Holiday Ideas & Strategies

Prepare Your Shipping for the 2021 Holiday Season

Reed Hartman / 6 min read

Over the last couple of years, ecommerce business owners have seen their fair share of shipping and delivery woes.

From delivery delays to supply chain disruptions across the globe, these troubles show no sign of going away anytime soon, but you can mitigate the impact by preparing early and taking necessary steps.

While the holiday shopping season officially begins on Black Friday, merchants know that preparation begins long before then.

We’re here to help you take a look at your existing shipping plan, see how and where you can improve, and prepare you for the 2021 holiday season

Step 1: Optimize Checkout

Start out your holiday shipping audit at the very beginning: checkout. Making the buying process as easy as possible is crucial for getting potential customers to convert. You don’t have to redesign your entire website, though. Instead, use one of these quick tips to turn your site into a conversion machine. 

1. Make it easy to pay.

American customers are increasingly interested in paying via new methods like buy now, pay later.

At BigCommerce, we offer over 55 payment options for you to integrate with your site, making it easier for customers to checkout and get on with their day.

2. Make it easy to navigate.

38% of customers will stop engaging if your content or site design is unattractive. But attractiveness is only half the equation. If a customer finds it difficult to navigate through your checkout process, chances are they’ll turn around and never look back. Adding something as simple as a sign in option to your site to remember customer information can help improve conversions.

3. Make it mobile.

Mobile devices might be small, but they can mean big opportunities for ecommerce retailers. Creating a site that is not only mobile-friendly, but fully responsive, is imperative to ecommerce business success. 

Step 2: Asses Inventory Management

Did you know that the US retail sector loses $50 billion per year in unmoved inventory? But inventory doesn’t just mean unmoved products on your digital shelves. Once October hits, you’ll begin ordering supplies for the busy season, like boxes, tape, labels, and bubble wrap.

That, plus any management software you’ll be incorporating into your workflow, like selling channels, CRMs, and shipping software. Analysis of the previous year’s holiday season is critical to ensure you’re not over-ordering, or worse, under-ordering, inventory and supplies for the upcoming season. 

Step 3: Get a Handle on Shipping

There are hundreds of shipping options available for business owners. Instead of waiting until the last minute, you’ll want to have a clear plan before the rush begins. First, examine how you’ll actually be handling shipping logistically. Here are a few different options available to you. Pick one, or mix and match multiple options that meet your needs. 

1. In-house shipping.

For many small and mid-sized ecommerce businesses, in-house shipping is a great choice. But as demands rise and shifts grow longer, there are a few things you might want to consider before keeping fulfillment all to yourself. 

Pros:

  • More control of your shipping process.
  • Easier communication between fulfillment and customer support.
  • Lower cost than third-party logistics (3PL).
  • No need to integrate with a 3PL system.

Cons:

  • Extra costs like labor and warehousing.
  • You’ll spend less time on growing your business.
  • You might not have as much knowledge about shipping and logistics as a specialist company.

2. Choosing a carrier that’s right for you.

There are many different carrier options available to business owners when it comes to holiday shipping, but the big three offer a variety of services that could help make your shipping experience a breeze. 

USPS

The U.S. Postal Service is a great carrier option for small businesses because of its consistent pricing options and easy-to-follow instructions.

Shipping options include: Priority Mail Express, Priority Mail, First-Class Mail, and Retail Mail, a specific low-cost option for retail customers. 

FedEx

While a little pricier than USPS, you can rest assured that your package is being shipped with one of the leaders in worldwide delivery.

Shipping options include: Overnight Delivery, Ground Shipping, International Shipping, Same-Day Delivery, and Freight Delivery for larger items. 

UPS

UPS offers a myriad of options for both domestic and international shipping. From third-party fulfillment to freight shipping and everything in between, you’re sure to find a shipping option to meet any need with UPS. 

3. Think beyond traditional shipping options.

The modern-day consumer wants to get their packages fast. That doesn’t always mean next- or same-day shipping is the best option. Options like buy online, pickup in store (BOPIS) are quickly becoming essential additions to any well-rounded shipping strategy. Just ask our friends at Silk Software.

“Options around shipping, fulfillment, and returns can play an important role in a shopper’s decision-making process. While free shipping remains a big incentive for customers shopping online, offering alternative fulfillment options such as curbside, drive-through, or in-store pickup have become increasingly popular. This can also help to eliminate the barriers of shipping and processing and increase in-store foot traffic. Utilizing a physical store as a place of fulfillment for online sales can help get merchants’ products in the hands of customers faster and avoid delivery delays.”

– Connie Wong, Marketing Manager, Silk Software

4. Outsource shipping and fulfillment to a third party.

Increased order volume comes with added costs. Instead of devoting a lot of time and money to making your facility and team ready for the holiday rush, outsourcing surplus stock to a fulfillment company may be the best option. Consider outsourcing your fulfillment services to a 3PL.

Working with a third-party fulfillment service can sound intimidating, but as long as you do your research and look at customer reviews, you can easily find one that is trustworthy and aligns with your business.

