Preparing Your Shipping Strategy For The Holidays


Wow, it’s September already – and in just a few short months, it will be November, and time for the holiday season – and we all know what that means for us ecommerce folk! The holiday season is the most important time of the year for sellers, and when you execute your strategy correctly, it can be the most profitable time of year, too.

Did you know that Cyber Monday 2013 saw a growth of 18% over Cyber Monday 2012? It’s highly likely that the trend will continue to rise, so it’s key to be at the top of your game and get a piece of that pie.

There’s a lot that goes in to making a plan of action for the holidays. You need to look at your entire business process from the top-down. This includes

  1. Website maintenance – is your site running well? Are there any bugs or speed issues?
  2. Your inventory – if you drop ship, is your feed well-synced with your suppliers? If you carry your own inventory, do you have enough stock to meet holiday demand?
  3. Traffic sources – Have you stepped up your SEO efforts to rank just in time for the holidays? Think of keywords like best gifts [niche] 2014. Also, are you going to step up your paid and social media marketing?
  4. Your funnel – How is your sales funnel doing? Is everything in good shape from the point a customer enters to the point they make a purchase and leave? Can you optimize somewhere in between for better results?
  5. Your checkout process – How many people are you losing at checkout? Is there anything that can be done about this?
  6. And finally, last but not least, your fulfillment and shipping process. If you drop-ship, are your orders going to your supplier as quickly as possible? Remember, they’ll probably have thousands of orders coming in. If you carry your own inventory, are you equipped to handle the extra influx of orders?

Since most of my experience has been in drop shipping, I’ve asked a shipping specialist to give us some advice. Erika Jarvi from ShipStation has been kind enough to share some of her best tips to help you prepare for the 2014 holiday season.

Enter Erika:

It feels like just yesterday I was preparing for last year’s holiday season, and yet, here it is again. We’re quickly nearing the time where temperatures start to cool, and preparation for the increasingly busy fourth quarter begins. In the hopes of getting a jump on things this year, let’s make sure that we’re ready—at least with our shipping preparation, if not our mental preparation—for what are the busiest months of the year for most online retailers.

Here are five ways you can get a head start on everything:

1. Consolidate your box sizes. You’ll have enough to do come shipping time than to start doing volume calculations in your head for which box will fit the products you have in your pick list for each order. Consolidating your box sizes to a few standardizations for your business will help when it comes to not only packing, but keeping track of your packing supply inventory and re-ordering.

2. Have enough materials on hand for your busiest season ever. Holiday sales have continued to grow each year, so the materials you had on hand last year will probably not be enough. Make sure you have at least the number of boxes, labels, and volume of bags-o-air or packing peanuts that you did shipped last year, and then add 15%. Unless you’re planning on going out of business sometime soon, the extra materials can be a welcome cushion for when things shut down after Christmas and into the first few months of the next year.

3. Hire extra packers/shippers. Sales during the holiday season, especially for the Black Friday weekend, and the days right before the shipping cutoffs for Christmas, can spike dramatically and your regular shipping staff may not be enough. It may be worth it to line up a couple part-time workers (close family or friends could be ideal) to be on-call or at your warehouse for when sales start ramping up. Training them now will help them (and you) be prepared when it comes to crunch time.

4. Re-evaluate how efficient your picking & packing process is. Be honest; is your warehouse organized? If someone gave you a product’s SKU or name, would you know exactly where to go to get it? Now is the time to take a look at your organization, as well as how you find your products to pack each of your orders. If you have only a few SKUs, your packing process may revolve around segmenting your orders via SKU and packing each SKU separately. If you have a wide variety of products, packing per order may be a better option. Once you organize your space and look at your average order’s contents, the best method should make itself pretty clear.

5. Start using a shipping software. Are you copying & pasting label information into 5 different carrier sites? How many labels can you print out at the same time? How do you notify your customers that their stuff has shipped? If very little of your shipping process is automated, it may be time for you consider a shipping software. If you already use one, make sure you’re using it to the best of your (and its) ability so it can eliminate as many of your decision points as possible. A good shipping software imports your orders from wherever you sell, and creates labels for however you ship them. Make sure it includes automation features and is customizable to the process by which you handle your orders.

With the right preparation, the busier holiday season can seem just like another “day at the office.” Making your life easier through a few choice decisions now can ensure that you’re not spinning your wheels when it comes time for the fourth quarter.

So there you have it: 5 ways to streamline your business processes. What other methods have you used and been successful with? Share with us in the comments!

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