25 sept 2023
Kelli is the senior content strategist for Order Protection.
As we head into the busiest eCommerce season of the year, it’s time for brands to get their ducks in a row.
We've officially transitioned from summer to fall, kids have gone back to school, and leaves are just beginning to change—all of which mean one thing: the holiday shopping season is just around the corner.
With almost a third of all retail sales taking place between Black Friday and Christmas Day, and holiday sales accounting for up to 30% of a retailer’s annual revenue, this is truly the “main event” for merchants. As they build out marketing campaigns, prepare for skyrocketing sales, and equip their customer support teams with everything they need to provide a great customer experience, eCommerce brands have an additional logistical hurdle to consider: shipping.
New data released from Trustpilot shows that the shipping experience is playing a major part in consumer spending decisions, making it both a challenge to overcome during this peak season and an opportunity for brands to differentiate themselves in the market when competition is at its fiercest.
With inflation and economic conditions expected to influence how and where consumers make purchases this holiday season, it’s more important than ever for eCommerce brands to provide a smooth shopping experience—which extends beyond checkout.
In this comprehensive guide, we'll navigate the ins and outs of holiday shipping for eCommerce brands, helping you deliver joy to your customers while maximizing your profits.
The shipping impact on holiday shopping and spending
Trustpilot’s ‘Holiday Trust in Spending’ Survey revealed that delivery carriers were a major pain point for Americans last season, and shipping mishaps they experienced in 2022 will impact their choices in 2023 holiday spending.
The survey noted specific frustrations around:
A lack of communication during the shipping process (57%)
Lost or damaged packages (51%)
Delayed packages (49%)
Unpleasant delivery people (41%)
The survey also found that consumers would consider not shopping online with a business again during the holidays if they did not receive confirmations of:
Information on how to return (41%)
And despite most shipping issues happening on the carrier’s watch, consumers say they place blame on the retailer (37%) and brand (25%), not the delivery company.
So what does all of this tell us? It says that brands better have their ship together this holiday season. Already-elevated consumer expectations around the customer experience soar even higher in this peak season, so it’s crucial to account for every element of that experience in your Q4 strategy—including a seamless and efficient shipping and delivery experience.
Because while this may be the biggest shopping event of the year, your brand’s performance during BFCM will have a lasting impact on customer trust and retention beyond the holiday season. The Trustpilot survey explored this concept of customer trust in businesses, revealing factors that could impact that trust and the confidence consumers have that brands can actually “deliver” on their promises during BFCM. Those factors include:
Package delays (60%)
Packages being lost and businesses not doing anything about it (58%)
Businesses being out of stock of items (58%)
Being sent incorrect items (54%)
Packages arriving damaged (51%)
So how can your business make sure it’s ready to provide a great customer experience and frictionless shipping and delivery this holiday season? In this guide, we’ll walk you through the key steps and best practices to implement now in order to optimize your holiday shipping operations.
Optimize your checkout experience for shipping
The shipping experience truly begins at checkout. Before a customer’s order even leaves your warehouse, make sure your processes are optimized and customers have clear expectations around how their orders will reach them.
There are a few best practices you can implement as part of your holiday shipping strategy that will ensure both you and your customers have a smooth experience:
Offer free shipping promotions
The people have spoken, and they have made it abundantly clear: they do not want to pay for shipping. A 2021 consumer trends report found that 80% of consumers expect free shipping when their orders reach a certain cost threshold, and 66% just expect free shipping on all online orders, period. Offering free shipping during BFCM can help you compete with other retailers, but it also plays a part in driving sales. Research shows that shipping costs cause 48% of online shoppers to abandon their carts.
Provide flexible shipping options
In addition to free shipping promotions, offering a few different shipping options (free and paid) will make for a better customer experience. Offer different tiers, such as economy, express, priority, or next-day shipping to help customers plan ahead and ensure their orders arrive in time for the holidays.
