Christmas in July may be a cash grab for businesses wanting to drive up sales during the slow season. For an SMB ecommerce seller, though, July is a good time to start planning out a strategy for your own holiday rush. There are a few things you can start preparing for early on in the calm before the storm.
Shipping Rates May Increase During Christmas Rush
The closer you get to December 25th, UPS and FedEx typically increase their shipping rates. Unlike USPS, rates fluctuate year-round for FedEx and UPS—particulalry during peak seasons. Usually, around mid-September, FedEx and UPS announce their holiday rate increases. These are particularly true of items that require additional handling or are over 70 lbs.
While these rates haven’t been announced yet for the 2019 holiday season, in 2018 the rates rose as such:
|FedEx 2018 Holiday Rate||UPS 2018 Holiday Rate|
|Additional Handling Surcharge||Rose from $12 to $20||Rose from $12 to $19|
|Holiday Ground Unauthorized Package||*An additional $150 per parcel||*An additional $150 per parcel|
*in addition to the existing oversized/ground unauthorized charges
Stay On Top of Holiday Shipping Deadlines
While shipping rates fluctuate in their increase from year to year, the shipping deadlines typically don’t vary too wildly. These deadline dates are usually announced in late September or early October and you generally have the following timeframes to ship domestic parcels in time for December 25th. For a frame of reference, here’s what the holiday deadlines looked like in 2018.
Understand Your Shipping Insurance
Porch poachings increase around the holidays—you can’t stop them, you can only beat them. Insurance doesn’t protect you from them once a package has been marked as delivered. Your best bet for high dollar, large items is to offer signature confirmation. Even something that can fit into a mailbox, like an iPhone or jewelry, requires a signature confirmation with some insurance companies such as Shipsurance. If these items are swiped with only delivery confirmation, you will likely be left holding the bill.
If signature confirmation proves too costly for you or your customers, include copy suggesting delivery to a commercial address. Also, if you work somewhere that lets you receive packages, just get them shipped there. FedEx also has waived residential surcharges for the past couple of years, so this could be a way to offset the costs of requiring signature confirmation for residential deliveries.
Using a shipping software like ShipStation can help you get orders out the door more quickly.
Printing multiple labels at once can cut your work hours down significantly. Instead of individually entering each order’s shipping data in order to print a label, combine orders into a single batch and print their labels together. You can create packing slips and pick lists for the orders, too, to expedite the picking process. Figuring out the most efficient automation processes and shipping configurations can take a little time, so getting a head start on learning an order management software can help keep you ahead of the curve.
Similar to shipping, inventory management is crucial during the busy season. If you need to restock items, you need advanced warning—particularly once business picks up. Also, similar to a shipping software, inventory management can take a while to get the hang of. Connecting all of your selling channels, setting up your products, aliases, and product groups take time. Systems like BrightPearl, TradeGecko, and StichLabs are a great upgrade over a native inventory solution such as the ones ShipStation or Shopify might offer.
Free and Effective Returns Policies
If you want to compete with Amazon Prime this holiday, you’ll need to offer similar benefits. One such benefit is free returns. Dotcom Distribution reported in 2018 that 62% of customers would buy from a brand again if they offer free returns or exchanges. Because it can be more difficult to build brand loyalty over the internet, finding ways like this to appeal to customers’ wants is a great way to connect with them. Moreover, Narvar reported that 69% of consumers are deterred from buying from a website that charges for return shipping. This illustrates that it’s not just the sellers wanting to be heard in the ecommerce world. Building rapport is important for online sellers, just as it is for brick-and-mortar.
Validate Recipient Addresses
Holiday shipping can be hectic for the buyer, too. There’s a greater likelihood that someone is sending a gift to a family member’s house, or to a destination location to open presents. In these cases, the address may not always be correct. Someone could’ve gotten the address over the phone from your grandmother who read it out of a notebook. Making sure that the addresses are legit and accurate is crucial. If the buyers procrastinate shopping, the final delivery may be made to the wrong address and if it is returned, it may be too late and they may request a refund.
Verifying that the addresses are being sent to the correct address upon purchase is important. Not all shipping softwares will import the billing address. It can be confusing if it is not the same as the shipping address. So, double-checking any order tagged as a gift or any order whose recipient is different than the bill to name is a good first step.
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