Holiday 2021 Planning Guide: Trends & Predictions for Ecommerce Fulfillment 

TL;DR 

  • Click-and-collect and curbside pickup are here to stay. 
  • Component shortages won’t let up until after the holiday season. 
  • Expect shipping delays in Q4.
  • Travel is booming. 
  • Social selling and mobile sales are going to get bigger. 

 

Ecommerce sales skyrocketed in 2020. The numbers show consumer spending was up starting in March, and those numbers still haven’t gone down a year later. Even the months where there is usually a lull in shipping activity (often between January and May) sales have only increased. 

If you’re a high-growth brand, you’ll want to capitalize on this booming market for the 2021 holidays. Now is the best time to start planning your ecommerce fulfillment strategy. Be sure to connect with your supply chain partners now so that when issues arise they can be resolved quickly. Here are a few trends and predictions to help you prepare for a smooth holiday season this year.

Read More:

This is one of a four-part series on how to prepare for Q4.

Read our holiday checklist for sellers, and the value-added services you should start planning now.

Click-and-Collect

There are some pandemic habits that will likely continue to be regular parts of our lives. In the retail world the new habits we acquired are click-and-collect and curbside pickup. Retailers implemented these to give consumers a same-day shipping feel without the hassle of any actual shipping. It was simple and easy for customers, and a low cost, efficient option for stores with a brick-and-mortar space. 

Click-and-collect is a hybrid approach to ecommerce shopping. Customers can purchase items online, but come to the store to pick up their items in person. Some retailers even offer curbside pickup, where a customer’s orders will be brought outside to them, ready to go when they arrive. 

Expect this service to remain a constant during the holidays. While small businesses might opt to take these services away during normal business times, they’ll likely see an uptick in sales if they can support click-and-collect or curbside pickup. Larger retailers are only making it easier for consumers by expanding the list of products made available and will definitely benefit during the holiday rush. Any chance sellers have to get products to customers without dealing with shipping costs and potential delays, it’s better for everyone.

Hard to Find Parts 

There was a lot written about the component shortages of 2020 because the issues they created rippled through so many industries. The biggest scarcity was semiconductor chips which affected every vertical from hardware, to tech, to the auto industry. Even big companies like Tesla and Apple reported slowing or stalling production due to a lack of parts.

It all started at the beginning of the COVID breakout, when manufacturers in Asia had to shut down production in order to limit the spread of the coronavirus. Then the international freight networks experienced delays and shutdowns—bottlenecks seemed to be happening all along the supply chain. The global flow of parts from Asian manufacturers to other countries is still unsteady today. 

The effects from these shortages won’t resolve before the 2021 holiday season. Both large and small companies have been affected, so if you are a smaller brand worried you’ll be the last in line to start getting back to full production, you’re not alone. Everyone is in the same boat and there are ways small brands can get creative to get components before big brands

Expect part delays to continue. No matter your company size, spend time on accurate forecasting now and communicate your needs to your suppliers. There’s never been a better time to ensure you have a really solid relationship with your suppliers.

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Get Ahead of Shipping Times 

Between October and December of 2020 shipping was chaos. The volumes of products being moved via freight and domestic carriers was astounding. Amazon Prime Day started the surge in October. Then Black Friday and Cyber Week were the biggest they have ever been. And Christmas is always a tough deadline to hit, and last year was no different. Even though all of the major carriers put out very conservative ship-by dates, there were still so many delays and late packages in Q4.  

It’s anyone’s guess if consumers will remember the issues they had with shipping times last Q4. Maybe people will forget and there will be another big surge and similar delays. But perhaps people will remember and plan ahead a bit more in 2021. Either way, expect shipping delays again this year. Ecommerce sales have only continued to rise year-over-year, especially during the holiday season. 2021 won’t be any different. 

It’s never too early to talk to your carriers or 3PL partners to make a game plan about your holiday shipping needs. Work with your team to compile a list of questions and concerns. 

  • What days will your 3PL be open and shipping during the holidays? 
  • Are certain carriers putting daily caps on a region, your warehouse, or your 3PL?
  • In the event of severe delays, how quickly can you pivot to a new carrier or service? 

Expect shipping delays this Q4. If you are planning a big 2021 holiday push, you should consider having a back-up carrier plan in place. No matter which carrier service you have, there are bound to be issues all around. By having a contingency plan that’s easily executed you’ll be ahead of the game when problems arise.

Everything Travel Related

Travel is probably going to be huge in 2021 and 2022. With the pandemic lockdown our lives got a lot smaller. Now that restrictions have been lifted, people will be flying, driving, and getting out of town to reconnect with family, recommit to trips that were cancelled, and seek out travel in all kinds of ways. Not only will the obvious industries be affected positively by all this travel traffic (airlines, hospitality, etc) so will any companies travel-adjacent (booking companies, experiential activities, and or course travel accessories like luggage). 

It’s predicted that the remote working culture brought on by necessity in 2020 will continue to be a reality for many. With the option now to work remotely from anywhere, expect people to be travelling for “workations”, or extended stays in distant locations while continuing to work. Apparently Aruba, the Barbados and Cayman Islands all have plans to allow remote workers to live there for an extended period of time. 

Expect consumers to want all things travel related. Even work accessories will likely remain in demand (laptops, headsets, video conferencing, etc), for all those people working while living that island life.

Social Selling and Mobile Sales

Social selling can mean a few different things. At a basic level, it refers to building customer relationships through social media channels. This may mean sales people are building customer loyalties through individual conversions on social media. It could also mean that a brand publishes products on their social channels for customers to buy without leaving the platform. 

More and more retailers have started offering their customers buying options on social media channels. For example, Instagram introduced Instagram Shops, providing a native shopping experience for buyers within the merchants’ profiles. Other social platforms have similar features, removing friction from the buying experience and helping merchants increase conversion rates.

For almost a decade mobile sales have continued to rise in popularity—both from brands offering this new retail channel, as well as from consumers feeling comfortable buying via social platforms. Mobile commerce, referred to as M-commerce, is inching closer to being the primary source for online shopping with an estimated 45% of total US ecommerce market.

Expect mobile sales to grow even more this year. Online shopping hit insurmountable highs in 2020. This might be the year that mobile sales really get huge. 

The 2020 holiday season broke open so many new systems. It was a challenging time for sellers, fulfillment providers, and carriers, but the lessons learned will certainly be applied to this next year. Ensure you’re prepared for whatever 2021 might bring. If you are seeking fulfillment support, value added services for the holidays, or are curious about working with a great 3PL, drop us a line.