Preparing for Peak Part 3: Signed, Sealed, Delivered

Back in December last year, parcel carrier DPD reported they’d already starting preparing capacity for this year’s peak. And little wonder, when you consider that logistics and delivery can make or break your peak performance. Shoppers are more demanding than ever. It’s estimated that 44% of people will buy from a different retailer if they can’t get the delivery options they want at Christmas time.

Many retailers have now taken to advertising their delivery cut-offs before Christmas front and centre on the homepage to urge shoppers not to leave it to the last minute and suffer disappointment when items fail to arrive before the big day.

In order to make the most of the peak season, we urge retailers to take time to plan a smart fulfilment strategy, from monitoring stock levels, managing warehouse capacity, offering a range of delivery options, communicating delivery notifications and promoting easy returns. This instalment of our Preparing for Peak series will explore how you can create a scalable, flexible and robust fulfilment strategy to maximise your impact this Christmas time.

Be Data-Driven

Investing in fast, efficient and flexible delivery is a sure-fire way to improve your customer experience. In fact, 87% of consumers say that a positive delivery experience would mean they were more likely to shop with that retailer again. At no time is this truer than during the critical Q4 peak season.

With nearly a quarter of all annual e-commerce sales taking place in November and December, this is a time when careful planning and execution in all areas of your supply chain are crucial.

That’s where data comes in.

Whether this is your second or 20th peak season, start by reviewing your historical data to establish a baseline and and predict upcoming demand. Use reports from your current inventory platform, if possible, and get as micro as your data will allow.

If it’s your first time selling during the peak rush, there’s still plenty of external data you can use. Search for stats online, discuss trends with leaders in your space and ask delivery partners for estimates.

Either way, take some time to answer mission-critical questions for the coming months, such as:

  • Are certain SKUs likely to be popular enough that you’ll need to adjust inventory?
  • Will seasonal spikes in orders affect certain regions more than others? 
  • Is a multi-facility approach needed to get deliveries on doorsteps faster? What impact might it have on speed and cost of shipping?
  • Do you have contingency in place?

Leaning on historical data is a first critical step for meeting customer expectations while keeping costs down.

Be Clear About Cross-Border

The U.K is Europe’s largest exporter of goods as shoppers across the EU and the US flock to buy from British retailers. For many retailers, cross-border channels offer lucrative sales opportunities, particularly over peak as overseas shoppers seek unique products and items not available in their own markets.

Whether you’re selling on international marketplaces or through your own site, make sure you advertise estimated delivery times to shoppers, not only in the small print, but visibly on the product and checkout pages. It’s important to set expectations up-front before your customer service teams are flooded with WISMO (where is my order) enquiries.

Consider Your Cut-Offs

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house, everyone was frantically ripping open their delivery boxes! In many ways it’s a compliment to the industry that shoppers feel confident to make purchases at the 11th hour. But this does mean their expectations are sky high. With Christmas Day falling on a Tuesday this year, shoppers will expect to make purchases over the weekend to arrive on Monday’s Christmas Eve.

If you don’t believe you can meet this fulfilment promise, be upfront and honest about it. Advertise the latest cut-off for pre-Christmas Day delivery as far in advance as you can. Not only will this increase urgency with shoppers to place orders there and then, but it sets expectation. You never know, that dress they arrived might actually be for New Year’s Eve and they are quite happy for it to arrive 28th December. But on the other hand, if it was a Christmas gift much beloved by their children, they might be less forgiving.

Fulfilment over peak remains a challenge for many retailers and with customers shopping later and later, in our survey of retailer’s peak strategies we asked when their delivery cut off is: 25% kept it conservative curtailing deliveries December 17th or earlier, 38% listed their final day as between 18th – 20th December with 9% extending up to Dec 23rd and just 5% offering Christmas Eve (24th).

So whether you’re playing it safe or delivering on Christmas Eve, communication is key, both before and after the sale to ensure customers are empowered with the correct information about their items.

Many Happy Returns

…. Or not. For many in the industry, returns are the ugly sister of retail. And we can understand why, it’s estimated that returns cost U.K retailers £60 billion a year. Whether you like them or not, we can guarantee they’re ‘behind you,’ and definitely in front you of you this Christmas.

Returns can be an excellent way to improve the customer experience, in fact 46% of people have stopped shopping with a retailer because they found the returns experience difficult or complicated. If you get the returns experience right, customer loyalty is a guaranteed reward.

Many retailers choose to outsource their returns to 3PLs and logistics partners, should you choose to insource returns, rather than outsourcing, be sure to heed the following advice from FedEx:

  • Prepare, train and staff your customer service team appropriately
  • Automate returns wherever possible
  • If all else fails, be prepared to process returns as quickly as possible so you can resell them at full value during peak sales periods.

It’s also about how you communicate your returns policy over peak, here are some key considerations for your e-commerce and logistics teams to consider:

  • Are you extending your returns policy over peak?
  • Is your returns policy visible on your product, checkout and order confirmation pages?
  • Are you advertising more than one returns option? (Return in-store could be a good way to boost up-sell opportunities)
  • Are you incentivising shoppers to exchange rather than return items?

You might also consider how fast you can turn around returns stock to include in your January sales, whether that’s selling surplus stock on marketplaces or hosting promotions on your own site.

Bottom line: How you handle fulfilment can make or break the season for your brand. Now’s the time to start planning, partnering and preparing. If you get it right, the opportunity is massive. For more ideas beyond these highlights, check out The Future of Last Mile Delivery.

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