Five Tips for E-commerce Fulfillment Success during the Holiday Season

It’s estimated that up to 20% of annual sales take place between the “Black-Friday-to-Christmas” holiday season. However, e-tailers who assume a windfall just by being in the game are in for disappointment. E-commerce is still a highly competitive space, and e-tailers need to be battle-ready to weather the deluge and delight the customers amidst heavy traffic and order volumes.

Here are five e-commerce fulfillment success tips to delight customers during the holiday season:

1. Check the Inventory

No matter how efficient the order fulfillment system is and how robust the relationship with channel partners is, if an item is not available to be shipped, it cannot be shipped. E-tailers would do well to ensure there is adequate stock of merchandise in the warehouse. Take stock of the existing levels, especially products that are being promoted. It may be a good idea to apply data analytics to gauge customer sentiments – as well as historic sales level – to ascertain adequate inventory numbers of a product.

While focusing on the product, do not lose sight of the packing infrastructure. Make sure there are adequate numbers of boxes, tapes, packing materials, labels, printer ink, and everything else required to ship. Upgrade scales, tape guns, or other tools, as required.

2. Oil up the Distribution Network

A ballpark estimate is that the peak distribution during holiday season will reach 30 times more than other times in a year. Your success will depend on not just having an item to ship, but shipping it at the right time, to the right person, through the right medium. The pre-holiday season lull is the right time to review the distribution ecosystem and iron out any glitches. The role of channel partners, such as courier companies are critical at this stage, more so when they will be under the strain of increased volume. Understand how they are planning to cope with increased volumes, and do whatever it takes to sync the processes so orders flow seamlessly to customers.

3. Innovate

Major carriers such as FedEX, UPS and others recommend online merchants to complete their pre-Christmas delivery shipments by the middle of December.

If the current system is inadequate or incapable of being scaled up to meet new demand, it may be worthwhile to innovate or consider a hybrid approach. For instance, the e-tailer could continue with the existing channels and ecosystem for sales from the e-tailer’s portal, and tap into Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) or Amazon’s global fulfillment network, for sales made on Amazon. Similarly, consider other third-party logistics (3PL) providers for seasonal support.

4. Prepare for the Surge

Prepare the e-commerce portal for the surge in traffic well in advance. Make adequate server provisioning to ensure the site is not swamped by the extra traffic or worse, customers are left stranded in the middle of a shopping session. Test the website extensively for functionality and speed. It may be worthwhile to disable extensive graphics or any element that slows down page loads. A slow loading page carries a double whammy: it turns away customers and causes a drop in search engine rankings. Make sure the ecommerce portal is optimized for the mobile as well. Prepare for PPC campaigns or other marketing strategies well in advance.

Make the order fulfillment terms and conditions explicit. Allow customers to make their preferred choices at the time of check-out. Review the options available, and make the necessary changes in delivery times or other parameters upfront, without making false or tough-to-honor promises. Communicate to the customer if a shipment is unlikely to be delivered to a particular area in a specific time period. Customers prefer honesty than deception.

5. Review on Real-Time Basis

Even the best laid out plans can go awry when the actual battle begins. Make sure to monitor the order fulfillment process on a real-time basis. Entrust responsibility to team members for specific checkpoints in the order fulfillment process, and have a system in place to handle out-of-the-norm glitches. Monitor the order delivery workflow, and intervene on a proactive basis to unlock any potential roadblocks. Review the shipment status periodically, flag delayed shipments, and take steps to resolve the situation, on a daily or even hourly basis. Do not neglect returns for “after the din.” Be equally proactive with returns processing.

The average U.S. shopper spends $718 on holiday gifts. The extremely short 30 day window between Black Friday on November 25, 2016 and Christmas Day is the time to take a slice of this pie. Sow your plans now, and reap the harvest in time!

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