With the memories of the well publicized 2013 Christmas delivery failures still fresh on the minds of consumers and e-tailers alike, leading retailers have already begun preparing a shipping strategy for the 2014 holiday rush.
Here we are in the summer of 2014, and while it’s not too late for proper planning for holiday shipping, it’s certainly not too early. Here are several tips to improve the successful delivery of orders to your customers this year.
- Collaborate with Shipping Partners – By now, leading e-commerce businesses have developed product sales forecasts for the holiday season. (Hint, if you haven’t, you are already very behind!) UPS and FedEx started planning for the 2014 holiday volume surge several months ago. The largest e-commerce shippers will see parcel carrier representatives request volume forecasts much more proactively this year. These discussions will include operational planning, allocation carrier assets, cutoffs, contingencies, and potentially volume restrictions.
- Set Clear Customer Expectations – The 2013 holiday shipping failures were precipitated by a shortened selling season, inclement weather and unrealistic calendar cutoffs that encouraged last minute shopping. Leading retailers will influence customers to shop early by offering product discounts and free shipping incentives early in the holiday shopping season. Shoppers need to believe that the best deals will be offered early, and that discounts, free shipping and other promotions will not be available closer to Christmas. That message should be reinforced and prominently displayed in product catalogs, websites, packing lists, advertisements, etc., along with clear cutoff dates for guaranteed delivery by Christmas.
- Contingency Planning – Retailers are wise to develop contingency plans. Consider adding the regional parcel carriers and/or the USPS – which offers 7 day/week delivery – to your core carrier mix. Keep in mind that UPS and FedEx operate Ground networks 5 days a week. Products like Priority Mail are delivered 6 days a week at no additional charge. That’s 4 additional delivery days between Thanksgiving and Christmas in 2014!
- Potential Volume Restrictions – While the carriers could introduce a holiday surcharge, it’s much more likely that they will hold firm on volume restrictions. Of course, when it comes to retail, predictive models change constantly, so we expect the carriers to remain flexible as possible with their customers.
But only to a point. While the carriers will hire and train thousands of temporary holiday workers and bolster operations with additional airlift, trucks and other assets to meet the volume challenges, it is not an elastic system. Also, don’t make the mistake of over-promising packages to the carriers to improve your allocation of assets like trailers and trucks. The parcel carriers could look for contractual commitments to recover fixed costs.
With proper planning, you can avoid revenue and customer losses, product returns and bad publicity caused when packages are delivered late.