Fulfillment Tips for Smooth Ecommerce Holiday Shipping

Many ecommerce brands make a big portion of their sales revenue during the holiday season. It is one of the biggest shopping seasons of the year. But it’s not just the rise in order volume during Q4 that merchants need to worry about, it’s that customers also expect something special during the holidays. Brands need to get ahead of any special promotions or customization that requires extra fulfillment projects.  

Here are the most common ways direct-to-consumer brands can smooth out their fulfillment to give their customers a great holiday shopping experience 

Ecommerce Holiday Shipping Guide

A free guide with tips to increase average order value, plan perfect holiday forecasts, limit shipping delays, and navigate demand surcharges.

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Get Customization Set Early  

Ecommerce brands often capitalize on the increase in order volume by adding holiday extras to their packages. If customers are in the buying mood already, promoting upsells, bundles, or specialty services like gift wrapping is a popular ways to increase average order value.  

If you’re planning any special sales, kits, bundles, or customization during the holidays you’ll need to get these set up way in advance. Any change to your fulfillment flow requires setting up the operations team to implement the new process. You’ll need to work with your team on quality work instructions and tests to make sure you get it right. The holidays are so busy, no fulfillment team can implement last-minute specialty packages and do it with the accuracy you need.  

Most fulfillment providers have a list of value-added services they offer, within this list are plenty of options to help you get the customization you need to set your holiday offerings apart from the rest. A few common ways that brands customize their fulfillment during the holidays include:  

  • Gift wrapping 
  • Custom messages  
  • Bundling products together  
  • Free accessories with a minimum purchase 
  • Free branded swag
  • Stickers, holiday tape, or marketing materials  
  • Branded boxes or inner cartons  
  • Branded or holiday colored tissue or packing materials  

Whatever customizations you add for the holidays season, be sure you test out your new fulfillment flow and do it early so you know it will be smooth when it counts.  

Send Your Fulfillment Team Accurate Forecasts 

No customer wants to see the perfect gift float by in their feed, only to come to the purchase site and see that it’s out of stock or backordered and not shipping until after they need it.  

One of the most difficult aspects of running an ecommerce brand is accurately forecasting the product volume you’ll need to order from your manufacturer, but more so to have it in storage, ready for orders. It all starts with a great forecasting model—there are various ways to forecast accurately based on the type of product you sell, and how they are made.  

Next you need to communicate that forecast to your 3PL, not just once, but often. Other partners will need to know about any changes in your forecast as well. Only with a realistic understanding of your projected order volume will your fulfillment provider be able to let you know what is feasible in regard to daily and weekly output.  

If you project less than your actual order volume, your 3PL may fall behind on order processing and customers might not get packages in time.  

Know Your Ship-by Dates and Communicate Them to Customers 

One of the biggest factors that makes the holiday season difficult for fulfillment is the shipping deadlines. Packages have a set date when they need to be on the customer’s doorsteps, most often on Christmas day or before. To limit customer frustration merchants need to set very clear delivery time expectations.  

Every carrier publishes their “ship by” or “last day to ship” dates, which are different for each service they provide. These dates are the deadline to ship a package to ensure it will arrive on time. During the holidays “one time” usually means on or before Christmas (December 25). If a package is labeled and on a carrier truck by that “ship by” date, it is the responsibility of the carrier to meet their delivery guarantee.  

Merchants need to communicate specific ordering deadlines to their customers, so that they can meet these “ship by” dates set by carriers. The deadlines that carriers set should not be what is communicated to customers. Work backwards from your carrier “ship by” dates and build in cushion time for order processing, fulfillment, weekends or non-operational days, plus time for shipments to get to the carrier. 

When all of your customers get their gifts and packages on time, they will thank you by returning for more next year.  

Watch Carrier Transit Times 

In the past few years, with higher rates of online shopping plus supply chain delays, carriers have struggled to keep up their guaranteed delivery windows.  

If you have the resources to track average delivery times for the carrier and service you use, it may help you determine when you tell customers they need to order gifts to get them by a certain date.  

Working with a 3PL or a logistics provider will be an asset to keeping track of this data. Some providers have transportation tools that show which carriers are meeting their transit time guarantees and which ones aren’t. Ask your provider if they can help share this information with your team.  

Peak Season Surcharges  

No merchant wants surprise fees, especially after the holiday season is over. Shipping surcharges are a costly area of transportation fees that many brands don’t budget for.   

In the last few years all major shipping carriers have been adding peak season surcharges—more surcharges and higher rates. “Peak season” refers to any period when carrier need to process a higher volume of packages than normal. The surcharges help offset the added infrastructure and labor costs to process the higher package volume.  

For lighter weight products and brands shipping smaller parcels, surcharges can occasionally overtake the original order value of the product. For example, if a customer sells a $10 product, and with surcharges and extra peak season fees it costs $20 or more to ship that product, it stops making sense for them to use that carrier. Work with your 3PL to choose the right carrier and service for your product. 

Peak season surcharges often apply to all services, but it is worth asking your carrier representative if there are services that do not incur extra surcharges. Depending on your shipping needs, you may be able to save a bit by switching services.  

Bottom Line 

The holiday season is a crucial time to get your fulfillment and shipping exactly right. It’s important for ecommerce sellers to be prepared for the holiday rush in demand. By working closely with your partners in advance, you will be sure to give your customers a smooth and memorable experience with your brand.  



If you are seeking fulfillment support for your holiday orders, reach out to DCL Logistics for a quote. We’d love to hear from you. We offer brands customized fulfillment solutions that meet their needs, for the holidays and beyond.