5. Outsource shipping with a dropshipper.

Dropshipping is an ecommerce business model where the retailer doesn’t physically house the products they sell. Instead, they buy their inventory from a third-party manufacturer, and the manufacturer either ships the items to the end-customer or sends the stock to a dedicated dropshipper.

Pros:

  • It’s easy and affordable.

Since you aren’t housing products or fulfilling the orders yourself, you can save some overhead costs. All you have to pay for upfront is the cost of manufacturing and warehousing fees. Typically, fees are only applied once an item is sold.

  • It requires a smaller warehouse.

Whether you are just starting out in ecommerce or are growing beyond your current warehousing and staffing needs, dropshipping allows you to operate with a smaller warehouse and workforce.

Cons:

  • Lower profit margins.

Dropshipping has additional fees, and using dropshipping can reduce the profit margins you might see if you were housing products and fulfilling orders yourself.

  • Finding the right supplier.

A lot of what makes a dropshipping business successful is finding the right supplier. Profit margins are low for dropshipping, and if you use models like a subscription wholesaler, you’re effectively paying a middleman that takes even more of your profits.

Step 3.5: Customer Shipping Options

Now that you’ve determined how you’ll actually get the product to a customer once they’ve placed an order (and added up all the costs that will go along with it), it’s time to decide what shipping options you’ll provide at checkout.

1. Tracking for holiday shipments.

Tracking is a must when it comes to holiday shipping. Not only are customers in a hurry to get their hands on your product, it also gives peace of mind when it comes to delivery times. It’s an easy feature you can add to your update emails –– especially when using BigCommerce for printing shipping labels –– and usually a feature with most carriers. 

2. Free shipping for the holidays.

Customers are always on the lookout for the best deals. That doesn’t always mean the lowest price. Added fees and shipping costs can quickly turn customers away. The easiest way to avoid this is by offering free shipping. You can add in shipping costs to the product price (the customer would be none the wiser), but there are many factors to consider when it comes to calculating the value of free shipping. Find what works best for your business and your margins. 

3. Offer same-day or next-day shipping.

What’s worse than a gift arriving right before the big day? A product arriving the day after. Nobody wants to be empty handed when it comes to the holidays, so offering expedited delivery to customers can help alleviate some of those holiday shipping jitters. This, of course, means extra cost for both you and the customer, but sometimes customers are willing to pay more for that extra peace of mind. Here are a few options for same-day or next-day shipping, but find the right one that meets your needs. 

UPS Express Critical

UPS offers UPS Express Critical, which delivers both light and heavy packages domestically and internationally. 

FedEx SameDay

FedEx SameDay provides reliable delivery within hours of ordering time-sensitive packages. Cross-country delivery is also available every day of the week in all 50 states.

4. Add “Holiday Shipping Deadlines” to your site. 

We’ve all seen them. The pop ups that happen around the holidays saying “Orders placed after (time) and (date) will not arrive before December 25.” Maybe not worded exactly like that, but you get the jist.

While these pop ups might be a little obtrusive, they’re there for a good reason: to cover all the bases when a customer inevitably emails you on Christmas day saying the package they ordered the day before still hasn’t arrived. 

Simply put: cover yourself. If a customer expects the impossible and selects ‘Next-Day Shipping’ for a product they ordered on Christmas Eve, tamper expectations so they know what they’re paying for. Adding shipping deadlines to your site is best for both you and your customers.

Step 4: Think about Holiday Returns before They Happen

Returns aren’t usually what you want to think about as a business owner, but offering an easy-to-understand return policy is a great way to increase business. Knowing a company offers easy returns is actually a selling point, especially during the holidays when customers might be buying for other people. Here are a few different types of return policies, but again, your policy should work for you and your business needs. 

30-Day Return Policies

This is a standard return policy for many retailers. While it can cause some holiday gifts to miss their return windows, extended warranties are an easy way to extend the return period further.

Mid-January Returns

Another potential return policy is to set a specific returns date after the holidays are over. For example, orders placed from mid-November to Christmas could be returned from mid to late January.

Self-Service Returns

Self-service returns allow your customers to initiate a return without contacting the seller. With just a few clicks, a customer can start a return, print a label, and drop off the package with a carrier.

Wrapping Up

Ready or not, the holiday buying season is here. While you can’t be 100% prepared for the busiest ecommerce season of the year, you can take a few steps to ensure it goes smoothly.

First, you can take the time to optimize your checkout process. Then, take a look at your inventory management. Next you’ll want to analyze the shipping process itself. How will you ship? What options will you give to customers? And how will this impact your bottom line?

The answers aren’t always easy to come across, but with some time, effort, and careful planning, you can make holiday shipping a snap. 

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Reed Hartman

Reed Hartman

Reed Hartman is a Content Marketing Manager at BigCommerce, where he uses his years of research, writing and marketing experience to help inform and educate business owners on all things ecommerce.

View all posts by Reed Hartman

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