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10 Tips on How to Create an Exceptional Holiday Shipping Experience

Brandi Smith, Marketing Director

It’s that time where retailers and ecommerce stores start to plan out and execute their holiday season strategy—from preparing backend technology infrastructure to support order volumes, stress testing the flow of the customer journey, and ensuring inventory supplies are ample.

Before COVID-19 struck, same-day last-mile shipping was already the fastest-growing segment of transportation. Last year’s holiday season and challenges around on-time delivery were indicative of that with service levels averaging 10% less than normal for major couriers. This year it’s only going to get harder with the shifts in consumer behaviour around online shopping amidst the pandemic, particularly as major couriers and postal offices have removed on-time shipping guarantees with unprecedented shipping volumes, and reductions in staff due to social distancing requirements, to support it.

COVID-19 has shifted consumer behaviour, especially when it comes to online shopping. Since the start of the pandemic, a recent study by Leger has shown that 55 per cent of Canadians have made at least one online purchase of the first time or began purchasing online more often. Data in the study has confirmed that the crisis is benefiting companies who offer products and services online and that there are major opportunities for retailers to maintain these gains over the long term.  

This massive shift to shopping online during the pandemic has created a newly heightened scenario where demand has exploded for traditional next-day parcel carriers and on-demand delivery companies alike. Major couriers and postal organizations have reported volumes aligned with what is traditionally seen over the holiday season. As the holiday peak season approaches, it’s only going to get busier. This increased trend in consumer online shopping behaviour needs to be factored in as retailers prepare for the rush and the accompanying experience across the entire customer journey, including shipping.  

The pressure is on for retailers and couriers alike to ensure that there is transparency throughout the shipping process, expectations are set, and that packages arrive in a timely manner. We’ve compiled a list of ten things you can do to ensure that the customer experience doesn’t go downhill when it comes to your holiday shipping.  

1. Prepare your packaging

Shipping packages to customers without damage is critical, especially during the holiday season. In order to ensure that your products are securely packaged and to protect your bottom line, be sure to choose the right packaging for your product. There are a few factors to consider when it comes to selecting your packaging so your products arrive to the consumer unscathed:

  • Size of the package: Forcing your product into a box that is too small may result in damages to the content. The same applies to having your product bouncing around in an oversized box. Select a box or package size that allows for room to pad and protect the product. Doing so can also save you money (see our 6 Ways to Reduce Your Shipping Costs for more money saving tips).
  • Product type: The type of product you sell also goes a long way in determining the type of box or packing products you use in your shipments. For example, breakable products need as much layers of protection as possible. They need boxes that fit snugly while leaving room for adequate padding to restrict movement and friction.
  • Product weight: You will be risking a lot of damages if you package a heavy product in a lightweight box. In order to fully protect your heavy products from damages, you should package them in strong corrugated, double wall boxes or cleated plywood boxes.

Other key factors that you should consider in order to choose the right boxes for your packaging include your budget, destination and mode of transportation.

2. Wow them with your unboxing experience

We wrote about the explosive trend around the unboxing experience recently. Your packaging should be designed with this experience in mind. From how the product is positioned within the packaging to the smell customers are greeted with upon opening the box, every little detail matters. Consider adding a thank you note, incentives for future purchases (discount codes, vouchers, etc.), free products and samples to the packages you send out. All shoppers appreciate gestures like that, and they will be more motivated to shop with you again.  

3. Use an address verification system

Using a platform that offers an address verification feature will help you minimize typos in capturing the recipient’s address, in turn, reducing the chances of a failed delivery and unhappy customers. More advanced shipping platforms leverage tools like Google Address Autocomplete to ensure that address details are complete and error free.

4. Identify the best shipping solutions for your business

Look at your historical holiday order data and determine where majority of your orders are delivered. Are they regional, intercountry or international? Also factor in Leger’s new study data that has confirmed that amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers have opted to purchase locally more often and for the first time. In local or regional cases, a regional carrier may be your best and most cost-effective solution to getting your packages to your customers on-time. Here at ShipperBee, we offer lower rates than national shipping giants because we cover a smaller, more specific geographical area.  

