How to Prepare for the Holiday Shopping Season

Sharon Vanover

September 18, 2019

Sharon Vanover

September 18, 2019

Every spring, mobile signs appear along highways here in Central Kentucky.

In large, digital letters, they ask, “ARE YOU READY?”

“Am I?” I always wonder. Then, “Ready for what?”

In this case, the question is about disaster preparedness. Spring is stormy here and tornadoes aren’t uncommon. These clever signs get people to check out a disaster preparedness website for tips.

This time of year, we could make a big “ARE YOU READY?” sign and aim it at retailers. We’d be asking them, of course, about how prepared they are for the big holiday shipping season ahead.

The “ARE YOU READY?” is even more pertinent this year because Thanksgiving, the kickoff of serious holiday shopping, falls late, November 28th, to be exact. That shortens the window for shipping holiday packages.

UPS is already alerting customers at its website, ups.com. It points out that  because the holiday season is condensed, retailers should find ways to get shoppers to buy early, make sure their fulfillment processes are as streamlined as possible and pay attention to shipping deadlines. For updates, customers are advised to bookmark this UPS.com page.

Meanwhile, here are UPS’s recommended last days to ship for a Christmas Eve (Dec. 24) delivery:

  • UPS® Ground Dec. 13
  • UPS 3 Day Select® Dec. 19
  • UPS 2nd Day Air® Dec. 20
  • UPS Next Day Air® Dec. 23

At this time, the USPS and Fed Ex have not posted their 2019 holiday deadlines, but when they do, we will alert you and post them on our blog.

In the meantime, you can also check the USPS and Fed Ex holiday pages for updates.

Last year, the USPS announced its 2018 deadlines on Oct. 10.

Take time now to get ready for the holiday rush

Whether your company handles its shipping and handling in-house or outsources it to a professional 3PL firm, you need to take time now and make sure you are ready for the holiday rush.

There will be a lot of pressure, especially during the last week of the season. Last-minute shoppers are definitely a thing–an estimated 14 percent of holiday sales are made in that final week. And remember, the four weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas will likely add up to about 30 percent of your annual business, according to the National Retail Federation; and if you don’t prepare well for them, the results could be well, a disaster.

Many of the tips that we shared for Black Friday/Cyber Monday, apply to the holiday season in general but there are a couple of additional points to make about the season, in terms of fulfillment.

Make customers aware of holiday shipping deadlines

Keep in close contact throughout the holiday season with your sales and marketing team. Share shipping deadlines for holiday deliveries and make sure those deadlines are spotlighted in email marketing to customers and on the website. Set inventory alerts, so that sales and marketing will know when stocks are running low on popular items so that they can alert customers and perhaps shift them to similar items. Having an inventory management system, either in-house or through a third-party fulfillment partner, will make managing inventory much more efficient. Have everyone on the team keep notes about what worked, what didn’t–so you can correct any issues before next holiday season.

Scrutinize every aspect of the process–from staffing to supplies

Fulfillment has a lot of moving parts; make it a point to evaluate all of them now and make the needed adjustments for the holiday season. If you are spending too much time focused on shipping your products instead of selling them, it might be time to find a professional fulfillment partner. Either way, here are aspects of the process that need attention now:

Hiring: There will be tremendous competition for seasonal workers this year.

UPS alone expects to hire 100,000 temporary workers. Business experts advise to staff up early to get a jump on others who need seasonal workers. It will also give you time to adequately train your employees. If you are worried about keeping them busy until the holidays, look for projects you’ve been putting off or haven’t had time to deal with. Not having to deal with fluctuations in staffing needs is one of the biggest advantages to using a third-party fulfillment firm, I’d point out. A third-party has better access to temporary workers and typically, because they provide fulfillment services to a number of customers, they are generally well-equipped to staff up at the holidays.

Stock up on suppliers; evaluate your fulfillment processes

Make sure you have an adequate supply shipping boxes or bags and packaging materials. Study the best ways to package various products and look for ways to cut costs. Many retailers have turned to polybags whenever possible to reduce weight. The bags work well for many products, especially clothing and books. Finding better and less expensive ways to ship products is another reason it often pays to contract with a third party for fulfillment. Professional fulfillment firms specialize in shipping, so their staff attend conferences, visit with suppliers and keep up with the latest in shipping innovations. Their knowledge can benefit your company in many ways: they can suggest packaging that will reduce weight, prevent damage and save money. They also have picking and packing practices in place that reduce errors and save time.

Don’t dash the holidays by failing to deliver

In a season where expectations are high, don’t disappoint customers by failing to deliver that much-wanted Christmas gift by December 25.

If you want to talk about more ways to prepare for the holiday shipping season, give us a call.


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