For the procrastinators, you’ll want to have same-day and rush fulfillment options ready to go for the holiday season. Offer same-day local delivery and overnight options at a premium, and if you have a brick-and-mortar store, in-store pickup options are also appreciated by consumers.
Use an address verification system
Unfortunately, eCommerce is not exempt from fraud and those trying to game the system. In 2023 alone, it was estimated that fraud would cost retailers more than $48 billion.
When impersonating legitimate customers to make purchases, fraudsters will often use fake addresses to make it harder to trace these bogus purchases back to them. That’s where address verification tools come into play.
Address validators allow brands to quickly verify the legitimacy of addresses provided during online checkout. These solutions will not only save you the headaches of dealing with fraudulent orders, but it will also improve the checkout experience for your legitimate customers. The autocomplete features that often accompany address verification tools makes checkout a faster and more efficient experience for customers while also reassuring them that your brand makes security and privacy a priority.
Offer shipping protection options
Shipping issues can happen anytime, but with an estimated 90 million packages shipped per day during peak holiday shopping, there’s an even higher chance for things to go wrong during the delivery process. Shipping protection ensures that if packages are lost, damaged, or even stolen, customers will be covered and will receive a reshipment or refund for whatever issue they experienced during shipping and delivery.
Offering a shipping protection option at checkout can help put customer minds at ease and may even be the deciding factor if they’re on the fence about making a big purchase online. Providers like Order Protection will even provide the customer support during the claims-handling process, freeing up your customer support reps to focus on other issues or assist in the sales process instead.
Ready to talk to the shipping protection experts to get your brand prepped for the holiday busy season? Reach out to Order Protection today and we'll make sure you're shipshape for the holidays and beyond!
Implement packaging and labeling best practices
In order to avoid many of the issues that can happen during shipping and delivery—damaged packages, lost packages, delivered to wrong addresses—you need to start at the source: packaging and labeling.
Choosing the right packaging will not only protect your customers’ orders from damage, but can also save you on shipping costs, or encourage more sales. Here are a few things to consider when optimizing your packaging and labeling practices:
Choose the right packaging materials: Select packaging materials that protect your products without excess weight or bulk.
Efficient packing techniques: Train your staff to pack efficiently to minimize dimensional weight and shipping costs.
Labeling guidelines: Ensure accurate tracking by following carrier-specific labeling guidelines.
Eco-friendly packaging: Consider eco-friendly packaging options to reduce your environmental footprint and appeal to eco-conscious customers. These options may cost more than traditional packing materials, but research shows that more than a third of global consumers are willing to pay more for sustainability. You can also consider teaming up with carbon offset providers to offer a carbon-neutral checkout experience.
Automate shipping processes—both during and after BFCM
Automation is the buzzword of the moment, but there’s no denying that automating your shipping processes can save you time and ensure a seamless delivery experience for your customers.
The post-purchase experience is ripe for automation and practices that will help boost customer retention. Consider automated solutions for transactional tasks and messages such as packing slips, tracking emails and notifications, and tracking landing pages that help keep customers updated on their packages’ progress through the shipping process. These updates are becoming increasingly important to the customer experience, which we’ll get into a little later.
Sales and orders, unfortunately, aren’t the only things that spike during the holiday season. Returns and exchanges are a huge part of this peak season for eCommerce retailers, and you’ll want to be sure your brand is prepared to service them efficiently.
Make sure your returns policy is clearly communicated on your website, and through customer order communications. Through automation, you can also simplify the returns process by enabling customers to initiate returns and generate their own shipping labels. By making it easy for customers to make returns for online purchases and receive timely refunds, you can use this less-than-ideal part of the shopping experience to enhance the customer’s overall experience with your brand and build loyalty.
Provide effective customer communication and support
During the holiday season, effective customer communication and support are essential. You’re competing not only with other retailers, but your customers’ busy lives during this peak season, so anything you can do to make their shopping experience with your brand as painless and as customer-centric as possible, the better.
