Warehousing & Fulfillment

Holiday Shipping: Do’s and Don’ts for a Successful Peak

Warehousing & Fulfillment
November 2, 2021
7 min read

From this year’s holiday shipping deadlines to navigating shipping delays, this helpful guide contains everything you need to know to meet consumer expectations for shipping this peak season.

The holiday season is a major revenue driver for most merchants, and one of the keys to ensuring customer satisfaction is providing a top-notch holiday shipping experience. 

The holidays are an especially important time for ecommerce merchants to acquire new customers. According to Facebook, of the consumers who discovered a new brand online last season, 45% were shopping for a gift for someone. Each first-time shopper should be treated as an opportunity to convert a lifelong shopper and brand advocate.

Ahead we’ll look at how this year’s holiday shopping season will be different and provide some do’s and don’ts for merchants to create a memorable experience with their brand.

Holiday Shipping Trends

The holiday shopping season begins earlier each year, which is a benefit for merchants and last mile carriers dealing with capacity issues. More than half of shoppers stated that they planned to start their holiday shopping before Halloween this year at the advice of industry experts.

Carriers have worked to influence consumer behavior this way to help spread out holiday shipping volume over a longer period of time. This enables major carriers like UPS to maintain on-time delivery promises in spite of high demand.

DO: Help influence consumer behavior by starting holiday promotions early, creating urgency around holiday shipping deadlines, and advertising delivery guarantees in top-of-funnel advertising.

DON’T: Hold out for major shopping holidays like Black Friday/Cyber Monday. The holiday shopping season is extending into what some analysts have started to call Black Fall. Don’t miss out on early holiday shopping opportunities.

Holiday Shipping Delays

The key contributing factor to last year’s holiday shipping delays was the explosive growth of ecommerce. Small parcel, direct to consumer deliveries overwhelmed shipping networks to the point that major carriers had no choice but to enforce carrier pickup limits to meet their delivery promises. According to our merchant survey data, 17% of merchants missed their holiday shipping promises due to carrier pickup caps.

This year, carriers are more prepared than last, but labor shortages continue to challenge all industries. In spite of aggressive hiring pushes, there will still be an estimated 5 million packages per day unable to be picked up by any carrier. 

USPS has even announced a planned slowdown of First Class mail services ahead of the holiday shipping season. These slowdowns will affect the Western states the most significantly, with an added 1 to 2 days of transit time anticipated.

DO: To avoid shipping delays due to carrier pickup caps, partner with a distributed warehousing partner for fulfillment. This will give you additional pickups at each additional fulfillment center. Take a look at last year’s caps and compare that number to your forecasted average daily order volume to determine how many more pickups you may need.

DON’T: Compromise on consumer shipping expectations. Increasing your delivery time rather than optimizing your fulfillment will send shoppers to your competitors who can meet their delivery expectations.

Holiday Shipping Deadlines

The three major carriers have announced their cutoff dates for holiday delivery promises. Pricey services like next-day air allow for shipments as late as December 23. However, to find an accurate cutoff date for more affordable ground shipping, UPS has created an online calculator that generates a date based on origin zip code, destination zip code, and package size. Generally, in-region ground shipments will still be delivered within 2 days, but it’s best to check delivery promises when deadlines approach.

Now that holiday shipping deadlines have been made public, it’s important to share them with your customers through as many channels as possible. In our recent merchant survey, 78% of respondents had already decided when they would set order cutoff dates:

  • 26% on the date specified by their preferred carrier
  • 28% the week of the holidays
  • 19% two weeks prior to the holidays
  • 5% one month prior to the holidays

DO: Distribute inventory to lower time in transit (TNT) and allow for later cutoff dates to maximize sales potential. Advertise your order cutoff dates to create a sense of urgency and encourage shoppers to purchase early. You should also partner with a fulfillment provider that offers reliable last mile carrier tracking to give shoppers peace of mind.

DON’T: Don’t expect shoppers to know the major carriers’ holiday shipping deadlines. As the industry expert, they’re relying on your business to keep deadlines and cutoff dates top of mind for them.

Holiday Demand Forecasting

Prioritizing demand forecasting is especially important this holiday season as most warehouses are working with both labor and capacity constraints. With a longer holiday shopping season and extended lead times, most warehouses and fulfillment centers are also having to process peak volume of inbound and outbound shipments simultaneously.

Forecasting demand and communicating with your fulfillment partner should include discussions around: your inbound shipment schedule, your forecasted average daily volume (ADV), your holiday promotion schedule, items that will be kitted or are frequently bought together. These conversations will help your fulfillment partner:

  • Staff the appropriate amount of labor to make sure your inventory is on the shelf and ready to sell quickly.
  • Prepare the appropriate space for your inbound shipments to make picking and packing as efficient as possible.
  • Order and prepare the appropriate amount of shipping supplies, such as boxes, tape, and void filler.
  • Determine if a special project needs to be set up for a large volume promotion.

Ultimately, finding an outsourced fulfillment solution that feels like a true partnership can make or break your holiday shipping season. A fulfillment partner that is committed to your company’s success will partner with you to forecast demand, find solutions to supply chain disruptions, and meet holiday shipping deadlines to turn holiday shoppers into loyal customers.

Looking for a holiday shipping solution for your business? Reach out to one of our fulfillment experts today.

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