Use these six tips while shipping this holiday season to keep your customer service reputation high—and your employee’s stress low.

For most small businesses, the holiday season can be a bit of a blessing and a curse. The increased sales are great, but that also means increased time and stress. And for small businesses that ship packages, this duality can be especially overwhelming.

Follow these tips on how to streamline holiday shipping to minimize the strain for you and your employees.

Plan Ahead

For retailers who do most of their shipping during the holiday season, planning should begin as early as January. Meet with your team immediately after the holiday season to begin to plan for how you can build on your successes or overcome challenges the following year.

It’s also important to consider your sales goals and ensure that you have adequate staff, supplies, and promotional strategies in place to meet your goals. For many small businesses, preparing for the holiday season is a year-round effort.

Clearly Manage Customer Expectations

“As a small business, you obviously don’t have the same capacity as Amazon, so don’t plan your shipping strategy like they do,” says Amine Khechfé, co-founder of Endicia and chief strategy officer for the family of companies in El Segundo, Calif.

Many consumers have come to expect one- or two-day shipping from online retailers. If this isn’t possible for your small business, be sure to clearly communicate timelines and expectations to your customers. Let them know exactly how long your shipping process takes, when they can expect their packages to arrive, and when they need to order to ensure a timely holiday delivery.R

Offer Free Early Shipping

Free shipping is important to consumers, and early birds are often willing to wait to receive their items if they’re getting a deal on shipping costs.

“According to the National Retail Federation’s 2016 Retail Holiday Planning Playbook, 47 percent of consumers said free shipping was one of the most important factors during the holiday season, and 85 percent of online shoppers will wait five days for delivery,” Khechfé says.

Offering free shipping to early birds will help you reduce the mid-December rush, and longer shipping times are more affordable for your business.

Make Packaging and Packing Procedures a Priority

When consumers agree to have an item shipped, they’re trusting that the item is going to arrive in perfect condition. “Having items arrive broken or in poor condition will not only upset customers, but will affect your company’s reputation and reduce the likelihood of future business,” Khechfé says.

If employees are preparing packages for shipping, be sure to train them to ensure the items are secure, adequately protected from possible shipping damage, and packed neatly for a professional presentation.R

Review Shipping Insurance Policies

Most shipping companies—including the United States Postal Service, FedEx, and UPS—offer varying levels of shipping insurance. Depending on the shipping option you choose, some insurance may be included in your shipping fees.

Make sure the packages you ship are adequately insured—especially if you’re shipping high-value items. Customers will expect your business to replace items damaged in transit, and adequate shipping insurance will help recoup costs associated with shipping damages and streamline the claims process for you and your customers, says Kevin Lathrop, CEO and President of Unishippers Global Logistics in Salt Lake City.

Plan for Returns

The holiday shipping season doesn’t end on Dec. 25. You’ll need a plan in place to manage returns and exchanges. A streamlined, customer-focused shipping process for returns can turn a returned gift into an exchange—and a new customer.

Be sure to include detailed instructions for returns, a direct customer service phone number or email address to respond to questions, and a return-shipping label with each package to make returns and exchanges as quick and simple as possible.


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