- Importance of holiday fulfilment strategies
- Tips for managing inventory during the holiday season
- How to deliver online orders to customers quickly
- Prepare for a high volume of returns
Did you know that approximately 30% of all retail sales occur between the Black Friday and Christmas holiday season?
However, ecommerce businesses that think they can profit simply by being in the game are in for a shock. Remember that the e-Commerce landscape is a highly competitive sector, and retailers who want to benefit from the holiday shopping season will need to prepare for the rush if they’re going to delight customers amid increased traffic and order volumes.
The coronavirus pandemic is partly to blame for massive ecommerce growth, with global ecommerce sales reaching a mammoth $4.2 trillion in 2020 and forecast to hit $4.9TN in 2021.
According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), 2021 will see the highest retail sales levels on record amid tailwinds of solid consumer demand. However, with supply chain disruption making product shortages a certainty, ecommerce businesses will need to make warehouse operations are up to the task to ensure demand doesn’t overwhelm them.
Last year, more than a million online orders failed to arrive in time for Christmas, resulting in low consumer satisfaction and, for some businesses, brand reputation disaster. No retailer will want a repeat of last year’s chaos or the potential pain points stemming from unpreparedness.
Ecommerce businesses should endeavour to get product orders to customers quickly and accurately from the onset of the Black Friday frenzy through to the January sales storm. And the secret to holiday shopping season success is a well-managed and efficient warehouse fulfilment system.
Why Does Holiday Fulfilment Matter?
If you want to deliver your customers products on time and boost your brand’s reputation, holiday fulfilment matters.
Yes, you need a robust website, email marketing and social media strategies, but if you want to make a lasting impression, your logistic activity needs to be efficient. That means ensuring every part of your business is aligned, from supply chain leaders to your marketing team.
If the left-hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing, the following issues could arise:
- Low inventory
- Packaging delays
- Failure to deliver packages to customers in time
Any of the issues mentioned above could potentially ruin your brand’s reputation and risk your business losing loyal customers forever.
While managing inventory can be challenging during peak holiday seasons, we’re going to walk you through how to prepare an effective holiday fulfilment strategy so that both your business and customers will have a great experience.
Tips for Managing Inventory During the Holiday Season
Even established companies such as Amazon have to plan for the peak season, ensuring inventory levels and order volumes are monitored to avoid disappointing customers during busier periods of the year.
Here are five order fulfilment tips that could help you prepare for the holiday season and delight your customers.
Manage Stock Levels Accurately
Amid high demand, it’s important to manage your inventory precisely to ensure you have the appropriate stock level available.
Too much inventory could negatively impact return on investment or cause you to pay higher warehousing fees. On the other hand, a lack of inventory could result in unhappy customers and a decrease in revenue which is terrible for business.
When optimising your inventory planning, look at sales data from previous holiday seasons to help you predict the amount of stock you require. Also, consider whether you’re selling on multiple channels, running an ad campaign on a particular item or have a promotional product in high demand to gauge customer sentiments.
After you’ve assessed previous sales data, predict the number of days you expect to stock an item before it sells out and establish reorder points, accounting for potential delays, safety stock and delivery timelines.
Maintain constant communication with your supplier or manufacturer regarding inventory levels, estimated delivery times and potential order volumes to ensure that you have enough produce to offer customers during the peak holiday season. It’s essential to do as much as possible before the frenzy hits to avoid putting unnecessary pressure on your business.
If you sell hundreds or thousands of products, you might want to consider investing in inventory management software and forecasting tools to help you organise and regulate your stock.
Offer discounts on items that you’ve struggled to sell throughout the year to reduce excess stock and create room for next season’s products.
While focusing on inventory is key to ensuring holiday fulfilment success, don’t lose sight of packaging and packing materials. Have you got enough boxes, tapes, labels and other materials required to ship stock?
Review Your Distribution Network
Reassess your distribution network and iron out any issues before the holiday shopping season gains pace.
Remember, the success of your business doesn’t solely rely on your ability to ship to customers and have ample levels of stock but to ensure your products reach customers at the expected time.
