Winter is coming. Is that still an acceptable pop culture reference? Doesn’t matter. We’re not here to talk about Game of Thrones or House of the Dragon. It’s time to discuss holiday shipping. Here is everything your brand needs to know to survive — and thrive — this holiday season.
First things first: map out your shipping strategy. Even if your shipping strategy is a well-oiled machine for most of the year, it may require some tweaking and fine-tuning leading up to the holidays. If you notice regular hiccups in your fulfillment, now is the time to identify them and work with your internal team and 3PL (third-party logistics provider) to correct those issues and streamline your processes.
When mapping out your shipping strategy, a significant piece of the puzzle is understanding who handles your fulfillment. You might expect us to advise that all companies need a 3PL, but not all companies are created equal, which means not all businesses need to outsource fulfillment. If you’re handling fulfillment yourself, take special note of carrier cutoffs for packages to arrive on customer doorsteps in time for Christmas. If you’re using a 3PL provider, make sure to keep lines of communication open around inventory deadlines and expectations around shipping delays.
Demand planning is key to a successful holiday shipping season. Use your fulfillment data from last year to forecast volume expectations for this year and get that information to your 3PL provider as early as possible (they should provide you with a deadline, but it’s likely sometime in September). To keep customers satisfied, it’s important to make sure you stay in stock. If you’re still working on mastering inventory management, here are some tips on how to do it well.
It’s no secret that labor shortages have added complications to the already-stressed supply chain. Is your warehouse equipped with enough manpower to get orders out the door on time? Demand planning plays a crucial role here: accurate forecasts help your 3PL know how to staff their warehouses for the holidays to make sure each of your orders is shipped on time.
If you’re using a 3PL provider, they should have plenty of boxes, tape and dunnage to get all their brands through the holiday season with ease. But if your products require special packaging (like branded boxes or custom inserts), make sure your 3PL has plenty of those on hand as well.
With the holidays comes an annual surge in order volume (averaging 30-40%) as customers shop for gifts for friends and family. This rapid increase in packages puts a strain on carriers. Major parcel carriers have been known to implement surcharges and volume caps to combat this pressure. At Whitebox, we operate with a carrier-agnostic approach to shipping to avoid reliance on any one carrier for this exact reason.
Stop problems before they start by staying proactive in your fulfillment processes. What snafus did your brand encounter last year? Plan to avoid repeating problems unnecessarily. At Whitebox, some of the most common bottleneck issues we witness include:
Our recommendation: Share as much detail with your 3PL provider as early and often as possible. This will ensure they’re equipped to meet demand and keep your customers happy.
During the holiday season, brands should anticipate shipping delays. Each year, carriers publish shipping deadlines, which should serve as a guide to make sure your products can arrive on time (most carriers use Christmas Day as the anchor for holiday gift giving, but be mindful of other holiday traditions including Hanukkah and Kwanzaa). Additionally, be clear on when your 3PL needs to have inventory on hand for Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals. Historically, shipping speeds slow down during the holiday surge, so consider building in a one- or two-day buffer into your own shipping cutoffs.
Expect shipping to take longer. Build time into your shipping schedule as a buffer for these delays, and communicate that schedule clearly with customers. It’s true that some customers will likely choose the product that will be delivered faster, but it’s important to be transparent and honest about expected delivery times. Over-promising and (literally) under-delivering will leave your customer dissatisfied, which is much more harmful to your brand and ultimately, your bottom line. UPS offers a helpful time-in-transit map for U.S. ground shipping to give customers an estimate of how long it will take to ship from one zip code to another.
It’s important to understand that each carrier and geography will experience unique impacts based on a variety of factors. For some cities, winter storms will impact transportation routes, affecting all carriers in those areas. Alternatively, carriers may struggle with internal issues such as sort centers being backed up or a pickup window being missed due to driver shortages. Whatever the case, it’s important to recognize that delays will happen, even if the reasons vary each year.
Want to offer free shipping? Customers love that! Just make sure it’s factored into your bottom line. If you’re not offering free shipping, be upfront with customers so they don’t experience sticker shock during checkout. The last thing you want is to lose a conversion due to a hidden shipping fee.
Whitebox operates a high-volume, low-defect shipping network with two-day coverage for 99.9% of the U.S. This, coupled with our technology that balances volume across multiple carriers and our ability to negotiate reduced shipping costs ensures our clients get the best possible rates and flexible shipping options that meet their business’s needs.
If shipping is not included, consider listing the weight of your products to the order. This is helpful for customers because it shows them the “why” behind shipping expenses. If you need help calculating shipping costs, use our handy fulfillment measurement calculator.
Order tracking is a great way to communicate with your customers and help them manage expectations about delivery times. Customers don’t like being left in the dark about where their packages are once orders are placed. Keep them apprised of where their goods are from the warehouse to their doorstep. To make order tracking easier, Whitebox has a native Shopify app and an open API (application programming interface) that provide direct links from carrier tracking updates to the brand’s end customer.
Consider adding frequently asked shipping questions to your website so customers can know what to expect while freeing your team from answering common questions via phone, email or chat. This section should include contact information for your customer support team for any questions that fall outside of those most commonly asked.
Begin your advertising strategy as early as possible to give your brand time to gain momentum leading into the holiday season. Beginning November 1, many customers start turning their attention to holiday spending, so be prepared with ad campaigns that capture their attention starting after Halloween. Need help building a more robust ad strategy? Whitebox can help with that, too.
Consider offering special promotions on your dot com site to capture an earlier crowd of shoppers. This will help space out your fulfillment needs and help you avoid shipping delays since it’s ahead of the holiday rush. Many customers are shopping earlier this year due to rising inflation (stretching out those shopping dollars), so this is an opportunity for your brand to capitalize on that spending.
Retarget your existing and past customers with access to deals as a thank-you for buying from your brand before. Consider emailing them special discount codes to get them to purchase again.
As always, be clear in your communication with your customers. Set realistic expectations and clear deadlines. If a customer wants a gift on their doorstep by Christmas Eve, they need to know the cutoff for placing the order. The last thing you — or they — want is to cancel an order or return it later because it didn’t arrive in time to make it under the tree.
Shipping during the holidays might seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Preparation is the key to getting through the busiest shopping season smoothly. Looking for more guidance on how to navigate peak? Speak to a Whitebox fulfillment expert today.