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5 Tips for an Awesome Ecommerce Holiday Season in the Warehouse

Have you started planning for Holidays 2014? If not, you might be surprised to learn that you’re probably behind schedule! With about 4 months left before we’re in the thick of the holiday hoopla, you’ve still got time to get procedures in place and be prepared for your holiday peak. Here, we’ll talk about 5 tips for readying your warehouse operations for the most wonderful time of the year.

1. Understand delivery deadlines and act accordingly

Holidays 2013 will go down in ecommerce history as the Deliverypocalyse (yes, I made that up). Carriers underestimated package volumes, retailers underestimated last-minute customer demands and were over-confident in carriers’ delivery abilities, and customers were extremely unsatisfied with the result. What did we learn? Know your carrier contract inside-out: if there are blackout dates for next-day shipping, don’t offer it. Don’t assume that “it’ll get there in time”. Clearly communicate hard shipping date deadlines with customers well in advance – and don’t get sucked into the ‘guaranteed delivery by Christmas’ holiday hype unless you know you can deliver.

2. Offer personalized product options

Personalized products are a hot-ticket item every holiday season. If you don’t currently offer this service, consider adding a few products that can easily be embroidered, engraved, or otherwise customized and identify a vendor that can handle your orders during the peak. (There are fulfillment providers who offer this as a part of their services, by the way. *coughUScough*). As we’ve said before, there are a whole lot of benefits to offering product personalization in ecommerce.

3. Nothing will go perfectly – so plan for it

We were also cursed with bad weather through most of the country during Holidays 2013 – something that was not necessarily predicted, but certainly manageable with the right plans in place. Have a well-documented emergency plan in case of power outages, carrier/vendor issues, and even business closings due to inclement weather and communicate it to all members of your organization. And let’s not forget: just because you’re located in sunny California, where snow won’t affect you, doesn’t mean that your vendors, carriers, and customers aren’t battling a hellacious winter elsewhere!

4. Learn from the ghosts of Christmas Past

Did a vendor’s mismanagement of inventory lead to an out-of-stock? Did a wave of employee illnesses mean you were running a skeleton crew in the warehouse? Did you underestimate the amount of returns and fail to keep enough staff on post-holiday? Review last season’s performance and use labor statistics, order data, customer satisfaction scores, and inventory reporting to identify areas where you both shined and struck out, then make forecasts and decisions now to correct these problems before they happen.

5. Get your returns process ready now

Ah, every retailer’s least-favorite part of the holiday peak: returns. No matter what you do, some returns are inevitable, so make it as streamlined as possible before they come flooding in. Communicate all policies to customer service, marketing, and operations teams; include return labels and/or packaging inside holiday orders; and use prior years’ stats to accurately forecast staffing needs for the returns department, contact center, and packaging from vendors.

Have any other tips that help your operations rock the holiday season? Let us know in the comments! And check back next week for more tips to prepare for holiday peak.

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