Many people resort to last minute Christmas shopping – either because they forgot someone on their list, are hoping to take advantage of pre-Boxing Day sales, or simply because it’s their holiday tradition.
Given the tight timelines, last-minute shoppers may opt for in-store purchases– rather than online shopping– to avoid any missteps. After all, the stakes are high: ordering online so close to Christmas could spell disaster if that special gift isn’t under the tree by the big day.
Since 2013, Canada Post has been monitoring the biggest e-commerce merchants in Canada during the holidays to evaluate how promotional activities impact e-commerce volumes, including those crucial weeks leading up to Christmas. The good news? Merchants who can align their operations effectively position themselves to capture more of the holiday shoppers’ spend, and better manage volumes.
The importance of making deadlines clear
The first step that you can take to ease shoppers’ concerns is to prominently display your shipping deadlines for holiday delivery.
In 2016 there was a 5% decrease in the number of merchants who extended delivery deadlines past the average date of December 18 over the previous year. Possible explanations for this shift? Christmas fell on a Sunday which meant merchants focused on fulfilling orders in the two Fridays before Christmas. As well, unexpected holiday growth in 2015 presented fulfilment and delivery challenges for the Canadian ecommerce industry, possibly causing some retailers to become more conservative with their shipping deadlines in 2016.
Later shipping deadlines mean more selling days
While this conservative shift is understandable, our research suggests that merchants that are able to extend deadlines past December 18 position themselves to capture more of the last minute shopper segment, resulting in increased volumes in the days leading up to Christmas. Here’s what we saw last year.
Merchants who offer deadlines past Dec 18 see higher volumes (red line) than their counterparts who do not (gold line) in the days leading up to Christmas.
How can merchants maximize selling days?
Make the most of this last selling opportunity by laying the groundwork for your order fulfillment and delivery processes. If you aren’t impressed by what you see, the time to make a change is now.
To avoid missed opportunities and dissatisfied customers:
- Have your logistics group evaluate if current processes can actually deliver improved fulfillment, and can accommodate pronounced spikes in orders.
- Calculate staff capacity and ensure that you are resourced to manage increased in volumes.
- Prepare to bring on additional staff to handle higher order volumes and tighter turnaround.
- Ensure that your marketing department is promoting realistic deadlines, based on the staffing and resources available.
Shoppers expect to receive their purchases faster than ever before. If you have a retail network, consider leveraging this asset to facilitate faster fulfillment. For brick-and-mortar retailers, ‘buy online, pick up in store’ and ‘ship from store’ options enable low-cost and efficient delivery by effectively putting fulfillment hubs closer to customers.
Are your employees and processes ready to handle this additional volume? Armed with the right training, tools, and information, savvy store associates can make in-store pickup a positive experience for customers, thus driving incremental sales.
If your operations simply aren’t able to push fulfillment times any further, look to your delivery carrier for faster services – such as priority or express delivery – that you can then extend to your shoppers. Different delivery speeds can go a long way in helping frantic shoppers during the waning days of the Christmas holidays.
In cases where faster delivery is critical, our research suggests that as many as 13% of shoppers would be willing to pay a premium for faster delivery options. Extending these options to shoppers helps satisfy their delivery expectations while sharing shipping costs.
If you do offer various shipping speed options, ensure you are promoting them to your shoppers. This may be a key shopping consideration for some of them.
While talk of shipping speed may make sense to carriers and your fulfillment team, it isn’t really what shoppers care about. Emphasize the delivery date instead. Otherwise you’re making it needlessly difficult for customers to figure out how much faster they’d get their order by choosing a more expensive option.
While the holidays are a demanding period for e-commerce merchants, shoppers still have high expectations for their online shopping experience. Perform an audit of where your customers are, and what they’re buying, to identify potential bottlenecks and realistic timelines you can work towards.
Be upfront with your deadlines on holiday orders to manage expectations. And work with your partners to ensure both your and your shoppers’ expectations are reasonable. If your processes only allow you to push fulfillment one day closer to Christmas, that’s okay – just make sure your shoppers are aware of it.