Unprecedented times are an apt way to describe the 2020 experience of consumers and retailers alike. For the former, safety, accessibility, and communication have become paramount in a shopping experience. For the latter, shipping and fulfillment are ever-present considerations. With the holiday season fast approaching, albeit uncertain in terms of social engagements, people are still eager to connect. Gift-giving is how many will spread joy while respecting social distancing restrictions.

Online retailers are more vital than ever in making holiday magic happen. Discover how shipping and fulfillment have changed in response to surging demand and explore our solutions to optimize your customer’s shopping journey.

Shipping and Order Fulfillment Continue to Endure Extreme Challenges Finishing 2020

A new term has been coined this holiday season, “shipageddon”, an impending shipping zoo described by the New York Times. Since the onset of the pandemic, supply chains worldwide have been under extreme pressure. With so many people in lockdown, increasing the demand for goods, retailers experienced unprecedented volumes of digital commerce transactions. Inventory, fulfilment, and shipping logistics were all stretched to their limits as retailers adapted to the shift in consumer behaviour. This surge has limited shipping capacity and has affected expected delivery windows. Upon reopening, brick-and-mortar stores received fewer shipments due to shipping delays and interruption and resorted to selling off old stock that had been sitting stagnant during lock-down.

During this holiday season, Salesforce has predicted that 30% of global retail sales will be made through digital channels. Yet, the capacity of traditional delivery providers is expected to be exceeded by as much as 5% globally, and last-mile delivery will run out of steam. Packages will still arrive but risk not making it in time for the holidays. A projected 700 million gifts fall into this scenario. Meaning retailers need to find creative solutions for their shipping and fulfillment needs. Read on to learn some strategic ways to ensure all your customers’ gifts make it under the tree this year.

Extend the Shopping Season

It’s November, which means it’s free reign to turn up the festive tunes and dust off the boxes of decorations. So why not extend the holiday cheer to your customers by starting the shopping season early? With Amazon Prime Day shifting from July to October this year, customers are very much primed for an earlier shopping season and are keen to avoid the crunch. It benefits retailers to avoid the pressures of increased orders between the weeks of Black Friday and Christmas Day, too. The earlier your season starts, the fewer roadblocks to order fulfillment your business will experience.

In a recent consumer survey by Salesforce, 47% of shoppers are more interested in holiday shopping online than last year. In addition, in a year-over-year consumer holiday spending comparison done by PwC Canada, a 58% drop in holiday travel is predicted. These trends could indicate that consumers may reallocate their spending on holiday shopping. Retailers need to engage customers early on to help disperse their shipments.

Communicate Your Shipping Policies

The holidays are always a demanding shipping time, and no one wants to give an IOU gift. That’s why it’s critical to clearly communicate to your customers your shipping rates and methods, provide an accessible shipping policy, and ensure your customers know your drop-dead date. Meaning the very last day orders can be placed to ensure timely and happy holiday delivery.

That means retailers need to be aware of delivery service companies’ shipping deadlines. These will be different depending on the service used and if a package is being shipped in Canada or the US. According to UPS, 43% of customers research delivery costs when shopping online, and high shipping costs can result in abandoned carts. To encourage early orders and increase average order value (AOV), retailers can offer free shipping when order minimums are met before specified cut-off dates coinciding with shipping deadlines that make sense for your business.

Embrace a Blended Shopping Experience

Online shopping can be a massive time-saver for shoppers looking to check gifts off their holiday lists. It allows them to browse quickly, compare prices, and seamlessly checkout from the comfort (and safety) of their couch. Who wouldn’t want to kick their feet up instead of trudging through the crowded aisles? Even better, there is now a way to get products into customers’ wrapping-ready hands fast while utilizing existing brick-and-mortar locations and staff.

That’s where BOPIS and BOPIC come in to expedite the process. BOPIS stands for Buy Online Pick-Up In-Store. BOPIC stands for Buy Online Pick-Up Curbside. These solutions offer a blended shopping experience by providing customers with a convenient way to shop online while still engaging them in-store. This fulfilment method has become increasingly popular in 2020. According to a study done by Adobe, BOPIS increased by 259% year-over-year in August due to the pandemic. It’s safer, and faster, and offers in-store inventory insurance so customers can pick up their purchases the same day.

For BOPIS or BOPIC to be effective, retailers need a branded website or app for online ordering, at least one brick-and-mortar location, and real-time inventory capabilities. This approach results in opportunities for increased upsells, such as customers pursuing last-minute or impulse purchases. Products displayed on aisle endcaps or point-of-purchase displays are uniquely positioned for these opportunities. The retailer benefits from cost savings on last-mile shipping and optimizing inventory management by combining online and in-store systems to provide real-time insights. With Salesforce predicting an approximate $4.5 billion in COVID-19 delivery surcharges, BOPIS and BOPIC will be an essential lifeline for retailers this season.

Source Out Shipping Alternatives

Earlier this year, ride-sharing company Uber thanked their customers for not riding with them. Saying, “stay home for everyone who can’t.” The importance of safety is still top-of-mind for many shoppers. So what do retailers do when they’re faced with last-mile shipping challenges due to delivery partners experiencing an unprecedented demand? They crowdsource!

Companies like Uber, Lyft, Instacart, and many other crowdsourced transportation and delivery platforms can be the solution in accomplishing last-mile shipping. This is a form of 3PL outsourcing or Third Party Logistics. Not only is it convenient for customers, but it’s a safe and flexible option for at-risk populations to receive their deliveries on the same day. If your business is already set-up with real-time inventory visibility, products can be moved from distribution centers to local stores for pick-up. This also benefits local drivers and the local economy. Who has undergone a decrease in rides to workplaces, restaurants, airports, and other previously frequented destinations?

Consumers are more purpose and value-driven than ever before and are increasingly inclined to support companies whose values align with theirs. Retailers can build on this by letting buyers know that their shipping is local and environmentally conscious using courier companies like ShipperBee. This Canadian-based company uses a collaborative delivery driver network consisting of people who are already in transit to tap into their underutilized vehicle space. This helps reduce emissions and saves 73% of CO2 per package. The initial business pick-up, middle-mile, and last-mile are all executed by local and commuter drivers. Through a network of the company’s “Hive” transfer mailboxes, located in high-traffic areas, packages reach their destination while saving retailers up to 33% on their monthly shipping invoice.

Offer Alternative Gifting Options

Even with the best inventory, order fulfillment, and shipping preparation, it is always good to have a backup plan. Offering alternative gift options such as gift cards (physical or digital) and subscription services can alleviate pressure on order fulfillment, shipping, and allow customers to redeem their products or services when they feel safe and comfortable.

Gift cards have always been a good gift for those hard to buy for people on your list but due to the pandemic gift card sales spiked early in 2020. According to survey data from 1,182 U.S. stores that use Rise.ai Inc.’s re-engagement software, retailers sold 114% more digital gift cards in the third quarter of 2020 than Q3 2019. That trend has remained steadfast throughout the rest of the year, with sales consistently doubling compared to the start of the year. This easy-to-implement gift idea supports smooth business operations while providing a popular gifting solution for shoppers.

Think Outside the (Gift) Box

The 2020 holiday season is bound to be a challenging one in terms of shipping and fulfilment for retailers. But after a long year, people are eager to celebrate and spread cheer with their loved ones more than ever. Ensuring a frictionless, efficient, and accurate shopping experience takes on even more importance this year on both sides of the checkout page. Implementing some creative methods will make for a safe and successful season for all.

If you are looking for eCommerce solutions that drive performance and increase conversions, contact Northern today!