The role of your distribution network is crucial, especially given the strain that they will come under amid the increase in order volumes. Ascertain how they plan to cope with high levels of demand and deliver your products in a timely fashion to ensure you make your customers happy.
Adopt a Hybrid Approach
If you don’t think your current carriers can scale up their operations to meet increased demand, it might be worth adopting a hybrid approach and offering click-and-collect services or curbside pick-up.
The hybrid approach is a low-cost solution for businesses and a simple and easy option for customers. Some of your customers might even prefer click-and-collect or curbside pick-up as they work during the hours’ parcels tend to be delivered.
Optimise Website Speed and UX
Besides optimising your warehouse operations, you must also prepare your website for the holiday season to ensure your site can cope with the influx in traffic.
One of the worst things your business could experience is a website crash or slow loading speed. It will only encourage customers to flock to your competitors’ websites and negatively affect your performance in search.
Make sure you test your website speed and remove or disable any elements that slow down page loading times. Given that most people shop on smartphone devices, you must make sure your ecommerce portal is optimised for mobile to improve the user experience.
You also want to make sure that the order fulfilment terms are explicit and easy to understand to avoid confusion and complaints. If there are shipment delays, make sure you communicate that as customers prefer honesty over deceit.
Monitor Order Fulfilment in Real-Time
Any effective order fulfilment strategy includes real-time monitoring.
If you don’t have a system in place to handle issues, entrust the responsibility to team members and assign each person to a specific checkpoint in the order fulfilment process, which should include:
- Monitor delivery workflow
- Unblock potential roadblocks
- Review shipment status
- Flag delayed shipments
Remember that even a comprehensive plan has the potential to go haywire.
Tips to Fulfilling Holiday Shopping Orders Quickly
So, we’ve been through tips on how to manage warehouse inventory effectively. Next, let’s delve into how to fulfil your customer orders quickly and accurately.
Outsource Order Fulfilment
Given that most companies experience the bulk of their order volumes in the last three months of the year, the self-employed and businesses with a small team of employees may struggle to cope amid increased demand.
One way you could overcome this issue is to hire seasonal staff or rely on the help of friends and family. However, a more stable solution would be to outsource your order fulfilment to an established third-party logistics company.
The benefits of outsourcing order fulfilment include scalability at an affordable cost, as doing the job yourself would result in you leasing a warehouse or purchasing land.
If you decide to outsource to a third-party logistics company, make you consider the following:
- Choose a 3PL that lets you store inventory close to where your customers live
- Can deliver on your expectations
- Have innovative technology and inventory management tools
- Investing in dedicated account management to support your needs
Choose the Right Shipping Company
With retail giants such as Amazon completing same-day deliveries and offering free shipping to customers, small businesses may feel intimidated by the idea of trying to compete.
No business wants to see its customers go elsewhere in search of a better deal or faster service. If you’re worried about being unsatisfying your customers, you could consider:
- Use ground shipping, which is a cost-effective way to reach customers quickly
- Use multiple order fulfilment centres so you can ship from locations near to your customers
- Increase your average order value and offer free shipping to make up the costs
- Expedite or upgrade shipping for large orders
Prepare for a High Number of Returns
It goes without saying, but the more you sell, the more returns you can expect to receive, especially during the holiday season, as some products given as gifts may be unsuitable.
According to aggregate data from Digital Commerce 360, online retailers experienced a 41% increase in returns during the holiday season last year, equivalent to approximately $100BN.
Returns continue to be an area of concern for e-retailers. Still, to avoid any unnecessary headaches, clearly communicate your returns policy on your website and work with your third-party logistics fulfilment centre to automate the returns process cost-effectively.
Optimising your warehouse operations for speed and accuracy should be a top priority for your business. Using any of the streamlined processes mentioned above will help ensure you promptly deliver orders to your customers, even amid increased demand.
At Pointbid, we implement order fulfilment solutions for a range of e-commerce brands from start-ups to medium-sized businesses. If you think that outsourcing your order fulfilment could help your business grow in 2022, please give us a call on 0121 326 7368.
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