These days, getting ready for the holidays is anything but business as usual. Being prepared—as early as possible—will help you more easily meet your customers’ needs and strengthen their loyalty during a holiday season like no other.
The good news is that even during a pandemic, customers are prepared to spend for the holidays, and with seasonal promotions starting even earlier this year, the holiday shopping mindset has already kicked in. This is the time of year that customers want to consider “normal,” even if some of the rules have changed.
We recently teamed up with UPS on a webinar to talk about how small-business owners are facing the challenges of navigating the holiday season during the pandemic. Here were some key points shared:
- The e-commerce market has experienced five years of growth in just three months
- There has been an 80% increase in e-commerce volume since early March
Those stats have obviously had a profound effect on e-commerce merchants.
In addition, current UPS survey data finds that:
- 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
With so many considerations to take into account during this unprecedented holiday season, we’ve gathered some tips and best practices to help get your business set up for success this season.
Get the Timing Right
Right off the top, timing will be extra crucial this holiday season. As you may already be aware, the pandemic has done a serious number on so many aspects of the retail landscape. Your best strategy is to get started as early as possible—on everything. To start, order your inventory early to ensure that you’ll have the products and supplies that you need long before it becomes a time-crunch issue.
On the flipside, mapping out a fulfillment process now that’s realistic and works for your business during the hectic days ahead will also be key. And take a look at your competition—when are they getting started on their holiday sales promotion? Their proactive strategy may be turning the heads of potential customers.
Make Good Use of Your Calendar
In order to succeed when getting ready for the holidays, make your calendar your new best friend. Make a plan for ordering your supplies from vendors early. And, ask your team to request any holiday time off by a specific deadline, so that you can plan your holiday schedule without any surprises or interruptions.
Take Stock of Supplies Needed
What was your supply order like last holiday season? Use that as a baseline when anticipating the quantity of shipping and packaging supplies you’ll need this year. Another set of supplies that never would have occurred to you a year ago: face masks and hand sanitizer—to help ensure your facility stays safe.
Show Your Suppliers and Vendors Some Love
It’s the season of getting together with those near and dear to you (observing social distancing, of course), so don’t forget about your suppliers and vendors. Imagine what they must be going through these days; check in with them from time to time for a friendly “Hello.”
Also, get your orders in with enough time for them to accommodate you without having to scramble. Early, accurate orders may strengthen your relationships with your suppliers and vendors and show them that you are working with them, not against them.
Conquer the Stock/Order Balancing Act
As you ramp up for increased business, it’s obviously going to be important to ensure you have enough stock on hand. These days, there may be limits on quantities ordered, but find out about those limitations earlier rather than later, so that you can figure out a Plan B if needed. Do your vendors and suppliers impose ordering deadlines? If so, make sure you mark them on your calendar and keep an eye on your inventory.
But, don’t go overboard. When it comes to your product inventory, prepare as usual, but you may not want to over prepare. Taking on too much product may risk a glut of inventory that doesn’t sell or move after the holidays.
When it comes to the products that are most popular with your customers, focus on those as featured goods (best sellers), as well as anything you have that most resembles essential products that make surviving a pandemic easier.
Combining and showcasing different products that complement each other may make the gift-giving process easier for your customers. Many shoppers might use window shopping at the big retailers in order to create a perfect gift combo. By proactively suggesting an appealing and thoughtful combination, you make it easier and faster for a customer to make the purchase.
In short, select items that have worked out well for your business and customers these past few months and find creative ways to package or bundle them with an extra bit of holiday flair.
Make Sure Your Website is Functioning Properly and Looks “Up-to-the-Minute”
Especially during busy times, it’s important to keep an eye on your website to ensure that it’s working correctly and looking relevant for specific holiday marketing. Take the time now—before the holiday rush—to be sure that your most popular or holiday-related products and services are highlighted and easy to find. Be sure that your e-commerce tech is working properly, with no issues that could frustrate customers.
Here are some general rules of thumb to help ensure a smooth experience this season:
- Update your content so it reflects the holiday season
- Create an easy to use call-to-action process that makes it simple for customers to take the next step
- Use SEO keywords that help position you prominently with search engines
- Make sure the navigation is an easy journey for your customer, from first click to last
Leverage Your Social Media Channels to Full Effect
Your social media presence is an important communication channel all year long. But leading up to the holidays, you have a chance to build anticipation for the holiday products and sales you offer—which could be a bright spot for many during a difficult year.
It starts with having all the pertinent details at the ready. Be sure to map out your promotions in advance (use your calendar). Keep in mind when all of the relevant holidays are this year:
- Black Friday: November 27
- Cyber Monday: November 30
- Hanukkah: December 10-18
- Christmas: December 25
- Kwanzaa: December 26-January 1
Post daily to engage with your customers and show them that your site is open and ready to serve. Don’t fall off the radar. Be active and show customers and followers that you are excited about the season. Take advantage of deals for online ads. There may be more of these deals than you think, as many brands have pulled back on advertising due to the pandemic. Social platforms like Facebook could be a great way to reach your customers and beyond at an affordable rate.
Know Your Holiday Shipping Deadlines
Fast shipping is always a high priority to customers, but especially at holiday time, and even more so during a pandemic. To help ensure your customers get their items on time for the holidays, make sure to pay attention to the holiday shipping deadlines announced by the major shipping carriers as a baseline, and then work backward to account for the time it typically takes your team to fulfill orders. This will help you establish a formal process for fulfilling holiday orders. Then, make sure to communicate the “ship-by” dates that work best for your business to your customers via your website and social channels.
Think of Returns as a Competitive Advantage—Your Way of Creating Lifelong Customers
Merchandise returns are most often seen as a negative. But, they don’t have to be. Think of accepting a merchandise return as an opportunity to build a deeper relationship with your customers that may well transfer to future purchases (as well as positive reviews, and further word-of-mouth). Being a good partner—especially during these unprecedented times—will go a long way in solidifying your place as a trusted and valued brand. And as it turns out, 95% of customers will make additional purchases from a business if their return experience goes well.
According to the 2019 UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper survey, customers view a positive return experience in the following ways:
- 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
Remember: earlier holiday promotions will require a longer return window. If you’re giving an early start to your holiday promotions, make sure your return window is also open for an extended period of time.
Another important consideration: sanitization. You’re going to have to think about disinfecting and sanitizing those returned items as you handle them.
In Spite of Everything Going On, Don’t Lose Sight of the Season
It’s easy to feel stressed these days. But, you can be a positive force by providing excellent service, fulfilling orders quickly, and just being there for your customers during an extra-hectic 2020 holiday season.
This holiday season, explore Shippo for a shipping solution to save your business both time and money.