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Take the Stress Out of Holiday Shipping

A little planning can go a long way during the busy selling season.

Every holiday season arrives with the excitement and expectation of giving and receiving gifts. While gift-givers eagerly seek out the items that will delight recipients, they also must contend with the pressures involved in delivering those terrific items on time.

For shoppers, this means pressure to select, purchase and receive gifts in plenty of time before the holiday. More important, online sellers need to put in place a clear plan to deliver goods while also setting shoppers’ expectations.

So, as a seller, if the joyous holiday season fills you with fears of late shipments and dissatisfied customers, relax. With just a little planning and some well-tuned communication, you can avoid the typical holiday shipping troubles, keeping the holidays cheerful and stress free for yourself and your customers.
Communicate shipment cutoff dates to your customers, alerting them to expected package delivery dates. Be sure to factor in additional time to receive, fulfill and drop off items for shipment

Set expectations—theirs and yours

The easiest way to avoid holiday stress is to identify it and take proactive steps before it becomes a problem. When it comes to the details of order shipments, you simply need to know what you will do, what you won’t do and communicate that to your customers.

When you provide your shipping details at the outset, you can head off most points of confusion or conflict regarding item delivery.

For starters, be sure you know the shipping calendars for the package carriers you’ll use during the holiday season. USPS, UPS, FedEx and others publish their service offerings and key cutoff dates leading up to Christmas. Each of these carriers indicates the last day you can ship items—depending on the service you choose—to ensure delivery before Dec. 25. It’s important you understand this information to properly set your expectations of what you can offer that can—and will—be delivered in time for the holiday.

The next and most important step is to communicate shipment cutoff dates to your customers, alerting them to expected package delivery dates. Be sure to factor in additional time for you or your staff to receive, fulfill and drop off items for shipment (or allow for carrier pickup of your packages if that’s a service they offer).

If you can’t ship items the same day as you receive an order, adjust back your cutoff dates accordingly.

Plan how your items will be packed ahead of time, including multiple-item or multiple-quantity shipments, to establish a repeatable method of selecting and packing what you sell

Communicate up front what your customers can expect in terms of when they purchase and when they can expect to receive their goods. When you provide this critical information to your customers, you empower them to determine for themselves whether what they want to buy will be available in time to give as a gift. This alone will alleviate the largest share of holiday shipping stress—for you and for your customers.

Stock up on shipping supplies, early and often

Part of your holiday shipping preparation should include properly stocking up on the packaging items you’ll need to fulfill orders. If you wait until the shopping rush is upon you, you’ll likely be scrambling to gather the goods to pack orders. Avoid panic by stocking and organizing your shipping area well ahead of the holiday shopping season and having a reorder plan, should you need to restock in the midst of the season.

Incidentally, most damage to items in transit occurs when the wrong packaging supplies are used. Usually, this occurs when a seller has run out of the right packaging items and instead uses whatever is available at hand. Plan ahead to avoid this stress, eliminate any last-minute packing supply scrambles, and ensure every package arrives safely and securely.

Fulfill orders fast and accurately

With your shipping details communicated and your shipping area fully stocked, turn your attention to your packing method.

Plan how your items will be packed ahead of time, including multiple-item or multiple-quantity shipments, to establish a repeatable method of selecting and packing what you sell. You’ll save time with each package if you know exactly how you’ll pack and secure it. In some cases, you might be able to pre-pack items with only the need to include a customer’s packing list and shipping label upon order receipt and fulfillment.

Be sure to maintain communication with your customers throughout the order and delivery process

During this process, allow enough time—sometimes just a few minutes—to double check the customers’ orders and verify each package includes the right items and is labeled for the proper destination. Then decide how and when you’ll drop off items to the carrier, or what time to have them staged for carrier pickup, to avoid a mad dash to get packages in transit.

With a bit of proactive approach, you can simplify, and de-stress your packing and package drop-off or pickup activity.

Be attentive and responsive

Now, no matter how well you’ve prepared your customers and yourself in setting holiday shipping expectations, some things might still go amiss.

To diffuse any problems of this sort, be sure to maintain communication with your customers throughout the order and delivery process. Send messaging to let them know of their order receipt, shipment and anticipated delivery date. If a customer contacts you with a question or a problem, your prompt response can be all that’s needed to provide reassurance or take timely action.

If customers don’t have information regarding their orders and shipments, or if they can’t get a response regarding a question, the tension will escalate quickly as each calendar day goes by. Keep a vigilant eye on your communications, and you’ll ward off one of the worst stresses of the holiday: a customer feeling ignored.

Yes, the excitement of the holidays often brings anxiety as folks rush about to shop and deliver gifts. Take proactive steps in your holiday shipping process so you can fulfill more customer orders with fewer troubles. In the end, you’ll stand to relieve your own holiday stress while serving as a seller who can take the stress out of customers’ holidays, too.


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About the author

Dennis L. Prince
Dennis L. Prince has been analyzing and advocating the e-commerce sector since 1996. He has published more than 12 books on the subject, including How to Sell Anything on eBay...and Make a Fortune, second edition (McGraw-Hill, 2006) and How to Make Money with MySpace (McGraw-Hill, 2008). His insight is actively sought within online, magazine, television and radio venues. Opinions expressed here may not be shared by The Online Seller and/or its principals.



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