Holiday warehouse worker preparing fulfillment processes

How to Prep Your Fulfillment for an Earlier Holiday Selling Season

Halloween merchandise is still on the shelves, yet many shoppers have already set their sights on another holiday. More than 51% of shoppers plan to start their 2021 holiday buying before the end of October.

Major retailers got in on the early action. Amazon, for example, launched an early round of ‘Black Friday worthy” deals on October 4. Target kicked off its Deal Days promotion early as well and extended its Holiday Price Match Guarantee to purchases made beginning October 10.  

With the pressure on retailers to accommodate early holiday shopping demand, it’s important to plan through not just the promotions you’ll run, but the ways you’ll prep your fulfillment processes as well. Here are a few options to consider to ensure they stand up to increased demand this year.

Enable better gift giving

One noteworthy trend we’re watching this year is gift-giving programs that aim to decrease friction in the gifting experience. Amazon’s new mobile gift shopping experience, for example, gives Prime members the ability to give a gift without needing the recipient’s shipping address. Recipients enter their own shipping address, or can request a gift card instead without alerting the giver—improving their satisfaction, while also reducing the demand on Amazon’s return, exchange, and fulfillment functions. 

However, Amazon isn’t the first to enter the waters of customized gift giving—and they likely won’t be the last. Gift-giving app Goody offers recipients even greater control by allowing them to customize specific options—such as the size, color, or flavor—associated with the gifts they receive. B2B gifting apps Alyce Inc. and Snappy App Inc. also facilitate similar levels of customization, even allowing recipients to select the gifts they’d prefer from lists of pre-approved options.

Entice earlier shopping

Consumers shopping earlier than ever creates a number of opportunities for retailers to incentivize desired buying behaviors and smooth out demand over the holiday season. For instance, Target’s Holiday Price Match Guarantee may help shift buying earlier in the season and minimize late-season demand by eliminating shoppers’ fears that better deals may be coming closer to the holidays.

Buying earlier also makes slower shipping a more acceptable alternative. Consumers buying holiday gifts in October or November may be willing to wait longer for their deliveries if they won’t be giving their gifts until December. Offering free or discounted shipping promotions built around slower shipping services may minimize fulfillment demand and decrease shipping expenses without negatively impacting customers. Retailers should plan to fill that longer shipping period with regular communications, though, to give customers peace-of-mind that their orders are indeed on the way.

Lengthen return policies

All of that said, if you plan to entice earlier holiday season shopping, it’s worth re-evaluating your return policies at the same time.

Here’s why: imagine you offer a 30-day return window—a standard ecommerce practice, according to our 2021 Returns Benchmark Report. If your customers purchase gift items in October that they won’t be giving recipients until December, your return window may have expired long before customers know whether they need to return or exchange their orders. 

Extending your return window temporarily may further encourage earlier holiday shopping by giving customers confidence that they’ll be able to make things right down the road. Just be clear when updating the language of your return policy that this is a time-limited exception. Detail the terms of your holiday-specific return window, and be sure to return to your usual language once the window has expired.

Time sales on hard-to-package items

If certain items in your inventory are notoriously difficult to package or process, why not put them on sale earlier in the holiday shopping season to get them out the door when sales are slower? You’ll reduce pressure on your fulfillment teams by decreasing the number of hard-to-package items they’ll have to process during peak holiday shopping periods. 

Ultimately, there are a number of wildcard factors that may still make this holiday shopping season uniquely challenging, including labor shortages and ongoing supply chain disruptions. While you may not be able to control for these factors entirely, you can take concrete steps to make your fulfillment operations as resilient as possible in the face of an unusually demanding holiday season.

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