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With the Christmas holidays nearly in full swing and people beginning to shop for gifts to give to their loved ones, holiday sales increase rapidly. For businesses of any size, this period can bring the Christmas gift of stress and frustration in replacement of a successful holiday season. This is why many businesses turn to a 3PL order fulfilment service for support.
Due to the cost of living crisis that has dominated the spending habits of most households and businesses, spending on the holiday season has been predicted to fall. 2023 will officially be the year for bargain hunting, with more and more people ordering smaller amounts more frequently to control spending or purchasing holiday items as late as possible to get the best deals.
The British Retail Consortium states, “Many households are also delaying their Christmas spending in the hopes they can grab a bargain’. Online shopping is also going to be as popular as ever. According to a recent Shopify and Gallup survey of 1761 customers, 93% planned to buy some holiday gifts online this year.
Being prepared for this increase in last-minute spending may be the difference between a successful e-commerce business this holiday season and an eCommerce business that fails in order fulfilment.
Preparing a Strategy for the Christmas Rush
Despite the planned decrease in spending, Christmas shopping forecasts predict that British people are still expected to spend 24.1 billion pounds online during November and December. Gen Z shoppers are predicted to spend approximately 15% more than in 2022, most purchasing through social media or online.
Order fulfilment will be as crucial as ever to meet customer needs. Shoppers buying later in the holiday months will still be expecting the same level of service, on-time deliveries and the correct order fulfilment with no time to amend incorrect orders. While retail may see a decline in shoppers due to heightened prices, eCommerce businesses that participate in Christmas sales and provide discount codes will still see a demand in sales. This is in addition to an increase in Gen Z customers with a significant online presence.
Why Is Preparing a Strategy Crucial to Order Fulfilment?
With the increased demands on businesses from customers with high expectations in the Christmas period, it is vital to have a clear and effective strategy for your order fulfilment. Here are the areas to consider:
To ensure that all orders are up to your usual standards.
Every business wants to set a standard regarding the quality of their products. Especially for smaller eCommerce businesses, the calibre of your products keeps your customers returning. This includes the product itself and, for most people, the packaging.
To ensure that all orders reach your customers on time.
If your customers have ordered Christmas gifts, products or anything related to Christmas Day, there is only a short window for your products to be delivered. This is taking into account postal and delivery service cut-off dates or delays. While some customers who receive their products after Christmas may still use them, most of your customers who order for Christmas will expect their order on time.
To avoid losing your customer base if your orders are incorrect.
While your business may have a thriving repeat customer base during the rest of the year, not all customers will use your services again if there is a problem with their purchases. This is significantly heightened during the stress of the Christmas period this year when finances are uncertain. Many people have been saving money to treat their family and friends to a fantastic Christmas after a challenging year.
Suppose your eCommerce business fails to provide successful order fulfilment. These disappointed customers may refrain from using your business in the future. This also applies to items that arrive damaged or do not arrive. The more overwhelmed your eCommerce business becomes during the Christmas rush, the less time you have to replace packages.
To avoid a mass of after-Christmas returns and a loss of profits.
If order fulfilment fails and items fail to arrive or arrive after the deadline for Christmas gift-giving, many will be returned. During the holiday period, returns equal a large proportion of lost profits. In 2022, returns totalled approximately 17.9% of orders. It’s important that your Christmas strategy incorporates clear sales cut-offs and returns policies to limit these returns.
To ensure the stability of your workforce.
Your workforce is what allows your eCommerce business to develop. When your business grows, and you grow your customer base, your workforce makes that a success. If you fail to implement an eCommerce strategy correctly, you may be left with an unprepared and overwhelmed workforce who can’t keep up with demand.
While it’s normal to want to do anything to satisfy your customer base, overloading your staff without a specific strategy or training in place can cause a dysfunctional environment. Missed orders and unhappy staff are just a small number of consequences of improper planning.
To make your eCommerce business a success this Christmas!
You have been dedicating your year so far to ensuring the success of your eCommerce business. Of course, you want to end the year prosperously.
This year, order fulfilment will be as crucial as ever to meet customer needs. Shoppers buying later in the holiday months will still be expecting the same level of service, on-time deliveries and the correct order fulfilment with no time to amend incorrect orders if your business is unprepared. Your eCommerce strategy needs to be foolproof to beat the Christmas rush.
If this information feels overwhelming, Don’t worry! We have some top eCommerce tips regarding order fulfilment that will help to turn your business from stressful to successful this Christmas rush.
Our Top Tips to Improve Your Seasonal eCommerce Strategy
You will now know what you want and don’t want for your business from Christmas. This section will explore making your ideal scenario possible through eCommerce strategy implementation.
Reflect on your last business Christmas.
