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Is your e-commerce business ready for Christmas?

For many of us, this year has flown by like never before. Global events like Brexit and the Olympics mark 2016 as a year of significance, and a sense of change is in the air. For the retail industry, one of the recent changes to disrupt tradition is the boom of online shopping during the holiday season. It’s safe to say that it won’t be business as usual this year. So how ready are you to take on the holidays this year? 

Online shopping has its knock-on effects: US-based retail analytics firm, ShopperTrak reported an over 10 per cent drop in brick-and-mortar store sales over the 2015 holiday season, yet online shopping grew by 13 per cent with a 20 per cent spike in traffic. Australia’s trending the same way: department stores were singled out by the Australian Bureau of Statistics as the biggest losers in the post-Christmas sales figures with a 1.3 per cent spend drop, while online sales increased by 13 per cent. With holiday sales periods extending longer over the years, this digital shift has only exacerbated the challenges that retailers face.

When we polled 212 Australian retailers about their holiday readiness, we found that a majority of them were grappling with the operational basics that e-commerce demands:

  • 77 per cent of retailers weren’t meeting all customer demands for multiple shipping options.
  • 83 per cent of retailers weren’t fully confident of their ability to respond to shipping delays.
  • 79 per cent of retailers weren’t entirely sure that their returns process can meet demand.
  • 80 per cent of retailers didn’t have their back-end logistics completely ready for the holidays.

This data is concerning, especially so when 21 per cent of the 1011 Australian consumers polled intended to spend more online during the holidays this year – twice as much as in store. To perform optimally during the holiday season this year, retailers need to have the ability to fulfill online orders in a timely manner no matter how busy it gets, so as to avoid disappointment.

To that end, we recently published an e-book, “’Tis the Season for Fulfillment: A Retailer’s Guide to Surviving the Chaotic Holiday Season” to help retailers get a head-start. Here’s three common holiday challenges we explored in the e-book that will resonate with every e-commerce retailer:

  • Panic over Christmas deliveries – will they arrive on time?

Almost nothing comes close to the stress of not getting Christmas orders delivered on time, and with the likes of FedEx acknowledging that they’re unable to cope with e-commerce holiday deliveries last year, retailers and shoppers are feeling anxious as the year end approaches. Keep stress at bay by providing visibility to your customers with a tracking portal and personalised updates on SMS, text or email – and free up time for your customer service team to deal with larger issues.

  • Multiple shipping options – should I jump on the bandwagon?

It’s fair to say that shipping is a loss leader in many e-commerce operations, so the question is how do you mitigate these losses? Setting up your system to handle multiple shipping options prior to the holidays – including express shipping that customers pay a premium for, will be very handy both for you and your last-minute shopper. Catering to the needs of your customer during this unique time of the year will increase conversions, plus it gives you the flexibility to spread high volume orders across multiple carriers if needed.

  • Returns are coming in all at once  – we’re drowning!

With a third of online purchases returned post-holiday, the work that’s set out to process returns is monumental. Enabling customers to self-serve their returns through a dedicated portal will help reduce the steps required to complete the task, and create a consistent process which boosts customer satisfaction and operational efficiency.

The most rewarding thing about getting shipping and fulfillment right is the impact it has on customer loyalty – and the holidays is the perfect time to demonstrate your commitment to stressed-out seasonal shoppers. So take the time you have to prepare well for the year-end holidays by reviewing your processes, and be in a position to pop the champagne with your team by the time Christmas comes around.

Fran Ereira is an executive leader with two decades of retail and e-commerce experience, currently at the helm of Temando – an Australian-founded shipping and fulfillment platform for retailers – as vice president APAC. 

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