Optimising Your E-Commerce Fulfilment Strategy for the Holidays

This blog post is part of our 2017 Holiday Planning series. Be sure to check back often or, better yet subscribe to stay updated with this year’s latest holiday trends, tips, best practices, reports and more!

You’ve analysed demand, determined inventory, optimised product listings and planned promotions. But a critical factor still remains, and it’s one that could make or break a successful holiday sales season: order fulfilment.

When it comes to shipping costs and speed, consumer expectations have shifted drastically over the past several years, with the latest available research indicating delivery demands have reached an all-time high.

Here’s a quick recap of how the ever-evolving e-commerce consumer journey is impacting fulfilment expectations — and what sellers can do to remain competitive this holiday season.

E-Commerce Shipping: Free Still Tops Fast 

Temando’s report The State of Shipping in Commerce found that 33% of Australian retailers plan to offer more delivery choice for the 2017 holiday period. Consumer demand for seamless shipping to complete their online shopping experience is growing as up to 57% of shoppers will buy from competing stores when retailers fail to provide relevant shipping options to suit their needs.

65% of consumers stated that they abandoned their cart due to the high cost of shipping, and 68% said they’ll shop more online for free shipping. Furthermore, 55% of shoppers said they would increase their basket size for free hyperlocal (1-3 hour) delivery.

The statistics showed that 85% of shoppers generally prefer free over fast shipping, although retailers believed there was a closer split between the two options.

Communication and a variety of options are key when meeting the expectations of most shoppers, providing better delivery choices that best serve their unique needs. 95% of shoppers want delivery date estimates, yet surprisingly only 37% of retailers offer this.

To show how important shipping is to an overall shopping experience, 72% of shoppers would talk about shipping when leaving a review online. A negative shipping experience is enough to put off 59% of customers from shopping with that retailer again, while 80% of shoppers will buy again if they enjoyed the shipping experience.

Recently eBay announced it would be offering Guaranteed Delivery. This move (and others like them) are leading more consumers to expect that they won’t have to pay to have their online orders delivered quickly.

What this means for seasonal sales:

Rising shipping expectations are creating some big obstacles for manufacturing brands and retailers to overcome. While free shipping can often be absorbed as an expense, expediting delivery typically involves sophisticated warehousing, comprehensive back-office execution and strong partnerships with third party fulfilment operators.

What you can do to address it:

When considering options for expanding your fulfilment network, don’t overlook drop shipping. When executed correctly, a strong drop ship relationship can be an excellent fulfilment model for retailers that want to expand product selection without incurring extra inventory and warehousing costs or get steeped in the detailed logistics of fast deliveries.

This is also a great time to take advantage of new marketplace options such as eBay’s Guaranteed Delivery program, which allows qualified sellers to show up in search results that have been filtered by delivery speeds. And be sure to use available order consolidation tools wherever possible to combine multiple orders into a single delivery and save on fulfilment costs.

E-Commerce Returns: Expectations are High

Delivery speed is important, but it’s not the only mission-critical element to consider. Another holiday shopping trend looms large, with the potential to blindside the unprepared seller come January: returns.

With a third of online purchases returned post-holiday period last year, many retailers and brands remain unprepared.

Yet the statistics show that returns are a huge advantage when it comes to shopping online. The Temando report revealed that 11% of respondents abandon cart when free returns isn’t offered and 45% of shoppers said they would shop more online if offered free and easy returns. Only 9% claimed they returned online purchases because they changed their mind.

What this means for seasonal sales:

Like it or not, gift merchandise is more likely to be returned than other purchases. And there are few seasons where this will play out more prominently than during end-of-year holiday sales.

What you can do to address it:

Instead of dreading the inevitable holiday returns (or, worse yet, doing nothing to address them), it’s time to approach these as an opportunity to connect with consumers and build loyalty.

What else should sellers be prepared for when it comes to deliveries and returns this season? What questions do you have for the ChannelAdvisor team? Let us know in the comments.