All Things Shipping
Oct 26, 2020

Advice from Shippo and UPS: How to Prep for an Unpredictable Holiday Selling Season

Here’s a recap of our recent Webinar—Shipping Strategies for Success in the Face of Uncertainty.

We recently joined forces with UPS on a webinar, to discuss predictions for an unprecedented holiday season and how businesses can ultimately be successful. Our panel of experts shared some key insights on navigating the season, and in turn, we’ll be sharing some highlights here. 

Our panelists: 

  • Mario Paganini, Head of Marketing at Shippo 
  • Jason Robinson, Director, Digital Access Program at UPS
  • Jon Ramos, Co-Owner, The Cookie Countess

“E-commerce businesses are uniquely prepared to support consumers during this unprecedented holiday season.”  —Jason 

The webinar kicked off with some major stats around the growth e-commerce businesses have experienced in 2020:

  • The e-commerce market has experienced an incredible five years of growth in just three months. 
  • There has been an 80% increase in e-commerce volume since early March. 

“It wasn’t just more sales that were happening, it was also more net new buyers,” says Mario. And, as a direct result of consumers turning to e-commerce in far higher numbers than ever before amid the pandemic, online businesses have faced a wide range of operational challenges in meeting the increased demand. 

Current UPS survey data adds some depth to how small businesses have felt about their supply chains and suppliers, and it’s not business as usual: 

  • 55% of small businesses believe that some aspect of  their supply chain is still disrupted 
  • 32% are looking to suppliers to replenish inventories 
  • 20% are increasing the number of suppliers they use to overcome issues

Holiday Predictions 

“We’re confident that e-commerce will see increased demand this holiday season. We also expect the selling season to start even earlier than previous years,” says Jason. And that seems to be a trend as many of the big retailers have shifted gears in terms of their selling strategies. “That’s why [Target’s] biggest holiday deals will be available earlier than ever, so you can shop safely and conveniently without worrying about missing out on deals that usually come later in the season,” he adds. And this is not exclusive to the household-name retailers; companies of all sizes, such as Feridies have already started their holiday promotions.  

And, with some major retailers closing on Thanksgiving Day, this will undoubtedly push more customers online. Some of these retailers include: 

  • Target
  • Walmart 
  • Macy’s 
  • Best Buy 
  • Kohl’s 
  • Dick’s Sporting Goods 

“For Walmart, that’s the first time they’re doing so in 30 years,” says Jason. 

All of this online activity may certainly have a trickle-down effect on smaller businesses. Mario explains, “These larger players are starting their holiday promotions earlier on, and the result is going to be many more consumers getting into that holiday mindset earlier—and starting their holiday shopping earlier.”   

With those insights, smaller businesses would do well to plan ahead as much as possible. “Knowing that consumers are already starting their holiday shopping, how are you going to get ahead of that?” asks Mario.  

Strategies and Tips 

Our panel offered some holiday advice that includes dealing with inventory, shipping, and supply chain challenges, exploring cost-effective marketing strategies, optimizing for top customer experiences, and more.

Inventory Planning

“Most brands are taking a cautious approach to stocking inventory, even though we’re anticipating record levels of e-commerce sales. For many sellers, there’s too much risk involved with taking on extra product,” says Jason.  

He adds, “In fact, 69% of brands said their Black Friday plans have not changed due to COVID-19.” 

Review Your Marketing Plans

Jason offered some tips on optimizing your marketing efforts. “Look at your marketing strategies for ways to better adapt to the current landscape, since this is an area where you can act quickly and be a little more flexible.”

  • Be nimble with product promotions

“Adjust your featured products to focus on those that most resemble essential goods. Take a look at what products have been selling well these past few months and lean into that success, putting more promotional effort behind those items.” 

  • Consider curating products for gift ideas

“Make it easier for customers by suggesting gift ideas and pairing products for easy purchasing. What’s more, you can take advantage of the fact that you’re a digital business: offer a gift-giving quiz or other interactive content to engage and advise consumers.”

  • Leverage PPC ads while they’re cheap

“CPM prices dropped for paid ads have dropped. Many brands have had to pull back spending. If you can afford it, you can take advantage of the lower costs.” 

  • Get started early 

“In theory, an earlier selling season will help to make the fulfillment process more manageable, since orders are split during more days. From a competitive standpoint, you don’t want to miss out on potential customers if other companies are launching sales now.” 

