prepaid return labels and packaging, so the return process becomes less of a hassle. And if you do offer free returns, make sure you advertise that boldly across your marketing channels. 

Surprise and Delight

This holiday season, taking the effort to go beyond merely selling products will make all the difference. With a significant portion of consumers ordering packages to be mailed directly as gifts to their loved ones, a great shipping and delivery experience will go a long way in an otherwise hectic time of year. 

Retailers that stand out are those that go the extra mile, capitalizing on opportunities to surprise and delight — whether it’s through holiday-themed packaging, gift-wrapping, or handwritten notes that add a pop of empathy. For more on how to win this holiday season, check out these tips and resources

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