It’s the most wonderful time of the year, as the song goes … and for e-commerce business owners, it’s likely it’s the busiest, too. Have you devised a shipping strategy yet? If not, it isn’t too late — even this close to Christmas. Here’s what you need to know.
Five Tips for Holiday Shipping
Maximize your shipping strategy by following these simple guidelines:
- Ship quickly. If at all possible, ship your products the same day they’re ordered, even if it means you’re shipping every day between now and the holiday cutoff. This keeps your customers happy, and decreases the time you’ll be dealing with buyer complaints and tracking errant packages. Keep a list of carrier pickup times handy so you know exactly when you need to have your packages ready to go each day.
- Think & pack ahead. Be ready to ship at a moment’s notice by pre-packing your commonly shipped products during your downtime. Once they’re secured and sealed, just jot down the package weight on the box itself, so you’ll be set to ship as soon as the address label is printed.
- Be prepared. Stock up on shipping supplies, packaging material and fillers. You don’t want a lack of these necessities to hold up your shipping schedule!
- Stay put. Don’t waste time leaving the house with your shipments! When you ship with USPS Priority Mail or USPS Priority Mail Express, you’re entitled to free USPS pickup, no matter how much or how often you ship.
- Share the good (shipping!) news. Anxious customers love knowing their packages are in transit, so choose a shipping system with the option of automatically sending notification emails with tracking numbers. With that information at your customers’ fingertips, you won’t have to field calls and emails about tracking yourself.
How Not to Miss Shipping Deadlines
More than any other time of year, holiday shopping is intensely personal, whether customers are buying for loved ones or simply treating themselves. Consequently, SNAFUs in shipping are all the more disappointing during the holidays – no one wants to be empty-handed on those important gift-giving days.
As a seller, it’s more important than ever that you review your mail class choices to ensure delivery no later than the desired date. Print or bookmark these handy charts for domestic and international delivery, so you have information at your fingertips:
Staying on top of the news can have a big impact on your shipping schedule, too. Check in daily at usps.com for updates on natural disasters, labor disputes or other situations that could potentially affect shipping timetables both domestically and abroad. Even during the hectic holiday seasons, most customers can be reasonable about happenings out of your control — but knowing about the possibility sooner than later helps manage their expectations.
Shipping Internationally During the Holidays
Are you doing business across borders this holiday season? You can plan ahead for these shipments too. A few tips:
- Be mindful of product restrictions. Different countries have different ideas of what is acceptable to be imported and some of those restrictions may surprise you. (Did you know you can’t ship playing cards to Germany or jewelry to Mexico?) Your shipment could be held in Customs if you haven’t done your homework about restrictions, which means headaches for both you and your customer.
- Always check for updates. USPS.com will alert you to natural and political situations that could hold up scheduled deliveries, which is helpful information to pass on to your buyers.
- Understand Customs Forms. In most cases, you’ll use the one-page Form 2976 for First Class International Service; for Priority Mail and Priority Mail Express, it’s the four-page Form 2976-A. Both of these are easy to fill out and print via online services like stamps.com.
- Consider insurance. If you’re antsy about sending a high-value item across borders, purchasing insurance is an easy and relatively inexpensive way to rest your mind.
See below for different USPS International Delivery options.
Handling Holiday Returns
Returns are a sad fact of life for e-commerce sellers, even during the holidays. Decide early on how and if you’ll handle them during the holiday season; here are a few guidelines.
- State your policy, and keep to it. Clearly outline your shop’s return policy on your e-commerce website and in all communications between you and your buyers. Some small business owners will extend return times just during the holidays, but that’s entirely up to you.
- Think ahead to prevent returns. Be as thorough as possible when describing your product online. When it comes to photography, consider multiple angles as well as photos that allow for close-up magnification. Many sellers routinely post videos as well!
- Consider pre-paid return shipping labels. They’re convenient for buyers, but did you know they can save you money as well? Since you choose the delivery speed and cost, they permit more control on your return postage costs.
The Bottom Line
This season is hectic, to be sure, but you can do a lot to streamline shipping and manage customer expectations. That way, you can keep calm, well-stocked and efficient, which leads to happier holidays for all!