We are closing in on Q4 and peak selling season is ramping up. It’s ideal to plan your holiday ecommerce fulfillment strategy in the summer, but if you haven’t done so yet, it’s not too late to implement a few simple strategies to help guide you through the holidays.
Once October starts, most people already have a gift list started. 2020 was an unprecedented year for ecommerce, reports estimate total global online sales surpassed $4.2 trillion dollars (US). The entire supply chain, from manufacturers, to fulfillment providers and shipping carriers, plus small companies and large companies alike had a challenging time handling the huge surge in order volume. 2021 is supposed to be an even bigger sales year; take time now to identify any potential bottlenecks and plan the steps needed to improve your holiday fulfillment.
Holiday Planning Checklist: Trends & Predictions for the 2021 Season
Build Your Forecast
Hopefully you already have a strategy in place, but if you don’t, it’s still a good idea to make a plan, even this late-in-the-game. Take a look at your sales from previous years and capture the percentage increase you see trending in Q4. Build a forecast model with last year’s data and estimate what you would sell with a similar percentage increase as last year. If you have little or no historical data, ask around and seek advice from a friend in the same industry.
Try to get as detailed as possible in your forecast—break down volume by sales channel (for retail break it down further by retailer) at both a unit and order level. By segmenting your projections you will be better equipped to have more accurate forecasting for this quarter and in the future.
The time between Black Friday to Christmas Eve is the heaviest shipping period of the year, prepare any value-added services like gift wrapping or messaging early so you’re not making changes during this critical period.
Connect Your Team
Marketing and promotions will play a big role in your sales spikes. Make sure it’s well understood by all departments when your marketing campaigns will go live. You will want to make sure that your marketing team communicates to the warehouse any promotions that will increase order demand. When your team is synced and working together, you won’t be caught with a stockout, plus you will be better able to track which events and announcements drive the best customer demand.
Communicate with Your Carrier
Transit time is critical for holiday shipments. If you haven’t changed your shipping strategy for 2019, it may be too late now. But communicating with your carriers is still imperative.
All carriers will publish a holiday cut off schedule, usually on their website. Understanding their cut-off times is extremely important to your shipping strategy. You’ll need to communicate this clearly to your customers to ensure they have the products they want in time for the holidays. Look at which day of the week Christmas falls on, carrier pickups will need to be scheduled accordingly. Take into account that if Christmas falls on a Monday or Tuesday, those three days before might not be a viable time to expect anything in your supply chain to be moving.
You’ll also need to make sure that your carrier has the capacity in their local and national networks for your projected sales volume. Do they have plans to send additional trucks to pick up your increased volume? Be sure to ask about any peak surcharges or additional carrier pickup fees. Translating these changes, and communicating them to your customers, is key both to optimizing orders and keeping customer service issues low.
Expedited shipping can be a great addition to your shipping strategy during the holidays because it allows your customers to receive your products until the very last moment of season. Same-day delivery, in-store pickup, or free returns are also popular changes, but they can be complex and requires a lot of planning. Be sure to research each delivery options and have them in place well before the season arrives. If you work with a 3PL they will be instrumental in helping set these up for you.
Our Ultimate Guide to Shipping covers all types of shipping services, so you can pick the best one for your brand.
Resources, Space, and Materials
Take stock of facility space, equipment, and shipping materials. October may be too late to make big changes, but if you realize that you’re going to run into space issues, you’ll need a solid contingency plan. If you use multiple distribution centers, now is a great time to balance your inventory. By analyzing historical shipment patterns and real-time delivery data you can help minimize shipping costs and delivery times, and increase your customer satisfaction.
Shipping materials such as labels, boxes, and dunnage are typically an afterthought—stock up on these before you run out. Identifying and addressing these needs ahead of time can prevent major headaches at the height of the holiday season.
Third-party logistics providers (3PLs) are optimized to accommodate the ebb and flow of peak holiday season volume, helping to meet customers’ peak requirements without adding overhead costs. If you work with a 3PL be sure to communicate your extra needs to them sooner than later.
“DCL recognizes the need to operate in the digital era while simultaneously doing this very manual, old-school job behind the scenes. They have the right balance—they marry new technology and an easier way to communicate with their brand of operations and fulfillment.”
Hire More Help
You should be prepared to expand your team during Q4. Having extra support can help ensure you have excellent service throughout the holiday season. Sufficient training and cross training will be key to that success. If you are a very small company and cannot afford to hire additional full-time staff, plan to have key people in your network on-call throughout the season—these could be your friends and family, advisors and board members, or a reputable temp agency that you can call on last minute. Above all, be sure to communicate to your core team what you expect of them through the holiday season. Will they be required to work on the Friday after Thanksgiving and also on Christmas Eve? No one wants to be surprised by that!
Most warehouses run a standard 5 day a week, 8 hour shift. Remember, that there are 7 days in a week and 24 hours a day. In theory, your throughput capacity could be increased by 3x. Use that to your advantage and schedule shifts on off hours or on weekends to meet the increase in volume you have forecasted.
Develop a plan now to give yourself the best chance to execute a successful peak holiday season. This year make a point to track all you data and make notes of any changes you’d like to implement next year—it’s never too early to start planning for peak season.
If you are considering partnering with a third-party logistics provider we would love to hear from you. Send us a note to connect about how DCL Logistics can help your company. You can read DCL’s list of services to learn more, or check out the many integrations DCL works with to help your business grow.