From Black Friday to Christmas Eve, holiday shopping provides a huge surge in orders for almost all retailers – an average increase of around 101% in delivered items. 57% of shoppers shopped online in 2021, and holiday sales increased to 886.7 billion dollars. 85% of retailers see an increase in online orders during the holiday period.

But why are we talking about the holiday season months in advance? The summer slowdown might be a myth or reality. But generally August to October is a good time to strengthen your company’s holiday eCommerce strategy, before the seasonal rush hits.

So is your eCommerce store ready to fulfill this influx of orders?

From stocking to delivery and beyond, order fulfillment for an eCommerce brand during the high-volume holiday season is a complicated task. Unfortunately, it’s also one that’s often overlooked. When it comes to holiday season preparedness, eCommerce brands often address the product mix, UX changes and promotion strategy – all very important aspects – but are caught off guard when it comes to fulfilling the orders themselves. While they have the capacity to process, pack, label and ship orders on a regular day, the scope and volume of the festive season make an overwhelming difference.

So how do you prepare for holiday season order fulfillment? We’ve put together a few pointers for your consideration, under certain broad heads.

Forecasting: To meet higher-than-usual festive demand

Since there’s such a significant rise in demand during the holiday season, demand forecasting and inventory management become essential. By studying historical data, among other factors, you can predict the most popular SKUs for the holiday season, and stock up accordingly. Inventory management services help you understand where to store your products, test different shipping strategies and optimize costs.

Which of your products sells best during the holiday season? The red jumper, or the cosy rug, or maybe a mug for warm cocoa? No doubt they would – in colder climates. On the other hand, in warmer geographies – say Texas or Hawaii – similar festive-themed garments in more lightweight materials might be more suitable. By spending time on demand forecasting and inventory management, you stock the right product categories at the right fulfillment center. If you don’t let data drive your inventory management decisions, you could miss out on major opportunities or end the holiday season with a lot of unsold product.

Shipping: To reach products to customers on time, despite the holiday rush

How do you deliver your products? Different shipping options are preferred by different consumer groups. For example, 42% of shoppers would choose an eCommerce brand with a same-day shipping option. 70% of shoppers say BOPIS improves their shopping experience. 73% would change consumption habits to reduce environmental impact.

This means it’s important to offer as many shipping options as possible.

  • Standard shipping
  • Expedited shipping (at a premium)
  • Climate-neutral shipping
  • Slower shipping (at a discount or even free)
  • BOPIS (Buy Online Pickup In-Store)

Why offer BOPIS? Imagine a last-minute shopper who’s attending a celebration the next day. Let’s call him Bob. On your online store, he finds a shirt that his brother will just love. He pays online and decides to pick it up from your store the same day, rather than risk waiting for next-day delivery. Since you have integrated POS (point of sale) systems with your eCommerce website, you get accurate live inventory visibility, allowing you to guide Bob to the nearest store with the shirt in stock.

When he comes to your store, he sees a pair of shoes that would be perfect for a cousin, or even a pair of trousers that would go well with his brother’s shirt, resulting in additional purchases. That’s why it’s so important to offer BOPIS fulfillment, wherever possible.

Automation: To save valuable time during eCommerce’s busiest season

Any time saved during the festive season is extremely valuable. Since you have a huge number of orders during this period, it may make sense to automate order fulfillment. Shipping automation software allows you to print labels centrally, manage orders and even automatically select the cheapest and fastest delivery option from all available possibilities.

Fulfillment automation tools of the following kinds could help you:

  • Demand forecasting
  • Inventory management
  • Product allocation
  • Order management

While there are many tools in the market, it’s important to ensure that they integrate with the eCommerce platform that you’re using. Even if you’re able to manage your current order load without help and want to implement automation only for the holiday season, don’t wait – test out any new tools and how their API integrations work with your online store and POS systems, now.

Another way to use automation is in communication. Provide customers with live tracking information so they can follow the shipment. This reduces the number of calls your customer support team will receive from anxious holiday shoppers. Streamline internal communication. All teams – marketing, UX, fulfillment, customer service – should be fully aware of the shipping options on offer during the festive season, commitments made, and how they can help deliver on them.

Returns: To create a welcoming customer experience with a great returns policy

For online retailers, the holiday season does not end with New Year’s Day! Mistakes often happen when you’re shopping for others. This generates more returns than usual, and reverse logistics is almost as important as forward logistics.

82% of shoppers consider returns to be a normal part of shopping. 54% of shoppers say that a free returns policy would increase the chances they would buy online. Make the details of your policy prominent – you can include it on every product page, especially if your liberal returns policy is a USP.

Did you know that 84% of shoppers said that they would come back to a store after a positive returns experience? Put in the effort to make your order returns process as smooth as order delivery, especially during the holiday season, a high-stress time for shoppers as well as retailers.

Outsourcing: To depend on the logistics experts in this high-volume season

Since logistics and reverse logistics are complex, many brands prefer to outsource fulfillment during this high-volume season to an established third-party logistics provider (3PL), even if they manage without help at other times. 3PLs already have the experience, tech and infrastructure to manage large amounts of stock and orders. Select a 3PL that provides data analytics, has a good track record, and is responsive to queries.

Don’t wait till the last minute to sign up with your 3PL! Get started as soon as possible, confirm that their API integrates with your store, share your forecasting, and sign off on their commitments of speed and timelines. Do this at the earliest. When it comes to the holiday season, you can’t afford delays!

How else do you prepare for the holiday season?

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Plan your promotions – aim to have all offers, creatives and campaigns ready at least a month early.
  • Test your website UX on multiple devices, especially on mobile.
  • Also test your checkout experience, under different connectivity conditions.
  • Talk to your eCommerce platform service provider about the kind of resources you can expect from them. What bandwidth can they commit? What is the platform’s uptime guarantee?
  • If you’re going with a 3PL, identify the right partner and sign up with them ASAP.

91% of online shoppers are unlikely to ever engage with a business again if they’ve had a single bad experience. Don’t let them go away unhappy! With the right tools, advance planning, regular monitoring and support from a trusted tech partner, you can prepare for a stress-free holiday season.

Allow us to ensure that every interaction with your online retail presence is positive. Contact our team to learn more about how Ziffity can help you prepare your eCommerce store for a strong, productive festive season.