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How to plan for Q4 shipping challenges.

September 16, 2021


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Let’s be real—last year was a mess. With more customers making their holiday purchases online than we’ve ever seen in history, a shipping industry that could barely keep up, and a lot of brands moving into D2C for the very first time… things quickly got out of control. So much so, that a lot of eCommerce brands found that despite having a massive backlog of orders, they were unable to find shippers to actually deliver their packages.

Fortunately, we’ve all learned from last year’s tough times. New year, new you right? In 2021, you’re ready to get ahead of shipping challenges and deliver this year’s BF/CM orders without a hitch. How? Well, we’ve got a few ideas. And it all starts by looking at your data, forecasting demand, and then building a fulfillment strategy that makes sense.

#1 / Start by forecasting shipping/demand

Whenever you set out to solve a tough problem, it’s always best to start with the data. What was demand like last year? What inventory sold out quickest? How can you apply that information to new product lines you’re looking to sell this year?

By starting with your data, you can get a ballpark idea of what demand might look like this year. Keep in mind that the average customer in 2021 is more friendly towards shopping online—they may have tried eCommerce for the first time last year, and are now (hopefully) more comfortable purchasing from your online store versus a retail location.

Once you have an idea of which products sell quickest (and the geographical locations they sell in) you’ll be in a better position to stock up, offer competitive shipping rates, and begin looking for fulfillment partners who can meet your forecasted demand.

#2 / Building a shipping strategy

Last year FedEx, UPS, and other fulfilment partners found they were somewhat underprepared for the massive Q4 boom brought on by the pandemic. It’s understandable—last year was the first time we’ve seen a holiday season entirely unsupported by retail.

This year, we’re hoping they’re on the ball. However, it’s a good idea to think about disaster-proofing your entire end-to-end shipping strategy, particularly where it concerns multiple fulfilment partners. Right now, before the madness of BF/CM, consider whether it would make sense to set up a multi-carrier shipping strategy. Something we’ve seen merchants successfully incorporate into their strategy is a three-pronged arrangement: start with LTL (less-than-load) fulfillment partners who can guarantee holiday shipping, store inventory at the LTL destination, then meet demand using last-mile delivery.

This works great because you’re able to ship inventory ahead of demand, lock in a partnership with a regular LTL shipper, but still remain flexible when it comes to day-of shipment—you’re always able to choose between different last-mile options who can meet your demand & requirements.

#3 / Keep CX top of mind.

If you’ve ordered anything from Amazon in last few months, you may have noticed something strange about their delivery schedule: everything is arriving a day or two ahead of time.

How are they managing this incredible feat of fulfillment wizardry? Simple—they’re under promising, and over delivering. In other words, Amazon is adding a day or two to the estimated delivery date that they show customers, even though internally they expect the package to arrive earlier than promised.

Going into Q4, this is a great strategy to adopt in your own business. By adding a 1–2 day buffer to your estimated shipping dates, you can prepare for unforeseen delays. If those delays fail to materialize, your customer will feel like they’ve received their package early.

Combine this with real-time tracking, transparent return policies, and even a surprise gift in the box and you’ve got a recipe for a great customer experience that buyers love to be a part of.

Start planning now.

In our experience, we of see BF/CM planning centered around marketing, customer outreach, and how to outcompete other brands who will all be trying to capitalize on Q4. Unfortunately, it’s not often that folks take the time to think extremely carefully about their end-to-end to fulfillment strategy. 

However, as last year’s holiday season made painfully obvious—it’s never too early to start building out your fulfillment strategy. Speak to your partners now, while sales pressure is still low. Get inventory today, before you’re scrambling to fill orders. Build relationships with the right people at shipping companies, LTL providers, and your 3PL company (if it applies).

We’re only two weeks away from the official start to Q4. If you haven’t nailed down exactly how you’re going to deliver products, today is the best time to get started. And of course, if you'd like to bounce ideas off a team of experienced eCommerce veterans, we'd be happy to jump on a free call and talk shop.

Photo by Artem Podrez on Pexels

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