Rising consumer expectations for brands won’t take a break for the holidays, so a crucial part of your communication strategy should be to manage customer expectations while still providing exceptional service and support. Here are three important considerations to include when building out your holiday comms strategy.
Set realistic expectations
Be transparent about shipping timelines and potential delays. Over-promising and under-delivering isn’t ideal for anyone, especially customers. And it’s not just negative online reviews or fragile customer loyalty you have to worry about when it comes to bad delivery experiences—the Federal Trade Commission is watching, too.
And they’re not just keeping an eye on online deliveries, they’re dishing out hefty fines to brands who aren’t keeping their promises. The FTC enforces laws that make sure brands deliver orders in the advertised timeframe, and Hey Dude (owned by Crocs) found this out the hard way. The shoe brand recently settled allegations that it failed to notify customers about shipping delays or provide accurate refunds during the 2020 holiday season, and agreed to pay $1.95 million to the FTC. So unless you’re ready to shell out big bucks to the FTC, it’s best to be honest and transparent with your customers regarding shipping expectations.
Prioritize proactive communication
It may seem like table stakes at this point, but if your brand isn’t already doing it, consumers have made it clear that they want to be informed in real time about orders, shipping updates, and any potential delays or issues.
In fact, the ability to check delivery status and track orders was the most important account feature for 56% of online shoppers, according to eCommerce research from the Baymard Institute. Retail giant Zappos redesigned their entire order tracking and updates process to account for this increasingly important customer expectation.
Prepare your customer support team
The average eCommerce business will see a 20% spike in support ticket volume during BFCM, so it’s crucial to have a plan in place for how to deal with an influx of support cases. There are also several practices you can implement ahead of the busy season to try to bring that number down, like updating customer service policies, adding live chat or chatbots to your website, and streamlining support processes with standard operating procedures (SOPs).
Make sure your teams are set up to provide multichannel support including phone, email, live chat or chatbots like mentioned above, and social media. Offering support through various channels ensures you can address customer inquiries and concerns promptly and wherever they happen to interact with your brand.
Set “ship by” dates according to carrier timelines
To ensure your customers have an accurate delivery expectation for their orders (and to keep your brand in good favor with the FTC!), be aware of shipping deadlines set by carriers and set your own ship-by dates accordingly.
To ensure on-time delivery for the 2023 holidays, keep these dates in mind for FedEx, UPS, and USPS.
FedEx ship-by dates for December 22, 2023 delivery:
FedEx Ground and Home Delivery—December 14, 2023
FedEx Express Saver—December 20, 2023
FedEd 2nd Day—December 21, 2023
FedEx Overnight—December 22, 2023
UPS ship-by dates for delivery before December 25, 2023:
UPS Ground—December 14, 2023
UPS 3-Day Select—December 20, 2023
UPS 2nd Day Air—December 21, 2023
UPS Next Day Air—December 22, 2023
USPS ship-by dates for delivery before December 25, 2023:
USPS Retail Ground—December 16, 2023
USPS First-Class Mail—December 21, 2023
USPS Priority Mail—December 22, 2023
USPS Priority Mail Express—December 22, 2023
Get your ship together this holiday season
Holiday shipping is the make-or-break moment for many eCommerce brands. Making sure your customers have a great delivery and shipping experience with your business is important all year long, but when it comes to getting orders in time for special holiday gatherings, this peak season is where your brand can really shine.
By following the steps outlined in this guide, you can prep your business for a successful holiday season that will provide an exceptional experience for your customers and keep them coming back long after the holidays.
Be sure to keep track of your shipping performance this year, gather feedback from customers, and keep records of your plans and strategies so you can go into the next holiday season with data and historical performance to drive your future decisions.
By planning ahead, choosing the right partners, optimizing your store, and delivering excellent service, you can make the holiday season not only joyful for your customers but also profitable for your business. If your brand is considering offering shipping protection, reach out to the Order Protection team and we’ll get you set up for shipping success for the 2023 holidays and beyond!