The holiday season is officially upon us. Before ecommerce merchants can partake in the season’s celebrations with everyone else, they have to prepare their business for the holidays. One of the key pieces that must be prioritized at this time of year is shipping.
While the rush of sales made during the season can look great on a spreadsheet, they are ultimately meaningless if you can’t provide reliable shipping services. Without a good shipping experience, your customers will potentially go elsewhere next year. You have to make sure your shipping practices are up to standard.
To help, we’ll cover several manageable steps you can take now to ensure that shipping is a jolly experience for both you and your customers, all season long!
Create Visible Holiday Shipping and Return Policies
The first step to getting your customers and staff aligned on shipping expectations is to create a detailed holiday shipping and return policy. Some aspects you’ll want to account for include:
Possible Fulfillment Delays
During the holidays, you and/or your fulfillment team can get overwhelmed by the number of orders that need to be packaged and sent off to be shipped. This is especially true when you’re trying to fulfill orders in-house.
In your holiday shipping policy, you’ll want to address possible delays in getting orders shipped or provide an expected fulfillment timeline so that you and/or your team have a reasonable deadline to follow. That way, customers are not confused if they see that their orders haven’t been shipped yet.
Christmas Shipping Deadlines
One of the most important concerns for customers is that they are able to get their gifts before Christmas. Major national carriers such as the USPS and FedEx have already announced the last days to ship items before Christmas. You’ll want to incorporate those dates into your policies so that customers know when they must put in their orders to receive products in time. Plus, creating a clear timeline helps your team know when to give packages to carriers.
Last Days to Initiate Returns
When writing a return policy, you should give customers ample time to make returns. The industry standard is 30-days, but many people buy gifts months before the actual holiday. Giving an extended amount of time during the holiday season is more common—and kinder. This makes people feel more comfortable buying products on or before Black Friday because they know they can return them after the holiday season.
After crafting holiday shipping and return policies, you should make sure they are visible to customers before they make a purchase. Place your shipping and return policy near the top of your product pages to guarantee they are seen. You can also include your policies throughout your ecommerce store, including your homepage, FAQ page, and Contact Us page.
Clear and discoverable policies will help prevent customer confusion and limit requests sent to your email inbox or customer service team.
Use Automation to Increase Efficiency During the Holidays
Efficiency is the name of the game when it comes to holiday shipping. But relying on manual processes to fulfill orders can be a recipe for disaster.
An influx of orders during the holidays can result in packages mislabeling, the wrong carrier service being selected for a package, or someone putting too much time into monotonous tasks, like printing shipping labels rather than working on other key tasks.
Ecommerce shipping tools, such as Shippo, allow you to import orders and craft your own if-then functions so that the proper shipping labels are assigned and printed automatically. You could put in, “If this order weighs less than a certain number of pounds, then we’ll automatically label it for this specific shipping service from this specific carrier.”
By setting up simple automation techniques in your workflow, you could get packages out of the door 50% faster than you could by manually entering information for each package.
Leverage Shipping Label Discounts When Possible
Every aspect of life has been affected by inflation, including shipping for your ecommerce business. This is compounded by the fact that major carriers, including USPS, have announced peak season surcharges for the third year in a row.
Raising the cost of shipping can result in customers abandoning their cart in search of a cheaper competitor. Alternatively, if you choose to eat those shipping costs as a business, you could have a slimmer profit margin at what should be the most profitable time of the year.
The state of the economy shouldn’t force your ecommerce business into an ultimatum. High shipping costs can be remedied by taking advantage of discounts on shipping labels when possible. Multi-carrier shipping software often comes with discounted rates on popular shipping services, namely USPS and UPS.
These savings can be significant for certain shipments. To get the best deal, run all your shipments through an integrated multi-carrier platform to ensure you never miss out.
With discounted shipping labels, you can pass those savings onto your customers and use cheaper holiday shipping as a competitive advantage.
If you sell online with Ecwid by Lightspeed, you’re lucky: you can buy discounted shipping labels right in your Ecwid admin. You can also print them immediately, significantly reducing time spent managing shipping labels. Buy, print, and stick shipping labels on your parcels in a matter of minutes. The rest is easy—just drop your parcels at the nearest post office.
Buying discounted shipping labels from Ecwid admin is available for Ecwid sellers from the US, Belgium, and the Netherlands. If you are from another country, you can buy shipping labels using apps from the Ecwid App Market.
Diversify Your Carrier-Mix
There is power in choice. Picking carriers to ship with during the holiday can be difficult, but the good part is that you have many to choose from. While some merchants prefer to stick to one carrier to maximize volume discounts, there are downsides to this shipping strategy.
For one, the carrier is experiencing issues, your packages can get delayed—sometimes indefinitely. This can seriously impede your ability to retain customers year after year.
Plus, you won’t know if you’re getting the best deal on shipping since each carrier has their own way of calculating costs based on weight, size, and distance the package will travel. If you have products of varying parameters, you may need to vary your shipping carrier accordingly.
Lastly, not all carriers offer the same services. While some may offer day-definite next-day shipping, others may not. During the holidays, customers may be willing to pay more for expedited shipping. You want to make sure you’re able to offer it.
By having a diverse carrier mix, you can ensure you’re offering your customers the lowest possible rates while delivering their products exactly when they want them. This will ultimately give them greater peace of mind, making it more likely that they’ll buy from you in the future.
You also don’t need to just stick with major national carriers. Regional carriers may also be a great option when shipping to local customers, potentially shipping faster for less.
Use Order Tracking Pages To Re-Engage and Cross-Sell to Customers
During the holiday season, many people mostly spend money on gifts for others. In fact, just last year, the National Retail Federation found that Americans planned to spend almost a thousand dollars on holiday gifts or other related items.
You want to capitalize on the fact that consumers are the most willing to spend money right now. One way you can take advantage of holiday spending is to advertise through order tracking pages. It’s estimated that consumers look at order tracking pages 3.5 times per order. In some cases, four or five times per order!
During the holidays, customers will look at order tracking pages even more frequently to determine if their gifts will arrive in time.
Using the space on your order tracking page effectively, you can update your customers on their package’s whereabouts, highlight certain promotions/sales you’re running, and suggest similar items to those they already bought.
You can also use order tracking pages to re-engage customers by:
Including a reply-to email and sharing your return/refund policy Including product tutorials Including links to your social media accounts Including links to sites where they can review your products
Ecwid sellers can customize order tracking pages using shipment tracking apps, such as Aftership and TrackFree. These apps allow you to track your shipments and make your shipping process transparent to your customers. That is the key to creating a great post-purchase experience.
To Sum Up
These are just some of the best practices regarding shipping during the holiday season. If you fulfill orders in-house, you’ll also want to consider hiring seasonal workers to account for the increased demand for packing and fulfillment. If you work with a 3PL or fulfillment center, you’ll want to be sure they’re up to date with your holiday shipping and return policies.
For a full breakdown of the best ecommerce shipping practices during the holidays, visit Shippo’s latest e-book, “How to Prep for Peak Season Shipping.”
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