Chilly Weather, Lifetime Movies, and Pumpkin Spice. For some, this heralds the start of the holiday season — a magical time meant for relaxing and spending time with friends and family (and eating way too many cookies). For others, they are signs of increased stress levels, which is possible definitely lead to eating way too many cookies. If this sounds like you, then you are probably an ecommerce business owner.
As e-commerce has seen boom after boom, 2022 has proven to be an interesting year in its already turbulent history. E-commerce growth is expected to increase by about 2.5% from 2021, supply chain and freight issues have created numerous inventory challenges, costs have been difficult to predict, and we have entered (and emerged from) a technical recession whose Reach and impact still to be fully determined.
Here at ShipMonk, we believe everyone deserves a great holiday season without sacrificing the big things or breaking a sweat on the small things. While the year has brought more challenges to our future budgets and forecasts than ever before (well, except for 2020), we’ve put together this list 7 IMPORTANT TIPS so you can get the most out of Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
#1 Plan ahead… way ahead
As an ecommerce business owner, it’s inevitable that you’ll make some pretty important decisions on the fly. But when it comes to planning for the holidays, planning months in advance can save you more than a headache. Think of it this way: Braving the holiday season without planning it properly is like putting out a house fire with a water bottle. Dramatic, but you get it.
The antidote? A business plan! But this time with a holiday twist. We don’t recommend throwing away your original business plan, but we do recommend creating a section dedicated only to the end of the year. Luckily, this will likely cover some topics you’re already familiar with, such as:
- A market analysis
- roles within the organization
- Product range (when new products are added to the catalogue)
- A marketing plan (social media, newsletters, campaigns, etc.)
- An advertising strategy and a budget
- Financial Forecasts
- demand forecast
- Growth strategy (see our guides on growing and scaling your ecommerce business)
See? Piece of cake. Fruitcake.
#2 Analyze your past data and compare it to current trends
How did your ecommerce store’s regular sales compare to seasonal sales over the past year? When did your sales increase and when did they return to their normal status? While this information is helpful, it is not enough. For a truly successful ecommerce business strategy, you need to dig a little deeper. what did you learn last year What feedback have you received from your customers? Where did you make a mistake – and where did you go right? Being aware of these key data points can help you consistently improve your strategy year after year.
After taking stock of your batting average, aim for the fences by comparing it to data collected from other ecommerce business owners and industry experts. Consider both general ecommerce trends and the individual performance of top companies in your niche.
#3 Get to know your demographics…again
We usually make the same purchases all year round, but when the holidays are over it becomes a different story. Not only are we increasing the frequency of our purchases, but also the variety. Inflatable snowmen? Check. wreaths? Check. Ugly sweaters? Check over.
Before creating your Christmas sales strategy, re-evaluate your customers and pay special attention to how your Q4 profile differs from Q3, Q2 and Q1. Can you expect the same type of customers, or will there be natural diversification, geographic or otherwise? The answer is generally pretty easy to determine, as long as you already have a good understanding of your niche. For example, if you’re selling fluffy socks, you probably have adoring fans in New England, but gift shoppers down south will want to be around when the weather gets a little cooler. By knowing the best fan base to target, you’ll perfect your marketing strategy and optimize your sales.
#4 Re-evaluate any issues within your current ecommerce operations
With great growth comes great responsibility. Maybe your e-commerce business model worked fine a year ago, but can it withstand the increased pressure of holiday shopping? Even if you think you’re prepared, there are a lot of problems that can crop up without the right infrastructure. If you’re not sure where to start, here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Do you have enough inventory? Can you make it through the forecast demand without hiccupping?
- If you fulfill orders in-house, do you have enough storage space, supplies and materials?
- Are you properly cast; Do you have enough coverage to handle extra shifts, late hours and other unpredictability?
- What shipping carriers and service levels will you offer? Do you work with multiple carriers? If a carrier is experiencing delays, missed pickups, or is running out of capacity, can you quickly rebook to an alternative option?
- How do you organize your work and personal life so you don’t burn out? (Remember, you deserve a great holiday season too!)
The list can be exhaustive, but we often find that most ecommerce business failures stem from miscommunication and mismanagement of allocated resources.
#5 Let your customers know what’s going on
The closer the calendar is to Black Friday and Cyber Monday (resp BFCM as many of us are now calling it), supply chains and shippers are reaching their limits and will likely struggle to keep up with a massive order intake. It’s not just about volume – events beyond our control can cause significant operational stress in almost any area of logistics. And as if that wasn’t enough, holiday orders are usually time sensitive – it’s Christmas Day, not Christmas week, after all. 😉
In order to be able to cope better with this high demand, the carriers set deadlines. When you work with a reliable 3PL, they will keep you up to date on carrier schedules and deadlines so you can set clear expectations for your customers. Ultimately, this serves more than just useful information — it’s a huge boost to gaining the post-sales funnel by maintaining a clear line of communication and avoiding angry customers.
Speaking of keeping customers in the loop, why not use this time to do a little marketing? Let customers know about upcoming promotions and add a touch of personalization with your own branded tracking experience. And if you have bad news to break, do it with a smile — and a discount.
#6 Get the info on supplements
Nobody likes to pay extra, but during the busiest time of the year it’s only normal to find your wallet a little lighter than normal. Think about it: with such a significant increase in order volume (which continues to grow year-on-year), shippers are often overwhelmed in terms of capacity, infrastructure, and staffing. To recoup these costs, they turn to surcharges that directly impact your company’s seasonal profitability.
As an e-commerce business owner, you’ve probably heard of fuel and housing surcharges, but peak season surcharges might be new if you’re navigating the madness of the holiday season for the first time. While there’s nothing you can do to completely avoid surcharges, you can still make informed decisions about the carriers you work with.
The best way to do that? Partnering with a 3PL – Seriously! With a tech-savvy 3PL like ShipMonk by your side, you can get discounted pricing and automatic selection of the best shipping options for your business thanks to our Virtual Carrier Network.
#7 Find the right fulfillment solution
This is the time of year when your customers expect absolute perfection and failure to comply will result in at least some heavily worded emails. Picking and packing the right items, using the right packing material or dunnage, shipping on time, optimizing ecommerce carriers based on price and customer location, managing returns and reverse logistics… It’s a science and an art. If you’re good with what you have, no problem! But if you’re worried about how to handle the holiday season (and beyond), you already know who to call – a 3PL!
That’s all! We wish you the best of luck as the holiday season approaches. Before you start planning for BFCM, don’t forget to read our two-part “Ecommerce Brands Guide to Peak Season 2022”:
And if you need a little 3PL help, contact us to speak to an ecommerce fulfillment expert and get a free demo of our proprietary ordering, inventory, and warehouse management platform!