The holidays are upon us. For e-commerce businesses, this is the busiest period of the year — and hopefully, the most profitable. Some businesses generate as much as 30 percent of annual sales during a span of less than two months.
The NRF (National Retail Federation) reports that sales were up nearly 3 percent for the 2018 holiday season compared to the year prior. And for online businesses in particular, that growth was a healthy 11.5 percent.
To keep up with seasonal demand, and growing numbers of online holiday shoppers, you need to plan for smooth operations. Below, we’ll outline five ways to prep your shipping software and operations for the holiday season.
Set a Budget
Budget planning is critical in every aspect of your business. It’s important to remember that holiday shipping preparations and expense planning, can’t be based on trends seen throughout the rest of the year. The spike in sales at this time of year, means you’ll also likely incur different associated costs.
To understand a realistic budget for your business, check the books for past holiday periods. Which costs went up, and which went down relative to the seasonal volume? This data analysis will unearth trends and valuable information to help you forecast expenses for the upcoming period.
Sales growth also means more expenses, and it can eat away at profits or even cause you to realize a loss.
What are these additional costs? Examples include:
- Seasonal staffing
- Inventory purchases
- Marketing and advertising spend
- Outsourcing order fulfillment tasks
- Holiday-themed brand materials
- Shipping fees
Plan Your Inventory
This one’s simple: you need to actually have products to make sales
If you can’t meet demand, you’ll have a lot of unhappy customers — just as many of competitors welcoming them with open arms. In fact, retailers lose out on $1 trillion annually because of stockouts.
Prior to the holiday season, get your stock under control. Order early, keep in contact with suppliers and vendors, and closely track inventory levels throughout the period. Again, use previous years’ data to find the optimal stock levels for 2019. Do you know how fast you can restock during the busy period? Inquire about your suppliers own holiday inventory levels and turn around times.
Remember: You need to account for inventory levels of both the items you’re selling and the items you need to fulfill those orders. Account for things like boxes, packaging, labels, and other shipping supplies.
Know the Shipping Deadlines
Carriers set shipping deadlines for the holiday season each year. Get to know them to ensure your packages arrive in a timely manner. You don’t want to be the online retailer that ruined Christmas.
Monday, December 23 is the absolute final date to ship a holiday package via USPS and UPS, FedEx can deliver a package sent on December 25 via FedEx SameDay. This is only available in select cities though, so you’ll want to make sure it’s in yours before you rely on it.
Here’s a full breakdown:
Share these dates with your team. Download a holiday shipping calendar and circulate it electronically, or print and post it in your business , Tip: Create a shared calendar dedicated to holiday shipping deadlines, and make sure everyone knows the importance of hitting those dates.
Hire Seasonal Support If You Need It
We mentioned hiring seasonal staff as an added expense during the holidays. In the U.S., retailers hire more than 700,000 temporary staff members each holiday season.
Seasonal staff are crucial to maintaining smooth shipping operations with more product moving. You’ll have more orders to fulfill, more packages to label, seal and ship, and yes, more customer support inquiries to manage. More hands on deck will enable your team to meet demand and provide a consistent brand experience all year.
Importantly, seasonal employees open up bandwidth for permanent employees to focus on more impactful or nuanced tasks. And if you have a standout hire, you could offer them a longer-term employment option beyond the holidays.
Set Up Automations
Where possible, automations allow you to save time, reduce labor costs, and increase efficiency and accuracy. Automation reduces the need for tasks to be done by people, which also reduces the likelihood of human error altering data or creating inefficiencies.
There are tons of ways you can automate shipping-related tasks. One way is to automatically generate invoices and shipping labels each time a new order is placed. This cuts out the manual labor required to export CSVs or copying and pasting information over to your label maker. Instead, the moment the invoice is generated, the shipping information is also passed along to your fulfillment service.
Other essential automations include reordering, fulfillment, order splitting, and more.
Moving Forward With Your Shipping Operations for the 2019 Holiday Season
You need to be prepared from more than a shipping standpoint when it comes to the 2019 holiday season. It’s important to be at the top of your game during one of the most influential periods of the calendar year.