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10 Last-minute holiday shipping tips for a successful seasonal rush

Illustration of Santa in a sleigh with boxes falling off the back. Above him is a timer with ten minutes left.

[Updated post from December 9, 2021]

The holiday shopping surge is firmly underway – but that doesn’t mean it’s too late to keep looking for new ways to make holiday shipping as smooth as possible.

As the holiday season progresses, it often brings to light weaknesses within a brand’s shipping strategy. But even small adjustments can make a massive difference to the amount of time, money, and opportunities that shipping is costing you.

In this post, we’re listing our top holiday shipping tips for 2022 to help you increase customer satisfaction during the holiday shopping season:

1. Be aware of any holiday shipping deadlines

If customers don’t receive their orders in time for the holidays, this is highly damaging to their relationship with your brand. This is why keeping track of holiday shipping deadlines – the final date that customers must place an order by to ensure on-time delivery by Christmas – can make or break your holiday season. 

While your business has no control over shipping delays caused by shipping carriers, you must communicate shipping cut-off dates at least a couple of weeks in advance. As well as driving buyer urgency, this ensures that your brand manages expectations and avoids liability in the case of delivery delays.

Most carriers will post their holiday shipping deadlines well ahead of time on their websites. For 2022 holiday shipping deadlines, check out our dedicated blog.

It’s important to be aware that different delivery methods will have different cut-off dates. In the case of domestic and international shipping deadlines, the latter will have a much earlier deadline. Likewise, priority mail and overnight delivery methods will have much later cut-off dates than regular ground shipping methods.

Here are a few ways you can spread the word about holiday shipping deadlines to your customers:

  • Add a countdown banner to Christmas Eve within your holiday email promotions. 
  • Add a pop-up or banner to the home page of your website.
  • Add a new page to your footer that lists the cut-off dates for all of your shipping options.

2. Have a plan to communicate holiday shipping delays

Even when you plan ahead, shipping delays can still happen. While not every parcel will make it to your customer in time for Christmas Day, you can still manage customer expectations by maintaining proactive communication about their order. Contact your customer the moment you become aware of the delay, and give them as much information as you can. consider offering them store credit or a discount to apologize for the inconvenience. By doing this, you’re still in with a good chance of retaining a loyal customer.

3. Offer multiple shipping options 

If you were a vendor selling ice cream, you wouldn’t just have one flavor for sale. So, why does it makes sense to offer one shipping option and risk alienating a lot of potential customers?

Where offering standard 3-day shipping was once the norm in e-commerce, customer expectations now demand a plethora of delivery speeds – especially during the holiday shipping season.

While most early-bird holiday shoppers will be happy with slow delivery times so long as shipping is free, your brand is going to miss out on last-minute shoppers if you don’t offer fast shipping and delivery.

If you’re worried about shipping costs, don’t worry. The “Delivering on Demand: Consumer 2021 Insights Survey” found that 65% of consumers are willing to foot the extra cost of expedited delivery.

While economy shipping speeds should definitely be on the delivery menu, make sure you have some fast deliveries to encourage customers who are cutting it fine with their holiday shopping.

4. Include a free delivery option

Offering free shipping in e-commerce is no longer a value-add; it’s simply what the majority of consumers expect from the online buying process.

Shopkick’s holiday survey found that 94% of customers say free shipping is the perk they’re looking for most when shopping online during the holiday rush.

However, free holiday shipping is a costly investment for e-commerce brands. Peak season surcharges for major carriers targeting residential delivery and high-volume shippers mean that shipping rates will be even higher than normal, which could seriously impact your profit margins.

Here are a few strategies to make free holiday shipping more cost-effective for your business:

  • Set a minimum order threshold to qualify.
  • Use only non-priority mail methods.
  • Offer free shipping only to loyalty members.
  • Use free shipping as a flash sale offer.

For more tips, check out our full guide to offering free shipping during the holidays.

5. Consider alternatives to home delivery

The shipping process is one of the biggest overheads for e-commerce brands, especially as shoppers continue to demand ever-faster deliveries. An in-store pickup service offers customers a handy alternative to expensive holiday shipping rates, which saves both you and your customer valuable dollars. Moreover, pick-up orders can be ready for customers faster than the delivery time of priority shipping services, which is ideal for the last-minute shopper.

6. Display real-time inventory levels on your product pages

As consumer spending spikes during the busy season, items can quite literally fly off the virtual shelves. But thanks to ongoing supply chain disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, this is becoming a genuine problem for holiday sales.

There are few things more annoying in e-commerce than visiting a website to purchase an item and seeing an ‘out of stock’ notification – or worse, after they’ve already purchased it. So, it’s hardly surprising that 80% of online shoppers want to see inventory availability at their local store location.

Displaying real-time inventory levels allows consumers to gauge whether they need to get items shipped before they sell out, helping to influence consumer behavior.

Flo and Frankie product page with stock levels.

Lifestyle retailer Flo and Frankie have provided three designations for stock levels online – ‘in stock’, ‘nearly gone’, and ‘out of stock’. The ‘nearly gone’ label is a great tool to drive buyer urgency and persuade customers to commit to a purchase.

7. Offer a gift wrapping service

Gifting is top of mind at this time of year, and any purchase that customers are making has a good chance of ending up under the tree. So, why not make it easier by offering an additional gift-wrapping service? In addition to saving customers the time and energy of wrapping gifts themselves, gift-wrapping during the order fulfillment process offers people the option of sending a gift directly to the recipient’s address, rather than having to ship it themselves. This extra convenience gives your brand a fantastic edge during the holiday season.

8.  Automate shipping rules to lower shipping costs

Printing shipping labels and packing slips is time-consuming and repetitive for e-commerce businesses, especially when you have little time to spare. Investing in shipping software that can automate key parts of the shipping process is a great way to get your business ready for the holidays. 

Instead of having to select the most cost-effective shipping method for each order, shipping automation software can automatically select carrier options according to the rules you set. For example, if you want orders over a certain value to receive complementary priority mail express shipping, you can set this up in the back end in just a few clicks.

Ryder E-commerce By Whiplash maintains its proprietary SmartRate Selection system, which uses your order history to calculate the optimum rate that takes into account both cost and speed.

9. Offer self-service returns

Giving shoppers control over the return process doesn’t just create a more positive customer experience; it also lessens the pressure on your customer service team during the busiest part of the year. 

An online portal that generates return shipping labels on your behalf eliminates lengthy email threads, which in turn increases customer satisfaction. It’s worth remembering that a whopping 92% of consumers will buy from a merchant again if the return process is easy!

For ideas on how to revamp your return policy for the holidays, see our dedicated resource.

10. Pay for return shipping on exchanged products

It’s estimated that holiday returns ended up costing retailers $761 billion in 2021. This equals a lot of lost revenue for your business.

However, there are some steps you can take to prevent refunds from being your customer’s first port of call. Studies show that nearly two-thirds of consumers plan on exchanging or finding a replacement for an item they’ve returned. By making the exchange process as easy (and cheap) as possible, you can recover lost revenue during the post-holiday return rush.

While no merchant wants to pay for the dreaded return postal service, incentivizing customers to exchange instead of return, introduces a closed loop with multiple opportunities to maintain a relationship with your business, enabling you to retain much more holiday season revenue.

Even when the holiday season is full steam ahead, it’s never too late to look for ways to refine your holiday shipping approach. Even minor changes, such as adding an expedited shipping method or communicating shipping deadlines, can make a world of difference to the quality of the brand experience. So, don’t hang around – get started now!

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