The Complete 2021 Holiday Shipping Checklist

by | Nov 25, 2020 | e-commerce insights

Another Unexpected Holiday Shipping Season

In 2020 we saw an unexpected rise in online shopping (and shipping) due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Businesses and couriers worked around the clock to deliver on-time. A year later, global supply chain shortages, port delays, and a delivery slowdown continue to amplify and stall peak shipping season.

In response, 2021 carrier shipping deadlines are aggressively buffering for this bottleneck. Navigating these shipping dates is overwhelming.

As many online merchants have experienced, meeting consumers’ holiday shipping expectations can often overshadow the joy and excitement many look forward to in December. With demand at an all-time high, small businesses are finding themselves working against time and limited resources, all while managing the sudden onset and sheer volume of the holiday shipping rush.

This is a guest post by Steve Longo, a Content Writer at Easyship. Easyship is the all-in-one shipping platform for global e-commerce.

Key holiday dates may be approaching quickly, but fortunately for you, it’s not too late to get organized and prepared. By following this checklist, you can get all of your french hens in a row and successfully get your shipments out and delivered on time. Here’s what to do!

Forecast Your Holiday Shipments

Just like the local news uses data to forecast those incoming winter storms, you can use current data to help forecast this year’s holiday shipping rush!

Usually, we’d recommend taking a closer look at data from prior years, but we don’t have to remind you that 2021 was unique on its own. This year, we’re recommending that you dive into your current buyer trends from Q2 and Q3. To get an accurate picture of what we think you can expect, you will want to multiply those numbers by 1x or even 2x, depending on your product.

Amidst these unprecedented times, ShipBob has developed a free resource that helps businesses understand carrier trends, too. They’ve shared their Shipping Carrier Data to offer weekly time-in-transit updates from the four leading shipping carriers, UPS, USPS, DHL, and FedEx.

Not only will this help to gauge when your shipments need to get out the door, but it also assists you in preparing your inventory and making important site updates on popular products that may sell out fast.

Plan and Budget in Advance

Holiday packaging pays a good return on investment, but only when you plan for it in advance. It’s not too late to get your custom packaging turned around, but holiday print deadlines are fast approaching. To help get you started, check out five tips on how to plan for custom holiday packaging. Of course, custom shipping boxes are always a great way to start the new year.

If you haven’t already, the good news is that there’s still time to draw up your holiday shipping budget! In our Holiday Shipping in 2020 Webinar, Matt Hertz from Second Marathon offered a couple of key questions to ask yourself when thinking this through: What experience do you want to provide customers? Are customers expecting free and fast delivery? Which carriers will offer you the best last-mile experience and rates? If you’re aiming for quicker transit, expect higher costs–and if you plan to prioritize lower pricing, expect slower transit times. Can Amazon ship a similar product to yours faster? If so, this might make you want to consider higher costs to compete. Cost, timeliness, and customer experience are key factors to consider when planning.

The more coordinated and seamless your game plan is, the easier your fulfillment and shipping will ultimately be. The holidays will be here before you know it, so act fast and determine what your needs are.

Manage Customer Expectations

Another year of pandemic uncertainty has thrown many curveballs (or should we say snowballs), which is why it is mission-critical to communicate with customers and manage their expectations proactively. Make sure your shipping policy is transparent, simple to understand, and easily visible on your website. Layout your delivery, cost, order deadlines, and returns policies very clearly. As soon as these policies are in place, be sure to update your FAQs and transactional emails to reflect the changes. For a seamless customer experience, you will also want to send status updates with reliable information for each order.

By being transparent and writing your policies in clear, consistent language, you can build trust with your customers and avoid misunderstandings that may lead to negative experiences and bad reviews that take up valuable time to fix.

Staff Up For Holiday Shipping

Holiday spending is expected to spike up to 9% in 2021 to the tune of $1.3 trillion in sales. Moreover, almost 75% of US holiday shoppers will shop online. Despite labor shortages, the increase in holiday shipping demand means hiring more hands on deck.

With ongoing Covid rules and regulations varying from state to state, operating safely and appropriately to meet demand may feel like a challenge. So plan carefully to develop solutions that keep your employees protected as you properly staff to handle order fulfillment and shipping for the holidays.

Take the appropriate precautions to give employees easily accessible disinfectants, masks, gloves, and other essential items. Consider establishing multiple smaller assembly lines that implement social distancing and allow your staff to work efficiently as a collection of single units. Most importantly, if any employees begin to experience symptoms, immediately take the necessary precautions recommended by the CDC guidelines.

