You don’t need Santa’s sleigh to pull off a successful holiday season, although some assistance from his helpers wouldn’t hurt. However, to survive the hectic holiday shopping that’s going to hit your e-commerce site like an avalanche, you need to be prepared for the chaos that’s going to ensue.
You’ve set your business up for success by implementing holiday SEO on your site and driving successful marketing campaigns through email and social media. Now it’s time to get to work fulfilling all those orders.
To do so, you need to prepare for the holiday rush and stay organized, because, while your customers might have waited until the last minute, you can’t afford to.
Make sure your e-commerce website can handle the traffic
You should be testing for this often, but it’s especially important during the holiday season, when shoppers are bound to be flooding your page. If your site isn’t speedy, that could cause your customers to fill up their shopping sleigh somewhere else. Don’t give them the chance—run diagnostics throughout the weeks leading up to, and during, the holiday season to maintain optimal speeds.
You can run internal diagnostics of your website’s infrastructure through your e-commerce website’s interface, or you can utilize third parties like Web Page Test, which will test your web page’s optimization.
Accommodate the growing base of mobile shoppers
If you don’t already have a mobile website or app set up for your e-commerce site, you’re missing out. The Washington Post reports that 36 percent of Black Friday sales were from mobile devices this year alone. So it’s time to step up your supply, since there’s plenty of demand.
If you haven’t already, start working on the mobile version of your site, making sure it’s easy to navigate on those vertical screens. If you already have a mobile site, get in there and start playing around—make sure it’s easy to use, and check for any bugs.
Depending on your website host, you can configure this easily. WordPress, for example, let’s you adjust your mobile website online, or with its mobile app, making it easier than ever.
Safeguard your website
With hacks and scams on the rise for web and mobile shopping, consumers are more wary than ever. Don’t give your customer the chance to second-guess your website’s safety, and be sure to have your website encrypted, in addition to checking in with your website’s security provider to see if everything is good to go for the increased traffic this holiday.
If you don’t already have a web security provider, Verisign is a company that specializes in safeguarding e-commerce sites. They’ll deliver DNS solutions and DDoS attack protection via the cloud, keeping your web-based systems safer and reducing the risk of downtime in the case of an attack during this busy time of year.
Another important note is to make sure that your checkout looks legitimate and streamlined. Customers are on the lookout for websites that have tell-tale signs of being a part of a scam, so provide security stickers from your provider, as well as stickers from the major credit cards you accept at the checkout interface. By providing protection your customers can, and can’t see, you’re going to protect both their data and your sales.
Provide free and expedited shipping
EFulfillment Service compiled research and found that the second most important reason that people come back to shop at an e-commerce store is free shipping, only behind low prices.
Provide free and expedited shipping
If this isn’t an option that you already offer year-round, or one you offer with contingencies (i.e. free shipping on orders over $75), consider lowering the threshold (i.e. free shipping on orders over $50, or over $25), or nixing it all together.
Shoppers are spending a lot of money on gifts this holiday, so incentivize them to purchase your products by throwing free shipping their way. Also, you’re bound to have last-minute shoppers, so make sure that you have expedited shipping options, so their gifts make it under the tree in time. By providing these services, you’re one step closer to turning a holiday shopper into a return customer.
Give your customers package tracking—it pays for itself
Invest some extra cash in your shipping by providing your customers with package tracking. By doing so, you’re going to cut down on an inbox full of shipping queries and phones ringing off the hook with customers asking, “When can I expect my package?”
All of the major carriers USPS, UPS, and FedEx—provide this. However, the cost of this feature might be subject to a holiday surge. Despite that, forking over the extra cash for this feature is going to save you a lot of time and alleviate a lot of stress for you and your customer service team.
Put a countdown up on your website
No, we don’t mean a Christmas countdown! Put a countdown on your website that lets your customers know how much time they have before the free shipping option (that you’ve so generously provided) won’t be able to deliver their presents on time. A general rule is that December 20th and 21st are peak volume days for most carriers, so, keep that in mind when adding your countdown.
