The holiday season is critical for all retailers, no matter how large or small. Clothing stores see 21.8% of their annual sales attributed to the holidays. Jewelry stores make an incredible 28.6% of their sales during the holidays. The bottom line is that if you aren’t adequately prepared for the holiday season, you’re going to be in trouble. At best you’ll need to work long, stressful hours to catch back up. At worst, you’ll leave revenue on the table and risk losing customers permanently by not being able to handle their orders in time for the holiday. This small business shipping checklist should help you get prepared.
Shipping is a critical part of this process. You’re going to be handling increased volume under heightened time constraints. With the holiday season coming earlier every year, it’s practically already upon us. You need to start strategizing your logistical processes today. Here are five things you should do to prepare immediately:
1. Get Ahead of the Game by Forecasting
Whether you’re a low-volume or a high-volume shipper, you must have a good idea of exactly how much you’re going to move through the holidays. If you’re a small business and experience high sales variance throughout the year, or just don’t have much (or any) historical data to work with, this can be difficult. Here are some simple tips you can utilize to do your best:
Forecast guaranteed revenue first. If you have any contract-based revenue or regular daily, weekly, or monthly orders, set them aside mentally. Unless you have good reason to believe they’ll fluctuate with the holidays too, simply forecast them out as you would any other time of the year.
Look at data specific to your industry. You can find them in industry journals or online from reputable sources like Statista. Look for the impact holidays have on sales in your industry and use that data to extrapolate. If you’re grower quicker or slower than the industry average, use that information to adjust accordingly.
Consult anybody you can. If you have an accountant, ask them. They very well may have experience in the industry that’s valuable. Do you have any contacts in the industry? Even if they’re a competitor, they may not mind helping you in exchange for lunch. The more insight you have, the more accurate your forecasts will be.
2. Have Shipping Software in Place
The right shipping platform handles everything for you in one convenient place. At the very least, it should be able to organize and track your shipments from multiple stores and marketplaces, assist with inventory management, answer questions or problems that may crop up, provide Commercial Plus shipping rates, and even supplement your other business teams (such as marketing). Take your time to choose the right shipping software, and everything else should be much easier.
Having the right software in place for the holiday rush isn’t enough. You need to have your software in place long before that. Your employees must be fully trained and comfortable with the software as they work through the holiday volume. If they’re still in the process of learning, problems can and will quickly snowball. Employees learn best at their own pace. Therefore, you should give them as much time as possible to learn the software and become comfortable with it (i.e. get started now!).
3. Gather the Right Supplies
This depends a great deal on exactly what you’re shipping. If it fits into standard packaging, you can reach out directly to your carrier and have proper shipping supplies like Flat Rate or Priority Mail boxes delivered right to your door, absolutely free. If you require custom packaging, you’ll need to start loading up on supplies now. Make sure you have plenty of miscellaneous supplies, too, like tape and packing peanuts, if you require them. They won’t go bad, and it’s better to have more than enough on hand when you’re trying desperately to keep up with demand.
You’ll most likely be printing your own labels, so make sure you have plenty of the correct paper and ink. If your printer is giving you problems or is particularly old and cumbersome, now’s the time to replace it. Don’t risk giving it the chance to go down during your holiday rush.
Finally, think about adding a personal touch to your shipments. A simple holiday message on packing slips and in confirmation emails thanking customers for their order and wishing them happiness throughout the season will go a long way. Most shipping solutions, including ShippingEasy, should allow you to automate this, making it an easy-to-implement yet impactful gesture.
4. Organize Your Warehouse
Before things get crazy, take the time to organize your warehouse (even if it’s just your garage!). Clean everything up and eliminate any clutter. Get lean by removing everything from the warehouse that isn’t integral to its operations. Draw out a map or floor plan and study it to see if anything can be improved upon. If you have any dedicated warehouse staff, get them involved and implement their ideas for improvement. Finally, if you have any contacts with suppliers or carriers, ask for their input. They may have noticed problems from their end that you just don’t have the perspective to consider.
Suggested reading: Inventory Management Planning for Q4 Prep
5. Optimize Your Communications
Communications are often an overlooked part of the shipping process. Keeping your customers apprised of estimate arrival, notifying them when the package is physically shipped, and providing them the tracking information can take a good purchase experience and make it a great one. Not only that, but it gives you the chance to put your marketing hat on, too. You can send emails throughout the season to drive more sales, especially if your customers already know they’re in for a good experience.
As your order volume picks up, so does the opportunity to increase sales and customer feedback through follow-ups. Using customer purchase data to inform product recommendations is a smart tactic to show your customers you “get” them, and encourage repeat business. Following up after a purchase requesting feedback or a review can often be automated (like in ShippingEasy’s Customer Marketing tool) to increase reviews. This is especially important early, as prospective customers will be seeking out reviews to inform their purchase decisions as the season builds.
You also need to prepare yourself to handle an influx of customer inquiries. As your shipping volume picks up dramatically, your customer service questions will, too. Make sure all the information your staff needs is readily available. Encourage them to develop out your FAQs and customer service templates to reduce volume and improve efficiency.
If the thought of preparing your small business for the holiday shipping rush is overwhelming, ShippingEasy is here to help. We offer a free 30-day trial, so you can test us out and have plenty of time to start working on your holiday plan. Click the button below to give us a try today!