The holiday season is a double-edged sword for ecommerce brands. At once the surge in orders can lead to the most lucrative time of the year, offering a tremendous opportunity for revenue growth, while simultaneously putting strain your order fulfillment process, leading to potential pitfalls like delays, errors, and unhappy customers.
To thrive during this critical period, high-growth ecommerce brands must aim for perfect order fulfillment. There are a few tried and true strategies and best practices that will help you navigate the holiday sales rush seamlessly and deliver a flawless shopping experience to your customers.
1. Optimize Inventory Management
The foundation of perfect order fulfillment starts with effective inventory management. Planning and forecasting will go a long way to achieving a successful holiday sales season.
Forecast Accurately: Leverage historical data and market trends to forecast demand accurately. This will help you order the right amount of inventory, reducing the risk of overstocking or running out of popular products.
Safety Stock: During the holidays, it’s wise to maintain a safety stock to handle unexpected spikes in demand. This buffer can be a lifesaver during peak sales periods.
Implement a Robust Inventory System: Invest in an advanced inventory management system that provides real-time visibility into your stock levels, making it easier to track and manage inventory efficiently.
2. Streamline Order Processing
Efficiency in order processing is paramount during the holiday season. Without perfect order processing, you’re likely to have missed orders, delays, backorders, stockouts, and ultimately unhappy customers.
A few operational changes to consider putting into place well in advance of peak season include:
Automation. By automating systems where possible you can eliminate human errors. Automate processes such as order entry, payment processing, and shipping label generation.
Batch Processing. If you can group orders and process them in batches you’ll be able to move products out the door more quickly. Batch processing can significantly reduce picking and packing time.
Distribute Inventory. If your operations allow, distributing inventory to multiple fulfillment centers can help reduce shipping distances and ultimately transit times. With the right strategy, a distributed inventory model can give you same-day shipping to all or most regions of the US. Just be careful you know what you’re getting into, distributed inventory can also be an administrative burden.
3. Offer Multiple Shipping Options
Give customers flexibility in shipping. Just make sure you are abundantly clear on the options you are giving. The checkout process can be long, so give customers the opportunity to understand a clear delivery window prior to entering your checkout section.
During the holidays, shipping cut-off times are critical. Many shoppers have a very clear date in mind when they want their gifts to arrive. Here are a few shipping strategies that will reduce cart abandonment and help your fulfillment flow.
Consider Free Shipping. It’s a great incentive for buyers. But there are downsides to free shipping strategies—your brand will absorb the overall costs, and it may come with a higher return volume.
Offer an Express Shipping Option. Expedited shipping can help net more, last-minute orders for shoppers willing to pay a premium for faster delivery. Just be careful you’re communicating clearly what the shipping cut-off days are for special holiday deliveries.
Invest in Quality Order Tracking. Ensure your customers can easily track their orders to reduce inquiries and anxiety.
4. Staffing and Training
One of the hardest parts about fulfillment during peak season is staffing. Having the right people and training in place to match the needs of the changes in your order volume is key.
If you are managing your own fulfillment, keep a close eye on your sales campaigns and map fulfillment staffing accordingly. Don’t be surprised if consumer trends dictate slightly different levels.
Hire seasonal staff. Whether you manage fulfillment in-house or outsource to a 3PL, seasonal staff is key to have to help process orders. Be sure all staff members are properly trained on the exact way you want your products kitted and labeled.
Cross-train employees in various roles is a great way to ensure flexibility in case of unexpected absences or spikes in specific tasks. Your customers service team may need to help put products into boxes, and warehouse staff may need to answer customer calls. Be prepared for both outcomes.
5. Quality Control and Inspection
Mistakes will happen, especially when you least want them to, or expect them to. But rigorous quality control measures can minimize issues and delays. Set up quality control checkpoints before peak season so you’re not trying to mitigate during high-volume days.
If you outsource fulfillment to a 3PL ask about their quality assurance team. Ask about the quality standards your 3PL follows. They should have a clear system of reporting any anomalies and re-evaluate processes that need attention.
6. Returns Management
Prepare for inevitable returns. Don’t plan your returns management process last! It’s an often-forgotten aspect of the holiday sales season.
Create a clear return policy and be sure it is in place before launching any sales campaigns. Keep your customer in mind as you create it. Communicate it prominently on your website.
Establish an efficient returns process. This may mean going to your warehouse or meeting with your 3PL to ensure all pathways are streamlined to get returned merchandise back into your inventory flow quickly. An efficient process will also mean less time to issue refunds or replacements, which means happier customers.
7. Technology Integration
Make sure all your integrations are connected and properly working. Test your website and all ecommerce channels. Make sure warehouse systems are in perfect working order. The last thing you want is a surge in orders only to find out you can’t actually process them.
Your website and ecommerce platforms should be top of the list.
Warehouse Management Systems (WMS) should be perfect at inventory tracking to order picking.
Order Management System (OMS) need to be fully updated to centralize order processing across multiple sales channels, reducing errors and improving efficiency.
8. Customer Communication
Your customers are the reason you do this, right? Make sure your customer service team is armed with all the resources they need to keep your customers informed and happy.
Send proactive updates. Don’t wait until the calls start flooding in to send out updates about order status, shipping delays, and expected delivery dates.
Get your customer support team in sync. Make sure they all understand how you want inquiries handled and issues resolved.
Perfect order fulfillment during a holiday sales rush is not just about delivering products; it’s about delivering exceptional customer experiences.
By optimizing inventory management, streamlining order processing, offering shipping flexibility, investing in staffing and training, implementing quality control measures, embracing technology, monitoring operations, and maintaining open communication with customers, high-growth ecommerce brands can thrive during the holidays and set the stage for long-term success.
Remember, the holiday season is not just a sales opportunity; it’s a chance to build lasting customer loyalty through flawless order fulfillment.
If you are seeking a fulfillment provider who can help you analyze your shipping data, reach out to DCL Logistics for a quote. We have a number of transportation management services that can help your brand grow and scale.
Tags: Omnichannel Fulfillment