The eighth entry in our 12 days of Christmas series focuses on how your business can avoid a situation we can all relate to this Christmas.

"What do you mean my order's been delayed at customs???"

"How did your warehouse team mix up my wife's Dyson hairdryer with a nerf gun???"

"No, you're not sorry, you couldn't care less that my son's Christmas present has been lost in the post!!!"

To say Christmas is busy for retailers would be an understatement. The peaks in demand over the Christmas period bring about a new set of challenges for retailers which they must be prepared for in order to fulfil customers orders. In the age of social media where negative reviews are just one angry tweet away, order fulfilment is a vital aspect for your business and failure to plan for your seasonal peaks is a sure-fire way for your company to get some bad publicity. So, without further ado, let's round off our essentials for merry mail orders this Christmas.

1) get your stock in early and monitor it

It sounds obvious, but make sure your merchandise is ready and waiting in your warehouse as early as possible.

Ensuring you have your stock ready to go early means that you give yourself time to work through quality control before committing to any orders.

Demand forecasting is also vital over the festive period. Make sure you don't leave yourself in a position where you sell out of popular products or worse still, can't complete orders. Conversely, over-estimating demand for a product can nullify precious warehouse space as well as leaving your business waiting a while to see a solid return on investment.

Ensuring promotional merchandise is easily accessible within your warehouse is also a crucial factor to consider. Such items are likely to sell quicker than others not on offer, so it makes sense for these items to be more accessible for your warehouse team, thus ensuring these orders can be processed swiftly.

To help monitor your stock effectively, we've created a handy little checklist for your business to work through.

  • Check sales data from Christmas' gone by to help this year, but be sure to account for factors such as new products, new sales channels that your business may be operating on, and changes in your advertising budget.
  • Assess when individual products are due to go out of stock. Use this information to establish when you should reorder while being conscious of lead times when you would be due to receive new stock and quality control.
  • Communicate with your supplier regularly to establish the status of stock and any hold-ups on their end.
  • Treat sales such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday to discount items and eliminate excess stock.

2) prepare your online store

Question: What is a holiday shoppers pet peeve?

Answer: Slow and unresponsive websites.

Your website speed is a vital component for retail success during the holiday season. 40% of online shoppers will bounce and take their commerce elsewhere if your page loading speed exceeds 3 seconds.

To combat potential shoppers leaving your site before they even start browsing all the great products you have to offer, we suggest regularly conducting site audits and load testing which will help determine why pages experience a slowdown in loading speeds.

There are also a variety of tools available online which help breakdown the reasons behind your site experience slow loading speeds.

It's not unusual for your websites to experience a spike in traffic during the holiday season. Similarly, it's not uncommon for online merchants to experience unplanned downtime when their server can't account for high traffic volumes. In 2018 1-in-3 digital merchants were subject to downtime above 5 minutes. 5.5% experienced downtime above 30 minutes. Make sure your website doesn't fall into this category in 2019.

3) don't make promises you can't keep

Maintaining your businesses credibility is vital over the Christmas period. With this in mind, you should never, ever, be making promises that you can't keep, particularly when it comes to the shipping information.

There are a couple of things you can do to keep your customers happy and their expectations realistic, which we've detailed below:

  • Consider creating a webpage solely dedicated to providing accurate shipping info over the holiday season.
  • Include order tracking in EVERYTHING. This keeps your customers in the know as well as keeping your phones quiet so your team can give their attention to other matters.

Sometimes, FAQ pages can only answer so much; and often, customers can still be left with questions, whether they're about about delivery or return policies.

While social media has proven to be a priceless customer service tool for businesses in providing support and answering questions, critically, relying on these channels redirects users away from your website. In the time users spend off your site, they can quite easily find a competitor and buy off them within that time.

To combat the issue of consumers leaving your website to seek help, or even worse, sit on hold for an infuriating amount of time, you could consider incorporating live chat software into your website.

Live chats prove to be a quick and time-efficient service with agents proving competent in managing up to five conversations at any one time.

5) shipping

Shipping is a crucial aspect for making your Christmas period successful. However, for smaller businesses, this is a challenging aspect of operations to tackle during the Christmas period.

This is simply because, quite often, a smaller business simply won't be able to square up to retailing giants who can generally deliver products more quickly and at a comparatively lower price.

With this in mind, we've put together a couple of tips for smaller businesses looking to stay competitive with the big boys in this department:

  • Explore ground shipping as an alternative to air shipping, it's just a fraction of a cost.
  • Distribute your stock across several fulfilment centres, this way customers can receive stock from the fulfilment centre that they're closest to, reducing delivery time.
  • Play around with offering free shipping to customers meeting a certain spending threshold, this is an excellent way of increasing your average order spend.

If on the off chance, your business is in the fortunate position of being able to offer free shipping, we can not recommend doing so enough. with high shipping costs being the number one reason for cart abandonment over Christmas.

Nobody, neither businesses or consumers, relish the possibility of having to return an item. Generally speaking, the whole thing is a massive pain, but it doesn't have to be this way.

Vitally, you should be prepared to receive returns from customers. Research from Harris Interactive (no association with myself, I promise I'm not making this up) indicates that the post-holiday period will incur returns of over £207 million and that 85% of customers will stop making purchases from a brand if the returns process is not a smooth experience.

The most significant thing you can do is be crystal clear with your returns policy. This means creating a web page dedicated to outlining your returns policy in great detail, attaching your returns policy to any order confirmation emails and placing information in any retail locations you may have.

Details regarding your returns policy should be robust, simple, and jargon-free; protecting your business and maintaining a positive customer experience.

7) offer a route back for near-purchases

Cart-abandonment is nothing new. However, the ones that got away over Christmas has been steadily rising for a while now. In 2017, cart abandonment hit a nausea-inducing 75% during the Black Friday/Cyber Monday weekend.

To understand how your business can recover these near misses and convert them into paying customers requires knowing why they walked away in the first place.

Below, we've compiled some of the most common reasons for prospective customers abandoning their shopping cart:

  • Unexpected/outrageous shipping fees.
  • The individual wasn't content with the prospect of filling in their personal details to create an account.
  • The individual wasn't comfortable with the prospect of sharing their bank details to complete an order.
  • The individual was just browsing and never had any intention of completing an order.
  • The checkout process was too complicated.

So, how can your business navigate the pesky problem of cart abandonment? Well, there are several prospective solutions available to you:

  • Presenting site security certificate is a fantastic way of increasing consumer confidence in your business when shopping with you. This strategy helps tackle the issues of prospective customers being hesitant to fill in their personal and bank details.
  • Give your consumers the option to save their cart for future use before they exit your site. It's a simple tactic to implement but can work wonders in giving prospective customers something to come back to.
  • Send cart recovery emails. This is pretty self-explanatory. However, it's crucial to be creative with when you send these emails. It could be in response to a particular item going in the sale, an alert that a product is low in stock, or even a free shipping event your company may be running.

8) contingency plans

The Christmas holidays are a stressful time of year with businesses having to consider a multitude of different factors that require impeccable execution to get right.

A lot can go wrong, and with online sales expected to hit an all-time high in 2019, your business must be proactive and consider each and every possible worst-case scenario when looking to fulfil customer orders over the holidays. And don't forget to plan how you intend to deal with prospective issues in advance.

on the eight day of Christmas Adido gave to me...

eight merry mail orders,

seven search engine stars,

six sales a starting,

five campaigns that bring us gleeee,

four happy customers,

three boxed brands,

two travel trends,

and a festive guide to PPC.

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