Once again, this tactic is going to help keep you from being inundated with customer questions pertaining to shipping, but it’s also going to give your customers a sense of urgency that might push them to check out their cart sooner, rather than later. That’s good for business and your peace of mind.
There are a bunch of plugins that you can configure for your website, but they might change depending on your host.
Get organized with your carrier
If you’re working with USPS, for example, you can take advantage of its free online portal. Here, you can use the Postal Service’s API to find address and delivery information, calculate the price of shipping, print shipping labels, assign tracking information, and schedule carrier pickup.
That means no more stuffing the car with orders and waiting in line, or being surprised about the price. Save yourself the hassle and streamline it already!
Budget for holiday price hikes and extra shipping costs
While paying up front for free shipping, providing expedited shipping options, and tracking are going to help you, they’re also going to hit your wallet. You need to go into the holiday season with an increased budget for shipping, especially because the carriers are going to hike up their prices this time of year, too.
Don’t get caught off-guard and be smart about it, get an app! We like the app InDeinero, which aggregates your financial information from all of your bank accounts and syncs it to give you a look at what you’re spending, and on what. It even provides you with a trend forcast—perfect for estimating how much extra you’re going to spend on shipping this holiday season. Utilizing a financial tracking and forecasting application or interface is going to help you look at everything more clearly and manage it without any headaches.
Know when to hand the reigns over to the pros
You don’t need us to tell you that the holidays are the busiest time of year for business. At some point, though, business is going to get so hectic that you can’t handle it all by yourself. Whether it’s dwindling inventory space, or the fact that you just can’t get products packed and shipped out the door fast enough, this lack of control is going to affect your bottom line.
Customers expect timely deliveries—even more so during the holidays. So, when you start facing these issues, or you realize that this holiday season is the one where you really could use Santa’s helpers, it’s time to hand it over to the pros.
Hiring a third-party logistics provider is going to save you time and ensure that your business is working at the best and most efficient capacity. Red Stag Fulfilment is a great example of a 3PL that’s going to get the job done in a faster and more efficient manner than you ever could. The 3PL offers a handful of securities, but its 100 percent accuracy rate is the best in the business. Partnering with a company like Red Stag, which can ensure that the right products are going to get into the right box, onto the right doorstep, on time, is a huge weight lifted off your shoulders, especially during the holidays.
Don’t forget about returns
The Atlantic reports that the return rate for e-commerce holiday purchases can climb upwards of 30 percent. Since there’s bound to be returned, customers actually consider whether or not you provide free returns when shopping during the holidays. A Shippo survey reported that 54 percent of consumers said that free return shipping is a decision factor when comparing different e-commerce stores.
It’s inevitable that clothes and shoes that didn’t fit, or presents that missed the mark are going to start arriving back on your business’s doorstep just days after the Christmas lights come down.
You need to be prepared financially to handle any free returns you offered, as well as all the work it’s going to take to restock those products and figure out how to sell them next—or if you even can. If you decided to work with a 3PL, make sure that you have a plan set in place with them as to how you want returns to be handled. 3PLs like Red Stag will streamline this process for you by providing customers with return labels that they can quickly scan and get back on the shelves. This will save you from a massive amount of additional stress after the craziest shopping season of the year.
Save yourself from a bunch of headaches by keeping these tips in mind before, during, and after the holiday sales rush. Whether it’s financial planning, securing and improving your website, or finding the most efficient way to get your products out the door—by tackling these problems, you’re going to create a better experience for both you and your customer.
Jake Rheude is the Director of Business Development & Marketing for Red Stag Fulfillment, an ecommerce fulfillment warehouse focused on order fulfillment for large or heavy products. When the owners of an e-retail businesses could not find a high-quality fulfillment partner, the decision was made to build the ideal fulfillment partner themselves. When not at work, Jake enjoys skiing and planning the next adventure with his black lab Reagan.