Prepping your fulfillment operation for the holidays

It’s time to streamline your seasonal inventory, delivery and return strategies to bring more gifts to homes for the holidays.

E-commerce businesses make the bulk of their sales during the winter months -- but it’s crucial to master a plan for consistent and reliable deliveries and returns.

From stocking up on inventory and anticipating hot spots for delivery and warehouse storage to outsourcing third party logistics when necessary, here’s how to optimize your order fulfillment for the holidays.

1. Stock up

Forecast demand early on to make sure you have the most up-to-date levels of stock. Take a look back at previous orders to understand the quantity, make and model at the SKU level to get a handle on how much storage you’ll be needing and when.

Then, analyze sales data from previous years to understand hot spots for deliveries where consumers are ordering from so you can plan for warehouse and storage space accordingly. Consider working with your third-party logistics (3PL) provider to discuss sales trends to bolster peak performance.

Without a proper sales forecasting, you may end up having too much in stock and waste money shelling out for high cost warehousing fees. Be sure to find a balance of having enough of your best-selling products to prevent customers from having to wait long for shipping.

2. Make a plan and scale up as needed

Retailers will be busy making final arrangements on their order fulfilment for the holiday season -- that means warehouse storage must be maximized to make room for seasonal inventory. Analyzing your selling history from previous years and gauging potential logistic scenarios you may encounter could make all the difference. For example, consider adding additional delivery vehicles or drivers to your fleet during weeks that were busy in year’s past depending on sales volume.

3. Outsource fulfillment when possible

Diversifying your fulfillment centers will allow you to store and ship products to your customers faster and more efficiently. Leveraging a 3PL will also give your business access to analytics to better manage inventory and scale.

4. Optimize package tracking and updates to maintain consumer’s trust

Gift giving can be stressful for consumers, especially during the pandemic when many are relying on presents to be shipped in lieu of spending holidays with loved ones this year. Be sure to provide up-to-date tracking information and updates through e-mail and/or SMS. This will also alleviate customer service teams who may be flooded with customer questions.

5. Anticipate returns and opportunities for resale

When the New Year rolls around, e-commerce stores will be bombarded with returns. That means optimizing items that get sent back to warehouses for a swift resale or exchange when applicable to avoid losing out on new revenue.

Be sure to track your return rate and go over your own return policy to make sure you are not covering added costs that aren’t promised to the customer, such as free shipping or free returns.

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