Don’t Let Shipping Delays Dampen Your Holidays

If the present isn’t under the tree on Christmas Day, customers are more likely to blame you for shipping delays than the delivery man.

Most commerce brands rely on FedEx/UPS/USPS to deliver their packages on time during the peak holiday season. Last year, bad weather and unexpectedly high order volume resulted in over 2 million late packages, which was a severe blow to online commerce. The good news is that FedEx and UPS have staffed up significantly for the 2014 season.

Use these tips to protect your brand and give your customers what they expect: accurate information and packages delivered on time. Many brands use multiple shipping carriers to achieve the cheapest and fastest customer delivery. At Symphony, we created a detailed delivery grid by carrier and US US timezone to help brands communicate accurate shipping tiers to customers.

But it is important to remain vigilant throughout the season for early warning signs that your packages aren’t arriving on time. Be proactive: every day counts during this crucial period.

Have a daily huddle with your team to ensure:

  • Orders are being fulfilled at your warehouse within 24 hours, or 48 hours at the latest.
  • Customers are receiving their packages consistently for the tier they paid for: whether that is standard ground (3-5 days), 2-day ground or overnight.
  • Incoming inventory is being received and stocked within 24 hours and that inventory counts are immediately updated on the website.
  • Out of stock items are pulled out of prominent positions on the site.
  • Alerts, banners, and emails are ready to go just in case you cannot fulfill orders by the holidays. It’s best to alert customers to unavoidable delivery delays (snowstorms) so they at least have a chance to buy replacement presents.
  • Digital gift cards are ready for those last-minute shoppers. They’re a great way to keep revenue coming in even after Christmas delivery windows have passed.
  • You can get on the phone with your 3PL and FedEx/UPS/shippers immediately in case of troubles.

At the first sign of delays, take action swiftly to avoid disappointing customers:

  • Encourage customers to order earlier to avoid the last minute surge with a schedule of expiring promotions. “Save $5 on shipping when you order before December 15″ is a great incentive that rewards shoppers for planning ahead and shifts demand away from the peak cut off periods.
  • Set earlier cutoff dates to encourage urgency, and then extend the dates if your carriers can handle it. For example, set shipping cutoff to December 20, and then move it up to Dec 23 if your fulfillment and shipping providers can realistically deliver overnight. If not, you got the last minute lift from promoting the cut off date. If yes, you get to promote “extended shipping for 2 more days!” to last minute shoppers.
  • Encourage customers to purchase digital gift cards to avoid disappointment (and avoid shipping altogether!)
  • Remove shipping options from a carrier that is not delivering on time. If ground shipping is not arriving within the 2 – 3 day window, remove that option and only offer customers premium options such as a “2nd Air” or “Overnight Delivery.”
  • If one carrier is getting behind, switch more order volume to a different carrier. If FedEx is bogged down, ship more orders through UPS

A surge in orders is often accompanied by a surge in customer service requests, and news media about shipping delays will cause a spike in jittery customers calling your customer service agents for delivery updates.

Take steps to ease pressure on your customer service team:

  • Automate email order updates at each step of the process so customers can monitor their package progress without calling your customer service agents.
  • Allow your customers to get SMS updates for package tracking.
  • Offer package tracking on your site, so customers revisit your website for updates (rather than the carrier’s site). This is a great time to add additional messaging to address customer concerns.
  • Have your email marketing and social media teams keep on top of weather news,so they can proactively inform customers before your customers flooding you with calls (ie. the Noreaster will not affect any of our orders, hooray!)

For most brands, the holidays represent a significant opportunity to increase customer acquisition and brand awareness. Some of the brand experience is directly within your control, such as your products, your web experience and your packaging. Don’t let your brand suffer from the things that are out of your control, like shipping and delivery. Communicate proactively with clear cut off dates and delivery options as well as automated delivery tracking to keep your customers informed and up to date at every step of the way.

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