Black Friday and Cyber Monday are just around the corner. With the potential to increase your online sales by over 700% compared to your bog standard Friday, it’s well worth a bit of extra planning to maximise your success. While sales and holiday marketing plans are often the focus of eCommerce retailers this selling season, fulfillment can actually be the biggest hurdle when it comes to such a busy shopping season.
Why? In short, you won’t benefit from repeat sales in the future if you can’t get initial orders out to customers. Customers may not come back to buy again after receiving their orders late. Or worse, customers could cancel their orders altogether – and sales lost this year as a result.
So, what can you do to ensure your eCommerce fulfillment runs smoothly this Black Friday & Cyber Monday? Here’s a 10-point fulfillment checklist with a few ways to help you succeed throughout the entire holiday season.
1. Stock up on inventory early
Black Friday isn’t your ordinary sales event. It’s extraordinary by definition. That’s how you should approach it in terms of inventory.
If you maintain normal stock levels in preparation for the holiday rush, you’ll soon find yourself short on stock as orders come in and shipments go out. The result? You end up with a growing backlog of orders, resulting in delays for your customers. Or you stop taking orders altogether – which is never a favoured option for eCommerce businesses.
Instead, stock up well on inventory to allow for continuous output. While it might cost a little more upfront – for the stock itself or storage – it will allow for a continuous output without orders backlogging. By getting inventory stocked up in the fulfillment centre early, you can sidestep issues like shipping and freight delays or goods in inventory receiving, preventing orders from going out on time. Ideally, everything should be in with the fulfillment centre by the end of October to ensure a smooth fulfillment process during holiday sales promotions.
2. Share your volume estimates for the holiday sales rush
Despite the name, Black Friday isn’t just one day. It typically extends throughout the weekend to the ‘Cyber Monday’ that follows. That means that your fulfillment centre could be hard at work for days or even weeks to get your orders out the door. But you can help make things a little easier.
Where possible, forecast order volume estimates for Black Friday and Cyber Monday, plus the weekend in between. You can do so using order data from previous years, for example. Then share those estimates with your fulfillment centre as early as possible. It will help them schedule staff and resources for peak days to maximise your order output.
3. Expand your courier network during the busy holiday season
Shipping couriers get bombarded during the peak sales season. DPD has previously reported a 30% increase in nationwide deliveries for the two-week period following the Black Friday sale. In response to that, many couriers will increase the number of vehicles on the road. But despite their best efforts, they can’t perform miracles.
If you’re working with one courier, they may become overwhelmed by the extra demand you and their other clients are putting on them. Instead, why not spread your shipments between multiple couriers? Doing so could increase the percentage of your shipments that arrive the next day – and reduce the risk of them being delivered late.
4. Transparency can create the most loyal customers
Speaking of late deliveries – it’s best to be honest with customer service outreach if you anticipate any issues with delivery or fulfillment. First and foremost, this can help you manage the service customers expect. Shoppers are less likely to be frustrated by an extra day of waiting if they are informed of delays at the time of order, rather than being promised a speedy delivery and that promise not being met.
This transparency also adds an element of honesty to your brand. With 84% of customers saying that honesty is a positive trait for brands, a polite pop-up or short message at the checkout could do more good than you think in such a competitive marketplace. Honesty is the best policy, after all.
Update your shipping and return policies, inform customers through social media platforms, or proactively remind customers by email. You don’t have to craft compelling subject lines when you contact customers – just an automated follow up email after orders can suffice to help your business establish trust.
5. Coordinate your promotions with the fulfillment team
Promotions are undoubtedly the most iconic part of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. They’re why people flock to websites and shops across the weekend – starting midnight for websites and opening times for shops on Black Friday itself. Not to mention some sellers offering early access.
It goes without saying that you don’t want your eCommerce business to miss out on the hype. But you may be worried that special promotions will cause more problems for fulfillment. Thankfully, that doesn’t have to be the case.
The best advice is to provide details to your fulfillment centre on promotion dates and durations. By knowing when promotions are running and how long they’ll last, warehouses can prepare for particular peaks in demand.
