The leaves are falling, which means consumers are focusing on Halloween and Thanksgiving. But while they’re thinking of pumpkins and turkey, small businesses should be concentrating on sleigh bells and rapidly ramping up for the shopping season.
The holiday season is a long haul for all companies, with preparation starting early in the fall and the flurry of shoppers stretching from Black Friday and Cyber Monday through late December. Retail giants such as Walmart and Amazon have entire divisions devoted to the holiday retail experience, but the drastic influx of both storefront visitors and online shoppers can present a handful of logistical challenges for small and midsize businesses.
With that said, businesses need to be well-prepared for the season. Here are just a few tips and suggestions to get you through the rush — ensuring a happy holiday shipping season and a prosperous new year.
Look at what worked last year and what didn’t
Did you ship items too late last year and they didn’t make it to customers on time? Did you spend time optimizing your website and end up avoiding traffic jams on your site? Did you identify which products sold out faster than others?
If you’ve already gone through a holiday season, analyze what worked well and what didn’t to help you gear up for this year’s season and save on spending in the wrong places. This leads into my next point of getting ahead of the curve.
Anticipate what your holiday demand is going to be so you can have the right amount of inventory in stock and workers on the floor. Look at last year’s sales so you can gauge which products resonated with customers and which ones remained on the shelf. And if you don’t have a past season to review, get a plan in place to track sales and expenses for the upcoming season. This will help you prepare for the year ahead and the next holiday season.
Additionally, make sure your website is optimized to keep up with holiday web traffic to avoid shopping cart abandonment and high bounce rates. If your website isn’t performing well, you’d better believe that your customer is going to find a competitor to do business with. Your business isn’t the only one that’s hoping for a fruitful holiday season, which means it’s crucial to stay one step of ahead of the competition. At Endicia, our engineers say that shipping season begins in January, since some projects can take all year to get done and they like to get a head start while everything from the past season is fresh in their minds.
Manage expectations, but deliver the goods
While it’s important to have a strong marketing strategy in place that can entice your customers, you don’t want to overpromise them anything. Make it clear to customers how quickly you can fulfill orders so they know when to place them and have their gifts under the tree in time. As a small business, you obviously don’t have the same capacity as Amazon, so don’t plan your shipping strategy like you do, and don’t make empty promises to your customers.
According to the National Retail Federation’s 2016 Retail Holiday Planning Playbook, 47% of consumers said free shipping was one of the most important factors during the holiday season and 85% of online shoppers will wait 5 days for delivery. Consider offering free shipping if customers get in their holiday orders by a certain (early) date. This way you ensure that they receive their orders punctually, and it gives you additional prep time.
It goes without saying that customers don’t want to receive packages that are falling apart or contain damaged items, especially when they’re gifts for friends and family. Make sure to package everything securely. Having items arrive broken or in poor condition will not only upset customers, but will affect your company’s reputation and reduce the likelihood of future business. This means using new corrugated boxes for heavy and fragile items, avoiding overfilling and underfilling boxes and applying appropriate layering to keep items safe.
Think Past the Holidays
The holiday season isn’t over once the presents are opened. Make sure you have a solid returns system in place and are providing customers the convenience of easy return shipping labels. On top of that, you’ll want to advertise it to them as much as possible – on your website, in the ordering process, etc.
Amine Khechfé is co-founder of Endicia and chief strategy officer for Stamps.com family of companies