In our case, we’re a first-of-its-kind end-to-end delivery system that cuts distribution centers out of the equation to help retailers and ecommerce businesses save money, end unnecessary local delivery delays, and drastically reduce carbon emissions. Our drivers — commuters, stay-at-home parents, students, retirees, road trippers — deliver parcels using a network of innovative, smart, interconnected transfer mailboxes called Hives. These Hives are located at strategic locations like gas and convenience stores and are Wi-Fi connected, fully weatherproof, camera equipped and are virtually indestructible, keeping parcels safe and secure between drivers and final delivery. Discover why we’re your better regionally based shipper here.

5. Offer real-time GPS-enabled tracking

Transparency on a shipment’s precise location is a commonly asked for theme amongst consumers today, especially as consumers faced pandemic shipment delays. Avoid the customer frustration with the “Label created, not yet in system” message so commonly used today when clicking the link on a shipment confirmation email. Choose a shipping partner that supports real-time, GPS-enabled tracking so your customers can pinpoint their parcel’s exact location at any time throughout the shipping process. Providing this level of transparency allows customers a feeling of control and understanding on when to expect their parcel to arrive and will also help reduce the number of inquiries your customer support team may get.

6. Develop your holiday shipping offers

Let’s be honest, free shipping today is a must. In Walker Sands’ The Future of Retail Report, it was reported that 79 per cent of people are more likely to shop online when there’s free shipping. So, if you’re not doing it already, consider offering free shipping as a part of your holiday shipping offers.  

To determine the best way to offer free shipping without undercutting profitability, it’s best to know your average order value, product margins, and actual shipping costs. Once you have this data, you can offer free shipping promotions profitably. Consider offering free shipping for your most popular products or incorporate the price of shipping into the listing price of your items. You can also make it available to customers who spend over a certain amount, but keep in mind that your shipping threshold should be 10-15% higher than your current average order value.

7. Promote your ship-by-dates

To ensure that your customers understand order deadlines for guaranteed delivery, it’s important to manage expectations up front for local, domestic and international shipping. Promoting these dates on your website and sending friendly reminders in your email marketing campaigns can encourage your customers to make their purchases earlier to ensure arrival before the holidays and avoid disappointment.

8. Don’t forget about the returns experience

As well as price, product and other concerns such as delivery costs and timings, returns policies are an important factor when customers are deciding on a purchase.  

According to a UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper survey, 68% of shoppers view returns policies before making a purchase. Metapack’s Guide to Returns found that 50% of shoppers had abandoned a purchase due to a lack of choice of returns channels. According to the same survey, 56% of consumers had been deterred from shopping due to an ecommerce site’s returns policies.  

So, what’s the moral of the story here? Don’t look to reduce returns rates by placing obstacles in front of customers, perhaps charging for return postage, or making it harder to return items. Taking this road runs the risk of alienating customers. A survey from Rebound  found that negative returns experiences can deter customers from shopping with a brand again.

When crafting your return policy and process, remember the buyer hesitation that occurs when purchasing online and provide them with a seamless, hassle-free return process. Highlight your policy clearly and with easy visibility on your website for your customer. You should also consider providing a return shipping label with the delivery and the ability to take the parcel to the courier drop off centre or post office. Simply put, make it convenient and you’ll have a committed customer.

9. Offer a sustainable delivery option for purpose driven consumers

Sustainability is one of the largest concerns amongst consumers today, and interestingly, products with sustainability claims generally outperform the growth rate of total products in their respective categories. It’s no longer a distant cousin of business. As outlined in our recent blog, Three Ways to Deepen Customer Loyalty with a Sustainability Focused Brand Purpose, nearly two-thirds (63%) of consumers indicate that they prefer to purchase products and services from companies that stand for a purpose that reflects their own values and beliefs. Consumers are demanding it from their favorite brands. Even when sustainability isn't a personal priority, the psychology of using a purchase to do good is attractive to many consumers. Working with a courier that has a strong sustainability initiative, like ShipperBee, can sweeten the incentive for customers to choose your brand over another.

10. Beef up your customer support

Last but not least, always provide the buyer with all the help they need, when they need it. During the holiday season, look to ramp up your customer support hours and make representatives available by phone, email and live chat at least nine to twelve hours a day. As the buyer can typically receive their product orders up until 8 PM, your support staff should be equipped to accommodate requests late at night as well. If your customer support is not hitting the mark, you cannot provide the customer will not have a seamless experience despite other efforts you put into place.

Bring these tips to action and provide your customer with a hassle-free delivery experience during the holiday season. A happy customer is a returning customer after all.

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