It might be that you’re running a big promotion on Cyber Monday this year, for example – maybe a special discount. If that’s the case, you’ll need more warehouse staff from Monday onwards rather than Friday to Sunday. To make that happen, your fulfillment centre needs to be in the loop at such a pivotal time.
6. And do it early!
Remember that when you’re sharing information about promotions with your fulfillment centre – the earlier, the better. Often, fulfilment centres are kept out of the loop in the holiday promotion planning process, which traditionally happens in the marketing department. But partnering with your fulfillment centre early to coordinate your holiday marketing strategy together can make all the difference for your customer experience.
Knowing in advance which products are being promoted to customers or put on sale can help your warehouse team get a head start on Black Friday prep work for the busy month ahead.
To put that into context, let’s say a particular face cream is being promoted to attract shoppers for the entire 4-day period (Black Friday – Cyber Monday) with an estimated volume of 5,000 units. Staff could start preparing for the sale by pre-assembling the packaging that will be used. Or, if you’re offering multiple products in a bundle, the fulfillment team could start kitting products together to save valuable time during the most notable shopping days.
If operators take 10 seconds to assemble each box, every 5,000 orders they know about in advance can shave 50,000 seconds off the overall fulfillment time. That’s just under 14 hours freed up for the peak shipping period and means your orders can be delivered days earlier.
7. Plan for returns
While we’re on the subject of planning ahead, don’t forget to factor in returns after the rush. On average, 30% of all online orders are returned. That’s 30% of a much higher volume of orders being returned during the peak shopping season, whether it’s new customers or VIP customers.
Here are some things you can do to avoid returns becoming a big problem:
- Make your returns policy clear to assist shoppers and avoid strain on customer service staff.
- Have additional staff on hand to deal with the extra returns during the 14 or 28 days following Black Friday, depending on the length of your return policy.
- Improve the product images, videos, and descriptions on your site to minimise the number of products returned because they didn’t meet customer expectations.
8. Remember that fulfillment isn’t just for Black Friday
The saying goes ‘A dog is for life, not just for Christmas’. The same is true for fulfillment. Extended Black Friday sales kick-start the Christmas shopping season, highlighting the importance of good fulfillment practices beyond November.
But it doesn’t end there. From January sales, Valentine’s Day, and Mother’s Day to summer sales and back-to-school events, special promotions, and various other busy periods throughout the year. Don’t let fulfillment worries stand in the way of these myriad opportunities to grow your business and attract future customers. You can use these tips to your advantage all year round and improve the customer journey. Partnering with the right fulfillment centre is crucial for eCommerce success longterm.
9. Know when it’s time to outsource
When major shopping events like Black Friday come around, it can be difficult for eCommerce brands to scale up their operations at short notice. While many business owners try, you don’t have to go it alone. Partnering with an eCommerce fulfillment provider like Autofulfil can take the weight off your shoulders with all the tools for you to make the most of big sales events.
Our high-capacity fulfillment centre in Ireland can ensure your Black Friday orders arrive from your online store to your customers’ doors on time to delight your customers. We’re prepared to rapidly scale up our staff during peak seasons and fulfill orders in days that other fulfillment centres can take weeks to process. Located near Galway, we can provide rapid delivery across Ireland and also ship throughout Europe. We can also help with UK to EU fulfillment – sidestepping many of the issues caused by Brexit for UK-based eCommerce retailers hoping to ship orders to EU customers.
10. There’s still time to find a fulfillment partner!
If you’re ready to outsource fulfillment, there’s no time like the present. At Autofulfil, we can help you make the most of holiday sales success by receiving and warehousing your stock, then picking and packing with speed and accuracy for major convenience and a high-quality service.
Sell to as many customers as you like, ensuring the whole consumer journey matches your site’s shopping experience. Put simply, we help your business stand out from the competition, giving customers confidence in your brand over those with comparable price points.
We recommend that new clients come on board by the end of October at the latest to properly prepare for Black Friday. From eCommerce platform integration to inventory stocking and test orders, working ahead will help us make sure everything is seamless and running smoothly for the big online shopping weekend.
Contact us today to find out how we can help with your order fulfillment for Black Friday, the holiday shopping season, and help you grow for years to come.