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How to overcome holiday parcel challenges: 5 tips for success

[This is an updated post from December 22nd, 2021]

What happens when the holidays are in full swing? Holiday shipping.

The holiday rush has historically brought forth a major increase in delivery demands. Last year, USPS alone shipped more than 50 million packages over the holiday season. This means it’s all hands on deck for online merchants and parcel carriers from as early as October to the New Year.

While parcel strategy hasn’t always gotten the love and attention it deserves, it’s playing an increasingly important role as more brands push toward a direct-to-consumer model.

It’s safe to say that for e-commerce brands, parcel is everything. Why? Because the customer experience doesn’t end when a package is shipped – but when the customer receives it.

In sum, successful shipping is the key to keeping online shoppers happy.

So, how can e-commerce brands minimize costly errors when fulfilling holiday purchases during peak shipping season – also known as the busiest time of the year?

Hassle-free shipping is not an exact science, as holiday shoppers have high expectations for even those last-minute gift deliveries. However, there are preventative measures that merchants can take to help both the carriers and consumers during peak season.

We’re exploring 5 tips to help revamp your holiday parcel planning, meet consumer expectations, and overcome any challenges along the way.

1. Prepare a detailed forecast

The ability to scale effectively is vital to any business, and it’s especially important when it comes to e-commerce. Over the holiday season, an online store can see unprecedented traffic and demand that calls for a well-planned shipping strategy and forecast.

Whether you’re working directly with a carrier or utilizing a 3PL, it’s important to consistently communicate regarding your estimated shipping volumes. Proper labor and tech support can only be ensured with detailed peak season planning.

Using an Order Management System (OMS) can be helpful to measure historical data of both shipment and inventory volumes. So, if you’ve seen a bump in sales in November for the past few years, specifically for certain product categories, it’s wise to plan for an even greater bump for the upcoming year.

In addition to analyzing data, it’s essential to keep in mind any promotions or marketing campaigns that your brand has planned for peak season. When forecasting demand, these promotions should be taken into account to understand which products might be more likely to sell.

While the expected number of shipments is never going to be 100% accurate (unless you have access to some sort of crystal ball) historical data and upcoming marketing promotions will help paint a useful picture for the holiday season.

2. Encourage early buying with promotions and deals

While we’re on the topic of holiday promotions, it’s important to note the significance of campaign timing. One way to avoid peak season shipping disappointments and negative reviews is to encourage consumers to start their holiday shopping earlier than usual.

The early holiday season has become quite the norm in the digital space, with sales beginning well before November. In fact, your customers may be looking for deals even earlier, as 38% of consumers planned to start stocking up on holiday gifts in October this year!

Planning your holiday promotions to begin before December takes the pressure off both your brand and parcel carriers. Doing so will provide ample time to deliver packages to the customer’s doorstep – without the added stress of a mid-December order.

Taking it a step further and creating a sense of urgency with flash sales and cutoff dates is a great way to encourage prospective customers to buy gifts sooner.

3. Know your shipping deadlines

Generally, customers have huge expectations for rapid delivery, with two-day and even same-day shipping now the norm.

Over the holidays, this expectation doesn’t change. However, due to the high volume of orders going out, shipping timelines and deadlines are not the same during peak season as they are during the rest of the year.

Shipping deadlines refer to the absolute last day that a package can be shipped to a customer via parcel carrier in order to reach the final destination in time for Christmas. Holiday shipping deadlines vary based on the carrier as well as the location of the shipment. Check out an extensive list of 2022 cut-off dates here.

Set your own cut-off date

Once you know your carrier shipping deadlines, you can set your own cut-off date for your holiday shoppers. Setting a cut-off date that gives you and your carrier some extra time will guarantee a package can be delivered in time for the holidays.

This way, as long as a customer places an order by your cut-off date, there should be no problem getting their package delivered on time. The results? Managed customer expectations and fewer holiday shipping disappointments!

4. Offer multiple shipping options

Digital shoppers love options! Whether it’s more than one color for a sweater or different shipping options to choose from, they appreciate having the chance to take control of their online shopping journey.

By offering multiple shipping options during peak season, you can give your customers the ability to curate their experience according to their specific desire. For example, if an early-bird holiday shopper has a long time before they need their gift, they can opt for the slower, free economy shipping option.

On the contrary, a shopper who waited until the middle of December to purchase their Christmas gifts will likely want to pay a premium to ensure their gifts arrive in time to be safely delivered and wrapped. By offering multiple delivery options, you can keep all customer segments happy.

5. Keep in constant communication with your customers (yes, even the bad news)

Communication might be the most important step of all when it comes to parcel challenges. When a consumer purchases a product, they’re going to want regular updates on the delivery process: Has it been shipped? What day will it arrive? What time?

Provide tracking details and automate your shipping notices.

With 88% of consumers thinking that the ability to track shipments in real-time is important, brands need to be proactive about their shipping communications. It’s not enough to simply send a shipping confirmation, and then leaving the customers in the dark about where their gift is actually located.

Instead, you should provide your customers with a tracking number within their confirmation email, where they’ll be able to monitor each step of the shipping process. Or better yet, give them the ability to opt into SMS shipment notifications.

Even with all the best planning in the world, unforeseen problems can arise in the supply chain. While it’s never fun to tell a customer that their package is arriving late, it’s incredibly important to be transparent, honest, and open about the status of a delivery.

If you realize there’s a problem with the delivery process and do not communicate this to your customer, they may feel blindsided and frustrated with your brand.

Being honest with your customers from the very beginning and setting the right expectations will only strengthen brand loyalty. By keeping them in the loop, you can encourage customers to shop with you – even after the holiday season is over.

Parcel challenges over the holidays and beyond

While peak season presents more parcel challenges, simply due to the high volume of holiday shipping, online merchants should have a well-planned strategy throughout the entire year.

It’s never a bad idea to keep your customers in the loop, develop your relationship with carriers, offer multiple shipping options, and prepare your inventory levels with a detailed forecast.

Why? Because a good shipping experience is more than half the battle when it comes to building a loyal base of repeat customers!

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