UPS Options For Holiday Success

Transactions don’t end when your customers place their orders. UPS offers flexible options to help ensure a smooth delivery. 

The UPS MyChoice® tool is a free service that gives consumers more control over their residential deliveries. 

Members can receive an email or text message the day before a shipment arrives. If they’re not going to be home, they can reroute most packages to their workplace, a neighbor’s home, or a nearby UPS Access Point™ location. 

Members can also provide instructions for their UPS driver to leave their deliveries at places such as their home’s back porch or side of the garage. Most delivery alerts include an estimated delivery window, and for a small fee, UPS can also provide a 2-hour confirmed delivery window. (A small fee may also apply to certain delivery changes.)

The UPS Access Point™ Network is a network of nearby businesses that offer a secure location to receive packages for customers who may not be home to accept them during regular delivery hours.

Optimizing Operations 

Here are a few tips for assuring customer satisfaction not just at the point of sale, but for the entire shipping and fulfillment experience. 

Stress Test Your Fulfillment Workflow

Imagine if your daily order volume were to increase by two times or more. Would you be able to keep up? Mario provided some key insights on how to optimize fulfillment operations. “There are a few different considerations and benefits that you can take advantage of as a Shippo customer—all with the goal of putting you in the position of having a fulfillment workflow that will work not only at your current volume but even at 5X that volume.”

  • Package Templates: specific product sizes and weights can be assigned to enable Shippo to identify the most optimized and cost-effective shipping options available
  • Automation and Batch Label Creation: increase speed, productivity, and efficiency 
  • Manifests: these allow batches of packages to be scanned in all at once by the carriers (and are sometimes a carrier requirement)

Create a Positive Returns Experience for Your Customer

What’s worse than a return? Losing a customer forever. But on the flip side, 95% of customers will purchase again after a positive returns experience. That number goes way down to 20% following a negative return experience. “Don’t think about a return as losing a transaction. Think about it as an opportunity to either retain a life-long customer or lose that customer forever,” says Mario. 

As you’re ramping up for the season, even if you have a holiday return policy you use every year, now that COVID has changed the e-commerce landscape, it’s worth revisiting your return policy to make sure it supports your 2020 efforts. 

The 2019 UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper survey reveals what customers would consider a positive returns experience:

  • 42%: Free return shipping
  • 28%: A hassle-free return policy 
  • 24%: An automatic refund to credit or debit card 
  • 21%: Easy-to-print return label 
  • 20%: Easy-to-follow returns procedure

In general, earlier holiday promotions will require a longer return window. If your holiday promotions have started earlier this year, make sure your window for returning an item gets extended to match. 

A Small Business Strategy in Real-Time

Our webinar also featured examples of some real-life holiday strategies in play. Here’s how our panelist, Jon Ramos of The Cookie Countess, has been planning ahead: 

  • In October, the company moved to a 13,000 square-foot warehouse to handle the demand 
  • Hired more seasonal staff
  • Ordered large quantities of items that don’t expire or go out of style 

Jon is also a big proponent of integrating your marketing and shipping strategies for saving time and money:

  • Running pre-sales on hard-to-pack products
  • Creating marketing bundles that can be pre-packaged ahead of time 
  • Promoting and encouraging wishlists

As mentioned throughout, one of the key themes of the webinar and holiday season is the idea of starting early, and Jon’s company has already been more than on top of that, especially as it pertains to marketing and shipping. “Flushing out demand ahead of time for those long, large, delicate, or heavy items will greatly improve daily volume during BFCM sales.” 

The Cookie Countess is also very active on social media, which has served it well when promoting its products and creating further buzz. “Teasing [these bundles] on social media and doing marketing prior to the sales also helps in building demand.” And echoing earlier sentiments around the cost-effectiveness of online promotions amid the pandemic, Jon adds. “Social media marketing after COVID got less expensive. Our Facebook marketing was doing so well that we couldn’t keep up with the orders.”

Your Next Steps

By now, it’s no secret that this holiday shopping season is going to be unlike any other we’ve seen thus far. But, with some smart planning and a focused execution, your business will be best positioned to tackle the challenges ahead. 

Check out the webinar in its entirety for even more best practices, tips, and tricks to successfully gear up for the 2020 holiday season. 


Explore Shippo to help streamline your shipments for this holiday season and beyond.


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