How to Start Planning for Holiday Shopping Surges #shippaggedon

I know what you’re thinking, “we’re talking about holiday shopping already??” Believe me, I am just as surprised as anyone that we are talking about holiday shopping prep before there’s even a chill in the air. But here’s the thing, without starting holiday shopping planning early this year, you risk getting caught up over the summer and waking up in the fall stressed out by #shippaggedon. At that point, it’s too late to catch up or plan ahead.

Thanks to shippageddon 2020— the (hopefully) one and only holiday season during a global pandemic— we are better prepared to face whatever the 2021 holiday shopping season brings. In case you were living under a rock last year (in which case, congratulations and is there room for me to join you there?) you might have missed the craziness that was #shippaggedon2020. 

The shippagedon equation works like this: the already higher than usual rates of online shopping in 2020 due to the entire world being trapped in their homes + the typical increase in online shopping during the holiday season led to#shippaggedon2020. What started as an unexpected supply chain and shipping nightmare taught retailers and anyone depending on shipping services to plan ahead, improve communication, and prepare for unexpected surges in fulfillment.

The reality is, the COVID-19 pandemic completely altered our online shopping habits on a global scale. Confined to our homes, we were left with very few choices on how to procure everyday necessities like groceries and toilet paper, let alone how to buy holiday gifts for our family and friends. 

Now, as we inch closer and closer to the holiday season of 2021, it’s time to reflect on consumer shopping habits from the past year to plan out how to prepare for influxes in online shopping this holiday season.

Mapping Out Shopping Holidays

In order to fully optimize your holiday shopping shipping plan of action in 2021, the first step is to familiarize yourself with all of the most common shopping holidays. If you are anything like me and feel like Mother’s Day sneaks up on you every year, this step is one you won’t want to miss. For ecommerce stores that thrive during the busy holiday season, planning ahead and pacing out the promotions you’ll offer is essential for streamlining shipping operations and order fulfillment.

No one person or department at your company can oversee your holiday season shipment strategy alone. To be properly prepared to tackle any and all challenges that this holiday shopping season is sure to bring, take the time to create a detailed plan that outlines how your sales, marketing, and customer support teams will all work together to provide your online customers with a memorable holiday season.

To ensure that you are prepared in advance for the holiday shopping surges, here’s a quick overview of the key gift giving holidays and ecommerce purchase spikes to prepare for in 2021:

  • June 20: Father’s Day
  • July 4: Independence Day
  • August: Back to School
  • September 6: Labor Day
  • October 31: Halloween
  • November 4: Diwali
  • November 11: Veterans Day
  • November 25: Thanksgiving
  • November 26: Black Friday
  • November 27: Small Business Saturday
  • November 28 - December 6: Hanukkah
  • November 29: Cyber Monday
  • November 30: Giving Tuesday
  • December 25: Christmas
  • December 26: Boxing Day
  • December 26 - January 1: Kwanzaa

When should you start planning for holiday shopping surges?

Every ecommerce store experiences different peak times of the year and different surges during the holiday season. Holiday shipping trends don’t lie, to stay on top of the holiday #shippaggedon you should start by revisiting your holiday shipping data from past years in order to set your strategy for this year. 

In addition to looking at your personal data from past years to dictate how you plan for the year ahead, it’s also important to look back at how the entire ecommerce industry has evolved in recent years. Let’s take a look at how the national holiday ecommerce shopping experience has changed by the numbers, to better prepare for the future:

  • Over the past five years, holiday sales between November and December have accounted for about 19 percent of overall annual retail sales. 
  • In the U.S. last year, sales for the first three weeks of November were up 7%, and ecommerce sales during November hit $100B for the first time ever.
  • The 2020 holiday shopping season saw 32% year-over-year growth in overall global digital commerce, resulting in online spending exceeding $1B/day also for the first time ever.
  • Holiday packages shipped by traditional delivery providers were projected to exceed capacity by 5% across the globe between Mid-November and Christmas of 2020, which amounts to 700 million packages being at risk for missing holiday arrival.
  • During the 2020 holidays, 6 million packages per day were being missed by shipping providers, resulting in 3.5 million packages being delayed.
  • As a result of those delays and missed shipments, it was projected that $4.5 billion in delivery surcharges and billions of customer service inquiries would be generated to accompany it.
  • As a response to shipping delays, during the 2020 holiday season the U.S. saw an estimated $58.52 billion in sales for in-store pickup purchases made online, an increase of 15.5% over an estimate made before the pandemic.

