Handling Holiday Ecommerce Fulfillment Issues

As many as 700 million gifts may arrive late this holiday season, according to retail analysts who foresee extra demands on shipping companies that have already been struggling with rising pandemic-era ecommerce volume. A new National Retail Federation (NRF) survey found that 43% of U.S. consumers plan to wait until November to start their holiday shopping this year, and 59% plan to shop more online.

For ecommerce sellers, these numbers raise the prospect of more customer complaints, lost package claims, returns due to delays and possible shipping fraud as harried customer service agents try to keep shoppers happy by making post-order changes. Here’s how merchants can plan now to keep their holiday customers happy, avoid customer service overload and reduce the risk of costly shipping and pickup fraud.

Give Staff More Time to Approve, Fulfill Last-Minute Orders

While many consumers start their shopping relatively late, there may also be more who wait until the last minute to order gifts. To meet their expectations, you’ll need to prevent last-minute orders from creating bottlenecks in your order screening and fulfillment processes. Identify the last day that your shipping carriers can guarantee your packages for holiday delivery dates such as Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Then build in a day or two to set your store’s last-day-to-order dates.

That extra day or two will give your fraud prevention team time to manually review any flagged last-minute orders. Manual review prevents you from declining good orders by mistake, which can drive away customers for good. It also prevents you from approving fraudulent orders in error, which can drive up your chargeback ratio at the start of the new year.

The extra days before your carrier’s deadline also give your team time to handle gift wrap requests and ensure that orders are packed correctly before they leave your facility. This makes it more likely that they’ll arrive in gift-worthy condition.

Promote Early Shopping in Your Holiday Marketing

Another way to try to reduce the last-minute rush is to encourage your customers to begin shopping earlier. The NRF’s “New Holiday Traditions” campaign during October and November encourages consumers to “shop safe, shop early” for the best selection of gift options and for peace of mind.

Your holiday ecommerce marketing campaigns can adopt similar messaging. You can also make your last-day-to-order-by dates part of your marketing content. Sharing this information across your site and in your email and social campaigns can motivate shoppers to place their orders sooner. That can help your store avoid last-minute slowdowns that cause customer frustration and brand damage.

Give Customers End-to-End Order Tracking

Getting customers to shop early and getting last-minute orders screened and out the door on time are only the first two steps in managing customer satisfaction this holiday season. Once packages are on their way, customers need a way to track their progress.

That information can reassure them that gifts they bought will arrive on time. It can also help prevent package theft, which has increased since the start of the pandemic. A July survey found that package thefts have increased by 42% since March for millennial and Gen X online shoppers.

Without a transparent, easy-to-navigate, real-time tracking system in place, you may face a wave of customer service queries about package tracking during the holidays. That can pull representatives’ time away from solving more complex customer problems and reduce overall customer satisfaction.

Now’s the time to look at your order tracking tool. Is it easy to use? Does it keep customers on your site, for a better branded experience, instead of routing them to the carrier’s website? Does it show package locations in real time? If the answer to any of these questions is no, you may need to update your tracking capabilities or switch to a third-party tracking service that offers all of these features.

Beware of Shipping Fraud

The cost of fraud for ecommerce merchants was already up 7% over last year before the holiday season began. Typically, fraudsters take advantage of major online shopping events like Black Friday and last-minute shopping deadlines to foil rushed order screenings and request expedited shipping without raising flags.

But ecommerce fraud doesn’t only happen at the order stage. Fraudsters have found ways to exploit delivery as well, and these tactics may increase during the holiday season, too. Here are two to be aware of:

  • Fraudsters take over a customer account, place an order for shipping and then call customer service or the carrier to ask that the package be sent to a different address than the one used in the order. This tactic allows thieves to make an order with good information that doesn’t raise flags and then get the stolen goods sent to them instead.
  • Fraudsters hijack a customer account, change the customer’s email address and phone number to their own, order items for pickup and claim them in person. Pickup fraud has increased by 55% since the start of the pandemic, according to a report from Forter. Safety rules for minimizing contact and wearing masks during pickups can make it difficult or impossible for frontline employees to detect the impersonation.

The solution to the first fraud tactic — changing the delivery address after an order is approved — is to reprocess those orders with the new shipping information. This is the only way to properly screen them for fraud. You can also consult with your carrier and ensure that they won’t reroute packages without your approval.

As for pickup fraud, requiring ID at pickup can deter fraudsters, but it can also increase friction for good customers. If you choose to require a photo ID for pickup, make sure customers know about your policy before they place their orders — and make sure they know you’re requiring ID to protect their account security.

Plan Now for a Strong Holiday Season

This year’s holidays will be different, with unprecedented levels of shopping, expected shipping delays and new fraud attempts. Retailers who prepare now for new holiday ecommerce challenges — from shipping delays to customer anxiety about deliveries to bolder fraud attempts — will be better positioned to generate revenue, build customer loyalty and fight fraud this holiday season.

Rafael Lourenco is Executive Vice President and Partner at ClearSale


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