The holiday season is often the most important, and busiest time for eCommerce businesses. While exciting, the rapid influx in sales volumes can be a make-or-break point for emerging brands. With many consumers starting their holiday shopping as early as the summer, if that planning isn’t underway already, now is the time to start. A specific area requiring careful planning and attention is fulfillment. If left unmanaged, poor fulfillment operations during the holiday peak season can cause incorrect orders, delays, and other long-term damaging effects. While many brands outsource fulfillment responsibilities to experienced third-party logistics (3PL) providers for added support – even if you don’t fall in this category- there are still things you can do to prepare for a successful holiday peak and maximize holiday sales.
Modern technology has been a marvel for maximizing convenience and efficiency in every eCommerce operation. If you are working with a 3PL, you’ll need to make sure their technology stack is updated and integrated with your own programs. Rather than wait until the last minute, make sure all software platforms – yours and your 3PL’s – have the necessary updates and are communicating properly.
Two systems you want to ensure are working in tandem are your Order Management System (OMS) and Inventory Management System. You’ll need this on-demand access to real-time information about the supply and location of your products. With this, you can more accurately forecast sales and maintain the right stock levels. Leading up to the holidays, you’ll be better suited to predict what products you’ll need to replenish, minimizing the chance of losing sales due to out-of-stock items. Having accurate data will also allow you to respond to customer questions and concerns more quickly and accurately, resulting in more satisfied shoppers. A happy customer is more likely to become a loyal customer!
Whether your product SKUs are stored in-house or your fulfillment partner’s facility, make sure they are properly organized. After analyzing SKU velocity, your fulfillment team should strategically position products to be picked depending on how quickly – or slowly – they sell. Providing detailed sales data and forecasts to your 3PL in advance helps them make your fulfillment plans as efficient as possible. Doing so enables streamlined picking and packing, which will ultimately lead to faster fulfillment. By conducting this process in advance, you or your fulfillment partner can create strategies for SKU velocity analysis when sales spike.
Research suggests that most consumers expect to receive their orders in as early as two days. While there are other ways 3PLs can speed up delivery, such as leveraging established relationships with carriers to provide you with access to premier shipping options, picking and packing orders more quickly is also a factor. The properly organized inventory also makes counting during the holiday season easier, as your fulfillment team will know which products need to be replenished more frequently than others. Knowing exactly how many SKUs you’ll need will help you more easily adjust to fluctuating product demand. Conversely, quickly identifying slow-moving products can help you better plan strategies for getting rid of them, minimizing their negative impact on your cash flow. An experienced 3PL should also be able to advise you on disposal options, depending on the type and quantity of remaining products post-peak.
In many cases, hiring extra team members around the workforce may prove invaluable. While the higher labor costs can add up, they may be necessary for decreasing the risk of negative customer experiences such as delays or incorrect orders. This importance is made evident by 69% of shoppers choosing to not purchase from a brand again upon delayed delivery.
If you do outsource these duties, make sure your fulfillment partner has appropriate labor management plans With the right project management strategies—better planned with as much notice as possible—you can rest easy knowing your 3PL has everything under control. But you should be aware of these strategies and understand what you can do to improve operations. The amount of time invested in planning in advance of the peak season will positively affect sales during and post-peak holiday season.
Keep your fulfillment partner in the loop as you devise marketing strategies. For example, keeping communication open before peak may prevent you from promising something to customers that you can’t actually deliver, which could result in unhappy customers. Additionally, if your fulfillment partner knows what results to expect from your marketing campaign, they can plan accordingly to keep things running smoothly during the peak.
An experienced 3PL will also be able to provide guidance in this planning stage. Having this expert insight on your side can help you craft better marketing campaigns to reach more customers and increase sales. Your fulfillment partner’s analytical capabilities and experience with past clients should also help you assess if pushing a certain promotion during peak is feasible or not.
If a unique packout is part of your brand experience, you’ll want to correctly replicate it for every customer. This is especially important if your packout is customized to fit a theme, such as a holiday. Solidify the guidelines of your holiday packout process to ensure that seasonal employees can easily follow the necessary steps to properly pack orders. If you work with a 3PL, make sure these steps are communicated clearly.
Research suggests that a premier unboxing experience can elicit feelings of excitement and desire, which can turn first-time holiday buyers into repeat customers. Surprise giveaways, such as magnets, stickers, and samples, can bolster this pleasurable response while also exposing customers to customers to new products they may not have seen otherwise. This can improve the chance of making first-time buyers into lifelong shoppers. Creating an appealing packout also increases the likelihood of customers sharing their experience on social media in the form of pictures or unboxing videos. This activity can encourage customers’ friends and followers to make purchases, further increasing your sales and reach.
It’s never too early to start planning for peak, especially when it comes to eCommerce fulfillment. Even if you outsource these responsibilities to an experienced 3PL, you should make sure they will be doing everything they can to maximize efficiency. Waiting until the last minute or even going in without a plan risks being unprepared to survive, much less thrive, during a key time for emerging businesses.