Key Projections for the 2021 Holiday Shopping Season

Now that we’ve collected prominent holiday shipping data from last year, we can make some projections for this year based on that past consumer behavior. Just remember, this data and these projections should work hand-in-hand with your ecommerce store’s personal data. When analyzed together you should have enough insight to create a 2021 #shippaggedon plan of action that sets you and your team up for success this holiday season.

Based on the data above, some big takeaways include:

  • People are shopping for the holidays earlier than ever before— in response, ecommerce stores would be wise to begin creating their sales, marketing, and customer support holiday strategies sooner rather than later. When customers are no longer waiting for Black Friday or Cyber Monday to begin their shopping, you know that the holiday shopping season is going to be more hectic than ever before. By offering incentives to shop early, you can pace out the holiday rush more, offloading some of the surge.
  • People aren’t necessarily shopping more, but they are shopping online more than ever before— this projection is kind of a no-brainer, but it does hit home the point that the extra strain on shipping companies and delivery providers is very real. Which is just another point in the argument for spacing out holiday promotions and sales events as to not completely overload your delivery providers.
  • Many delivery providers were making up for delays well into January 2021 for last holiday season— I’m taking this as my cue to send out a *virtual hug* to all my customer support pals out there: I see you, I hear you, and I’ve been you. To ease the strain that communicating with customers about delays and missed shipments takes on your customer support team, start training them on holiday season customer support best practices as soon as possible so they feel prepared for the holiday rush once it comes.
  • People are ordering online and picking up in stores more than projected pre-pandemic— for online retailers who also have brick and mortar stores, this is your sign to start offering in-store pickup for online orders if you haven’t already. Offering in-store pickup for online orders is not only a great workaround for navigating potential shipping delays, but it also brings customers into your store where they are likely to continue shopping in-person in addition to picking up their online order.

Working With Shipping Companies to Avoid Surge Shipping Delays

Another facet of navigating the upcoming holiday shopping surges is your ecommerce store’s relationship with your shipping company of choice. The more you think of this relationship as a partnership, the better. Because chances are, if you are overwhelmed during #shippaggedon then you can bet that the delivery drivers handling all of your orders are too.

However, although we typically associate the holiday season as a hectic time for ecommerce retailers and delivery providers alike, it is possible to survive the busy season without a significant number of delays or missed packages. Of course, these things are commonplace and prone to happen regardless of how well we have prepared ourselves. But it’s not time to give in to the inevitable yet. Remember, we are getting a head start on the holiday season for a reason. 

Here are some actionable things you can do to work with shipping companies to avoid surge shipping delays in 2021:

  • Consider adding a new fulfillment center ahead of this holiday season to improve shipping speeds and lower costs on long-distance shipments. Of course, there are also risks to adding a new fulfillment center like adding costs to your shipping process. Before you choose where to build your new fulfillment center, find the city that will give you the best results with this Shipping Carrier Transit Time Benchmark tool.
  • You may also want to consider reevaluating which delivery service to partner with this holiday season. To make this decision you’ll want to weigh what you need out of a delivery service against the cost of each one. During this process, ask yourself questions like, “Is partnering with a premium carrier service worth the cost?” and “What are the benefits of working with a consolidated carrier?” to determine which carrier is the best fit for your company.

Ultimately, the only way to truly be fully prepared to emerge triumphant after the 2021 holiday shopping season and #shippaggedon that is headed our way is to start preparing earlier than expected. Take this article as your sign to begin your preparation today! To jump start your preparation, here are A Whole Bunch of Shipping Delay Email Templates (To Help You Figure Out Just What To Say) to your customers this holiday season.

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