How to Handle Holiday Sales Fulfillment and Returns
If there’s one thing you shoppers want this season, it’s free shipping. It greatly affects their decision to buy or not. But does “free” beat out “fast”? Not necessarily according to recent reports from eMarketer. Shoppers aren’t willing to wait more than four days for an order to arrive, whether it is free or not.
Most shoppers look first for free shipping and most of those same consumers expect it to be delivered within two to four days. Amazon has greatly influenced this as most of its customers grow impatient long before that four-day mark. That leaves sellers with the task of meeting demands and looking for options to sustain their business.
Fulfillment is the Differentiator
During peak seasons “next day shipping” and “express shipping” options are commonplace, creating more competition with other online sellers. The leading reasons for shopping cart abandonment continue to be expensive shipping and slow delivery. The trend this holiday season so far is next-day deliveries.
So, what does this mean for seasonal sales? Rising shipping expectations are creating some big hurdles for online sellers to overcome. Free shipping can often be absorbed as an expense, but quick delivery typically is more involved. It usually requires sophisticated warehouse technology, comprehensive back-office execution and solid partnerships with third party fulfillment centers.
How to Address It
When planning for the Q4 holiday rush, diversifying your carrier strategy could be a good idea. Though it can be tempting to rely on your usual carrier for ease in management, this approach can cost you customers during the hectic holiday season. Oddly enough, even the most efficient, cost-effective fulfillment method can vary significantly from one product order to another. It is best to have multiple options when it comes to fulfillment.
In fact, many sellers use shipping management software to stay connected to multiple carriers. This helps route orders based on factors such as shipping costs, delivery speeds and customer locations. Most often large online sellers rely on various fulfillment centers strategically placed around the globe.
In addition to fast fulfillment, another holiday shopping trend with the potential to blindside unprepared sellers is the issue of returns. Just as in product fulfillment, expectations for returns are high. Delivery speed is important. According to UPS, about 1 million packages will be returned each day leading up to December 25. Additionally, it is projected that another 1.4 million will boomerang back to retailers on National Returns Day in early January.
As online sales increase, so do the number of returned merchandise by mail. It has grown about 16% over the last two years, with the return rate for e-commerce sales cited at two to three times that of traditional brick-and-mortar retail. Consumers expect easy return policies on those purchases. Yet recent research indicates that many sellers fall short in the process. According to Pitney Bowes, 97% of retailers provide shipment tracking on outgoing deliveries. Yet, only a small percentage do the same thing for returned packages. This is unfortunate as customers tend to check on in-transit packages an average of eight times. Many online sellers are missing out on this opportunity to create a positive impression.
Seasonal sales mean that many of your hard-earned holiday sales will be returned. How you handle them can be the difference between lasting loyalty and damaging reviews. A good way to view this is to see it as an opportunity to create brand loyalty. Don’t be caught off-guard. Whether you use a fulfillment partner or handle holiday returns in-house, use it as an opportunity to bond with consumers and grow sales in the coming year.