The definition of a satisfied customer is the harried holiday shopper who finds the perfect gift at your store or online shop. But that customer’s delight will turn into bitter disappointment if that perfect gift arrives too late for the recipient to open on the big day.
It may seem a bit early to consider winter holiday shipping, but now’s the time to get ready for the rush. Holiday preparation for small businesses can’t wait until the decorations go up and customers have their shopping lists in hand. Along with having your most popular gift items in stock and enough staff to provide superior service to a ballooning crowd of shoppers, your shipping process needs to be in tiptop shape.
An efficient and reliable shipping system will keep customers happy and the positive experience is likely to bring them back to buy more when the season is over. Here are four steps to ensure your customers will get their holiday orders on time.
Weigh Your Shipping Options
When you’re choosing a shipping vendor, ask how each company gears up for the holiday season. Do they hire extra staff? Are they using top-quality supplies and state-of-the-art technology — for example, logistics software — for packing, tracking, and shipping?
You don’t have to pick just one vendor. In fact, it may be wise to have some backup. By relying on a single carrier, you run the risk that a broken-down truck, a computer glitch or a fulfillment staff overwhelmed by the deluge of holiday orders will cause delivery delays.
Know Your Carrier’s Holiday Schedule
Whether you’re partnering with one or more shipping companies, it’s essential to understand how their holiday schedule works so both you and your customers have realistic expectations. Before the holiday shopping season gets underway, make sure you know the answers to these questions:
• What’s the last date you can expect to receive pickup and delivery service that follows the carrier’s normal schedule?
• For each type of package, what’s the last day to ship something for guaranteed delivery before the holiday?
• What are your carrier’s estimated peak dates for pickup and delivery?
Be aware that the last day for on-time delivery may depend on what day of the week the holiday falls. Customers in areas where your carrier doesn’t make weekend deliveries will have a shorter window of time to order items for a holiday that lands on a Monday or Tuesday.
Keep Your Customers Informed
You’d love to perform a holiday miracle and get every last-minute shopper’s gift purchase to its destination in time. But the reality is that shipping services have deadlines. Don’t let your customers’ biggest holiday surprise be the fact that their orders arrive late. Post prominent notices about holiday shipping deadlines in your store and on your website.
If you offer several shipping options, make sure you clearly explain what each one means for the timing of deliveries. Customers need to understand, for example, whether “next day” literally means tomorrow or the next business day.
Use Software to Track Shipments
If you’re not already using cloud-based shipping software in your retail business, consider implementing a tracking program before the start of the holiday season.
Shipping software helps you streamline your fulfillment process by keeping track of orders and securely storing customers’ addresses and financial information. It also makes it easier to manage multiple shipping vendors.
Another plus: The shipping software company may provide access to significant discounts on U.S. Postal Service and private courier services.
Holiday preparation for small businesses can be a stress-free affair if you start planning early enough. With a solid shipping service and adequate financing on your side, you can look forward to a smooth holiday shopping experience for both you and your customers.