If your eCommerce business was trading Christmas, assess your order fulfilment success from that period. Though customers may be planning to spend less overall, the Christmas rush will always occur. We invite you to ask yourself these questions:
- Did your logistics department function as well as possible?
- Did you miss orders?
- Were you subject to extra costs for improper planning?
- Did you correctly forecast your demand, or were you underprepared?
- Were your staff adequately trained for the Christmas rush and holiday sales?
- Was your customer base satisfied overall with your order fulfilment?
Acknowledging and learning from past errors regarding holiday sales will allow you to identify weaknesses in your seasonal eCommerce strategy.
Predict and monitor your supply and demand.
The success of your eCommerce business during the Christmas rush will primarily depend on your ability to forecast the holiday sales demand. It prevents several logistical issues if you and your team correctly forecast and monitor your market against your stock amounts. Reflecting on your previous sales during the same period with your team can allow you to plan your new eCommerce strategy based on the demand, successes, failures and gaps of earlier years.
If you prefer to install more reliable software to assist your business, several demand planning software packages are available for your eCommerce business. Some of the most highly regarded demand planning software of 2023 for retail and eCommerce businesses include:
- Rapid Response
These technologies can predict your demand, show you your supply and continue to assist you as your business grows. Once you have estimated your demand for this year, you can ensure you will have enough supply for your customers.
The Use of Strategic Discount Codes
The use of discount codes might feel daunting in the short term, especially when we have just discussed last-minute Christmas shoppers hunting for bargains. Decreasing your prices when you wouldn’t usually may also be one of your concerns.
In the long term, the strategic use of discount codes may help remove the pressure from the weeks closer to Christmas. For example, having flash sales or applying a discount code in November or early December rather than the week before Christmas will encourage more customers to use your services. Holding the discounts well before Christmas takes the pressure away from you for those last-minute sale orders.
It’s no secret that customers look for deals. According to Statistica, 60% of customers stated that finding products that were ‘good value for money’ is their priority this year. This category beat others like ‘quick delivery’, ‘easy to find’ and even the ‘quality of products’. If discount codes are not everyday practice within your eCommerce business, try to add an incentive for customers to shop with you. This may include ‘buy now and get a free shipping only for this week’ or something similar, but apply this strategically. Don’t overpromise and underdeliver.
Utilise The Powers Of Social Media
If you plan on running a strategically placed discount period or any other holiday-related content, ensure that all your customers are aware. Let them know how good this deal is and the cut-off date for the discount. Proceed to discuss the benefits of your customers ordering now for Christmas.
Social media is a fantastic place to engage with your customers about offers, Christmas order cut-offs and holiday content. A recent study found that 22% of customers prefer to discover new products via social media than anywhere else on the internet.
If your eCommerce business usually struggles to keep up with order fulfilment during the last weeks before Christmas and is releasing new products or services for Christmas, release them early. Keen customers will stock up early, taking some pressure away from you and avoiding a Christmas backlog.
Plan Your Shipping Policies
In the age of Amazon with same-day and next-day delivery, even during the Christmas rush, customer expectations regarding shipping are sky-high. Shipping times are not something to be optimistic about during the holiday period. Don’t rely on your usual shipping timeframes. The unpredictability of traditional delivery services around Christmas and your holiday-related backlog will severely alter delivery times.
A predicted 11% of returns are due to items arriving late. Establishing a date for your order cut-offs in line with delivery companies means that your customers will receive their orders on time and will prevent the number of returns.
Be transparent with your customers regarding shipping times. Customers will be more patient with you if they know what to expect. If your eCommerce business sets a specific cut date for orders that will definitely arrive before Christmas, you can be clear that orders after this date are not guaranteed to arrive. This will minimise customer disappointment.
Be Clear About Your Returns Policies
The better the quality of your products and the success of your order fulfilment, the less likely you will have a mountain of returns from unhappy customers. So, to improve your seasonal eCommerce strategy, begin by ensuring your orders are sent out to customers on time and in the best condition first.
Similar to your shipping policies, your return policies should be set in stone and advertised well before the Christmas rush. To keep stock moving and prevent a backlog, your returns process needs to be as seamless as possible, especially during the holiday period. If your returns are processed as quickly, they will re-enter your stock system and be purchased again as soon as possible. Make sure that you communicate well with your customers regarding returns.
Assess Your Current Workforce
You and your workforce are the lifeblood of your company. Your order fulfilment will likely succeed if your staff are adequately trained, focused and have good communication skills. When staff lack the tailored training to deal with the Christmas period, they are set up to fail.
Developing your eCommerce strategy to include extra staff training will give new staff an insight into what to expect during this period and provide the long-term team with a refresher. When your team are confident in their abilities and work, they are less likely to become overwhelmed with the Christmas Rush.
Naturally, your workforce will likely want to take time off over Christmas.
