4 Things to Do Now to Prepare for the 2021 Holiday Shopping Rush

This holiday shopping season will be unlike any other in recent history. From supply chain issues to staffing shortages to shipping delays, business owners are facing a host of challenges that could leave them feeling anything but jolly.

Anticipating potential complications and delays, customers are starting their shopping much earlier than usual this year. So you should expect the traditional rush and frenzied buying that has defined past holiday seasons, though it’ll be preceded by a steady ramp-up of sales in the weeks prior.

In fact, you could already be seeing the impacts of these new customer trends. Research from The NPD Group revealed that more than half of shoppers in the United States plan to begin their holiday shopping prior to Thanksgiving. Interestingly enough, the vast majority of these early shoppers reported that they were beginning as early as September and October.

This holiday season won’t just last longer, it will be bigger than in the past. Global sales are projected to increase between 7-9%, meaning they could reach as high as $1.3 trillion. The e-commerce share of that holiday pie is also on the upswing, expected to grow as much as 15% compared to last year.

The main takeaway here is that if your business owns retail locations, prepare for an intense couple of months. And ecommerce operations will also need to put a plan in place so they aren’t overwhelmed by the anticipated rise in business. Most shoppers are already in holiday shopping mode and will expect you to be in “delivery” mode, which means you’ve got to start preparing now. Otherwise, you run the risk of being caught flat-footed by delays.

How tricky might things get? One industry insider reports “shipping vessels arriving on time about 40% of the time now compared to 80% on time arrival a year ago.” On top of that, “the composite cost of shipping a 40-foot container on major East-West routes has increased by as much as 360% compared to 2020 rates.”

You don’t need to have a degree in logistics to understand the immensity of the challenges brought on by the current situation.

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With broken supply chains, shipping delays, and other pandemic-related snarls clashing head-on with increased consumer demand, the need for a plan has rarely been more apparent.

How do you prepare for these momentous months? By creating a holiday shopping playbook. Start by asking yourself the following questions:

  1. What strengths does my business have right now?
  2. How can I leverage those strengths during November, December, and January?
  3. What are my business’s biggest vulnerabilities right now?
  4. How can I address these weaknesses to minimize disruptions?
  5. What additional strategies can I introduce in the near term?

Armed with your answers, you can start making targeted preparations. Everyone knows that the holiday shopping season is intense, but having a plan is what determines whether it’s manageable or descends into chaos.

4 Tips to Consider Right Now

Evaluating your business using the questions above will reveal unique opportunities for preparation in the coming months. These will be tailored solutions based on your specific circumstances. But there are certain actions that nearly all businesses can benefit from. With that in mind, here are 4 tips to get you ready in a hurry.

Get Your Inventory in Gear

You’ll want to get ahead of delays by making sure your inventory is in a good place. Confirm that your inventory software is synced with inbound and outbound deliveries so you can anticipate issues. The last thing you want is to lose out on sales because you aren’t able to deliver what customers need.

Review your sales data from prior years to project which products will be most popular and where issues might arise. This analysis should help you identify inventory levels that will keep enough stock on hand without requiring you to invest too much money and risk an overload of stock post-holidays.

Prepare for Shipping Issues

It’s difficult to predict what the future holds in our post-COVID world, but here’s a prediction you can take to the bank: You will encounter shipping problems during the holiday season. Let’s just agree on that fact and work to find solutions.

“Many overseas suppliers have been hit with container and trucking shortages, as well as rate hikes,” explains one retail report.

“To help offset different issues, it’s important to bolster your planning and forecasting algorithms and to pay close attention to how you are making your vendor workflow more efficient. There isn’t a perfect solution for any shortages, but partnering at a much deeper level with vendors has helped the entire supply chain anticipate and get ahead to a great degree.”

If you’re seeking new shipping and fulfillment partners in the lead up to this holiday season, pay close attention to their reviews. Whenever possible, talk to other business owners who have dealt with them. This due diligence will help you avoid getting locked into a partnership with an unreliable company during the holiday rush.

Even in the best of times and with the best partners, there will be challenges. Talking to your suppliers and vendors is often the best way to find solutions. Use candor, with a healthy dose of diplomacy, to express your priorities and seek their insights. Everyone wants to achieve the best results in these scenarios, so work together to anticipate and clear hurdles.

Strengthen Your Connections with Customers

The channels of communication shouldn’t be reserved for only your vendors and providers. Let your customers know how much you value their loyalty and assure them of your dedication to providing optimal service.

If you know in advance that a certain product will take longer to ship to customers, include that information in the ordering process. Setting realistic expectations at the onset is the easiest way to diffuse frustrations down the road.

When orders are delayed more than you anticipated, reach out to customers to give updates. You might not know when the delivery will arrive at their home, but you can at least let them know what steps you’re taking to remedy the situation.

Do everything you can to keep your shipping processes moving along at a good pace, as the goodwill of your customers is a precious commodity. Perhaps you hire additional staff to help you process orders. And you might consider expedited shipping. Despite the higher costs, if it provides an exceptional experience, your customers could reward you with their loyalty (which can potentially far outweigh the shipping costs).

Take Care of Your Employees

With so many external factors impacting your holiday season, it’s easy to forget about the people inside the walls of your own business. If you have employees, take time now to think about how you can take care of them during these intense weeks of the holiday months. Even small boosts to their engagement can yield a big return.

Don’t waste time guessing what your employees would appreciate. Instead, have a conversation with them. If they care most about pay, you could offer a bonus at the end of the holiday season if they hit certain goals. If they care about spending more time with loved ones, find ways to make the schedule more flexible. And if they’re concerned about safety amidst the intensity of the holiday season, identify ways to reduce the risk of accidents.

How you take care of your employees is entirely up to you. But the process should start with a conversation and lead to changes based on their requests. When your employees see that you care about their opinion and are willing to act on their ideas, their engagement will naturally increase at just the right time.

Set the Stage Now for a Strong Holiday Season in 2022

The lessons you’re learning now should do much more than simply help you in the coming weeks. By recording crucial data and tracking the impact of your efforts, you’ll have an even stronger playbook to work from next holiday season. With each passing year, your strategies can become more robust and refined.

Sure, there will always be curveballs that you won’t see coming. But the strategies that work for you this year should absolutely be considered in the future. Your objective will simply be to adapt them to the circumstances and see how you can get even better results.

Our library of free business courses provides valuable insights that can help you navigate this holiday season. For example, you’ll learn how to write the most eye-catching and effective customer messages from Arman Assadi. And you’ll get finance tips from Alexa Von Tobel, which can help as you increase your inventory and make other investments to prepare for the holiday rush.

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