Preparing for a Perfect Storm During Peak Demand

Here are some ways to ensure a smoother holiday shopping season across your fulfillment and customer experience.

Chika Milan Adobe Stock Shopping Bags
chika_milan - Adobe Stock

Brands have been tested like never before in 2020, and true to form, another big test is underway, as we move into holiday shopping season. The forecast? A possible perfect storm for fulfillment just as holiday shoppers are counting on their purchases arriving on time.

Salesforce data shows 47% of U.S. adults are more interested in shopping online this holiday season as compared to last year. Projections indicate last-mile delivery will likely exceed shipping capacity by 5% globally, potentially delaying up to 700 million holiday packages. The growth of e-commerce for everyday goods combined with the online-heavy holiday shopping season and the USPS delivery slowdown is bound to put tremendous strain on logistics and could ultimately impact customer service.

So, how do merchants best prepare themselves?

Successfully navigating the holiday season will require conversations with key stakeholder groups and additional planning to understand how each part of the process will work with the next. The following are actions you can still take, not just to ensure a smoother holiday shopping season across your fulfillment and customer experience, but also to keep in mind headed into 2021 as increased ecommerce demand is expected to continue.

Focus on customer experience

As we saw early in the pandemic, supply chain and fulfillment challenges severely impacted the customer experience. With store closures, reductions in staff due to health concerns and government restrictions, as well as global supply chain delays, many businesses struggled to meet delivery expectations, and that left customers frustrated.

Customers still expect a seamless experience regardless of outside factors. By now, many customers are aware the pandemic might cause delays in shipping, but they still want clear, honest information in real-time. If you’re experiencing delays, be transparent about it and timely with the information. Let customers know if an unexpected delay occurs before they start wondering where their product is and asking customer service why their product hasn’t arrived as scheduled. Brief your customer service team and prepare them for higher call volumes. Be sure they have the information they need to manage any concerns.

Test technology

To achieve success this holiday shopping season and beyond, test your e-commerce site and relevant systems (payments, customer portals, etc.) to make sure they are ready for sustained periods of above-average traffic. Servers hit with higher volumes of traffic could slow browsing speeds and the loading of landing pages, that can quickly lead to frustration and cart abandonment. Test all systems to confirm elevated page views do not slow down or negatively impact the customer experience.

A longer promotional period could mitigate some of the peaks, but with volumes expected to be higher than normal throughout the season, it’s better to play it safe and have scalable solutions that can exceed anything you have experienced before. One line of defense? Employ in-app tracking to better understand consumer behavior and track mobile activity to help optimize the customer experience. Also, be sure to talk to your commerce vendors to verify they are set up to handle spikes in traffic.

Over-communicate with partners

Reach out to your fulfillment partners to determine what their plans are should they experience delays and what their projections are for the peak holiday season across their client base. Investing time in these relationships can pay big dividends as you will need to know about any changes as soon as possible to respond accordingly. Advise couriers in advance of increased volume and plan to increase the number of collections per day. Offer additional collection and delivery options like lockers and designated areas for pick up in-store. Incentivize shoppers to accept slower deliveries by offering discount coupons or vouchers in exchange for longer delivery terms. This could lessen the overall impact to warehouse and fulfillment operations.

Adjust pick-face

Plan to adjust your distribution center pick-face to accommodate the highest volume and fastest selling items. This will reduce the pick-and-pack to improve shipping times and support efforts to provide an excellent customer experience. And be sure not to overlook the simple things, like increasing the number of printers you have available for invoice preparation and printing transportation labels to help expedite the fulfilment process.

Prepare for returns

Returns management is equally as important as outbound. You should anticipate a higher volume of returns during and after the holiday season. To help manage this, set up a return-only area within the warehouse and treat it as a separate station. The faster you can credit a customer for a return the more likely you are to see a second purchase.

Consider incentivizing against returns if your product might be delayed until after the holidays to encourage customers to go ahead with their purchase. A bundle or bonus whether in the form of an additional product or future offer can keep customers engaged with your brand, prevent canceled purchases and are generally much less expensive than dealing with returns.

Finally, to help keep track of all these actions, appoint a project manager for peak demand who has complete oversight and responsibility. Proper planning and conversations with your key stakeholders will help ensure excellent customer service and hopefully a headache-free holiday shopping season.