To maximise order fulfilment, ensure that all holiday dates are set as early as possible.
When assessing the logistics side of your eCommerce business, you may discover gaps in your workforce’s ability to be successful in order fulfilment. If your staff will be too stretched during this period, you may wish to hire seasonal staff.
If you employ seasonal staff, onboarding them as early as possible would encourage better organisation over Christmas. While you may only need extra support during the busiest weeks in December, bringing temporary staff in from the end of October onwards will allow time for training and adjusting. Christmas staff hired too late may need more time to complete full training and become an extra source of worry for you during your busiest period.
Plan For The Worst And Hope For The Best.
Nothing could be more relevant to business success during the holiday period. Demand can still vary despite your demand planning software.
When assessing your historical data and establishing your eCommerce strategy, it will be beneficial to ensure that you plan for the worst. By the worst, we mean scenarios like a sudden influx of orders on the last order date, a lack of stock, and deliveries not made on time.
Your eCommerce strategy needs to consider a ‘what if’ strategy. What if you have more orders than ever? Will you adequately plan for extra stock and well-trained staff to ensure order fulfilment?
Using A Third-Party Order Fulfilment Service.
Order fulfilment can be the difference between success and failure for your eCommerce business. Your reputation is based on your ability to impress customers with your products, services, delivery and communication. That’s why getting right in any company of any size is so important.
A third-party order fulfilment service can help you prepare your eCommerce business for peak seasons. This includes helping you meet demand when you feel overwhelmed with all aspects of order fulfilment during your busiest times. Outsourcing in this way can assist you with shipping, stock calculation, keeping your customers happy and retaining your positive image.
So, what are the benefits Of using an eCommerce Fulfilment Centre? Here are the key advantages:
The combination of staff, shipping, and operating costs can leave your eCommerce business parting with more of your profits than anticipated. As many order fulfilment partners provide warehouses to hold your stock, outsourcing can limit your storage and general operating costs. A third party will reduce your staffing costs by having its team of professionals pack and ship orders.
A third-party eCommerce fulfilment service can also help with shipping costs. Most fulfilment services often partner with shipping providers for businesses that send out high volumes of orders. This allows them to provide your business with a shipping discount. As your business’ shipping costs increase during busy or holiday seasons, it can be a helpful cost-reducing tool.
A fulfilment service ensures that your customers receive only the best. During the busy Christmas period, when you have to sacrifice quality to get orders out, eCommerce fulfilment services have more resources available to ensure all orders reach the customer ideally.
Tracked shipping services are also offered to businesses, meaning you and your customers have the peace of mind of knowing where their order is. This will inevitably lead to a limitation on lost orders, saving you from having to spend resources to send a replacement.
Holiday sales can be overwhelming without knowing if your stock will be able to meet the demand. Third-party order fulfilment services offer real-time reporting on your current stock, including after every purchase and return. Most systems operate on a cloud basis so that you can view your available inventory anywhere. Reports can also show which items are selling the best and the worst, giving you the information to adjust your products or marketing techniques accordingly.
A Faster Process:
Large companies like Amazon have set a precedent with customers expecting cheap and fast shipping. Fulfilment service providers believe in providing all businesses with the same advantages established enterprises have.
All orders in fulfilment centres are processed faster to ensure that all your orders are shipped to your customers quickly. This includes providing customers with a higher service level through later shipping cut-off times.
If you would like to learn more about how outsourcing can increase the pace of your shipping, discover our guide on how 3PL can Improve Customer Experience and Business Operations.
A Service That Grows With You
When your eCommerce business grows and develops, 3PL order fulfilment services have the resources and personnel to grow with you. This applies to storage and shipping amounts and your real-time reporting.
Let’s Wrap Up Order Fulfilment During the Christmas Rush
The holiday rush can make or break an eCommerce business, especially in a climate of uncertainty where spending habits will have altered. Elevating your business’s order fulfilment is crucial for success during this period. Assessing your current business strategy and trend history during other holidays can assist in establishing your new, focused eCommerce strategy.
Ensuring your customers have the best experience, especially during the holiday, is essential. While overall spending may decrease this Christmas, online, last-minute and deal shopping will be more prevalent than ever, generally with the younger generations. By altering your eCommerce strategy and acquiring the services of a third-party order fulfilment service, you will be able to continue to provide outstanding customer service and enhance your performance during the busy Christmas rush.
Need the support of a Third-Party Order Fulfilment Service?
At Core Fulfilment, we tailor our services to your e-Commerce business. We are proud to have helped several reputable brands grow since our formation in 2014. Outsourcing can assist your business in many ways, but we focus on helping you delight your customer base and retain your reputation.
For more information on outsourcing, get in touch with the team today. We would be happy to talk you through the process and help you choose which services are right for your business.