Ultimately, try to ensure you have resources and safety measures in place to fulfill and ship orders as soon as they arrive. When it comes to fulfillment, customers are always happy to get an order earlier than expected!

Prepare and Organize For Order Fulfillment

Having an organized, seamless plan for holiday order fulfillment is mission-critical. Organizing your warehouse stock before the holiday craziness arrives will help ensure timely deliveries and guarantee efficiency and maximum productivity for the employees fulfilling those orders!

Declutter, sanitize, and organize your warehouse while also implementing appropriate safety measures for your staff. Another good idea is to draw out a map of your floorplan to see how it can be optimized and made more effective and safe for employees to move around. Adopting strategies such as slotting and optimizing your inventory turnover can also help!

Have a Strong Communications Plan in Place

As mentioned earlier, communication is an imperative part of the holiday shipping process.

In addition to letting your couriers know of any changes to your shipping schedule, effective communication with customers is vital. If, for example, a shipment has been delayed due to bad weather, be sure to let them know immediately by email, text, website updates, and social media posts.

Sending out order and shipment confirmation emails is also a great idea, offering peace of mind for customers and keeping all parties involved accountable if any delays or other complications arise. Likewise, if you have a free shipping promotion for one day only during the holidays, be sure that it’s communicated clearly to customers via email, social media, and blog posts.

Crucially, make sure your customers also know your company’s order and shipping cutoff deadlines. A Christmas present that arrives on December 26 without any warning is guaranteed to disappoint much more than the standard lump of coal.

Know Which Courier Shipping Solutions Work Best

Shop around for the best options available when it comes to choosing a shipping solution from a courier. For best results, compare couriers carefully to find out which one offers the best deal for you, considering factors such as cost, delivery times, reliability, coverage, and the like.

Popular carriers like FedEx, UPS, DHL, and even USPS, have announced increased or new surcharges during peak season. While there is not much to avoid these surcharges, looking into regional and local options may be a valuable solution for some businesses. All major couriers released their holiday shipping deadlines to help plan ahead. Talk to your shipping partners, set expectations, and start as early as possible.

To be safe rather than sorry, you may also want to source potential backup carriers just in case an issue arises, and something falls through with your preferred courier.

Develop a Seamless Returns Process

All too often, online merchants are overly focused on the hectic holiday shipping season and end up neglecting the inevitable deluge of returns. Always have a dedicated returns policy page on your website, updated within your FAQ section, and added to detailed product listings to inform customers before they buy.

If you want to provide customers with a stellar experience, including prepaid return labels, packaging, and instructions in your parcels is also a great idea. It can make the returns process much simpler and more seamless overall.

Consider Shipping Insurance

Yes, shipping insurance is an added cost. However, it can help protect you and your customers from any parcels that may get lost, damaged, or stolen while in transit. The last thing you want is a negative review or lost customer due to something out of your hands. As a general rule of thumb, always invest in shipping insurance for more expensive items over $100.

It’s worth the extra cost to protect your investment but will also provide customers with a high-end experience they likely won’t forget!

Optimize Your Holiday Season Marketing Strategy

Finally, don’t neglect your marketing strategy as the holidays get closer!

Marketing should not be an afterthought amidst the priorities of fulfilling and shipping orders as quickly as possible. Proper marketing and advertising have always been the key to sales success.

Consider developing a specialized holiday season content calendar to let your customers know about any holiday-specific promotions, like a free shipping weekend or sales on certain products. Be sure to broadcast it on your blog, email newsletters, and social media channels, too!

The holidays are also a solid opportunity to build community and connect with your audience, especially as many people celebrate in-person after an isolating 2020 holiday season.

Prepare for Holiday Shipping Deadlines Today!

The effects of 2020 feel even greater this year. Failure to prepare for busy holiday shipping deadlines can leave your business with a lump of coal at the end of the year. Don’t wait–start planning today! Ensure your holiday shipping process is seamless and organized by forecasting and planning ahead of time, managing your inventory, and communicating effectively with customers and couriers. 

Have holiday shipping questions? Tweet us @packlane, and we’ll answer them for you.

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Founder & CEO
Miriam Brafman is the founder and CEO at Packlane. Miriam founded Packlane in 2015 and was named to Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list in 2018. She is passionate about packaging, sustainability, and design.
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Kristine Isidro is the Creative Content Marketing Manager at Packlane. She’s previously worked in editorial content production for packaging and technology. When she’s not admiring the print quality of a box, she’s spending time with her one-year-old son and husband.
Founder & CEO
Miriam Brafman is the founder and CEO at Packlane. Miriam founded Packlane in 2015 and was named to Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list in 2018. She is passionate about packaging, sustainability, and design.
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