Tips for Small Businesses and Shipping Logistics
In any given year, shipping logistics are a concern for small businesses. But 2020 isn’t an average year. With a global pandemic still underway, supply chains have been upended, delaying shipping routes in the process.
Now, with the holidays quickly approaching, the worry over how small businesses can best navigate the busy retail season has become an even bigger question—shipping and logistics management being two primary concerns.
The State of Shipping and Returning This Holiday Season
Every holiday season sees a massive uptick in temporary hires for shipping warehouses and supply chain management companies. This year:
- Contract shipping firm DHL is filling 600 new positions in its warehouses, according to Penn Live.
- FedEx has announced that it will hire 70,000 more workers to handle multinational delivery.
- UPS has put their figure at 100,000 new hires for 2020, according to a Forbes report.
Despite this uptick in new hires, the Wall Street Journal reports that small business vendors who rely on e-commerce are still worried.
Holiday Shopping Goes Digital
Small business owners must navigate what retail forecasters say will be high holiday spending. According to CNBC, holiday retail sales this year should rise between 1% and 1.5%, amounting to between $1.147 trillion and $1.152 trillion during the November-to-January timeframe.
That said, the majority of this spending is expected to be online, putting small businesses in an even deeper shipping quagmire. With the possibility of being inundated with return packages, they’ll need to prepare for this unusual holiday shopping season.
So, how can small businesses handle shipping logistics so they can best prepare for the holiday shopping season?
Know Your Shipping Vendor
Vendors like UPS, DHL, UPS, FedEx, and others may seem similar, but they each offer different advantages and disadvantages. Having a strong understanding of what you’re paying for when it comes to shipping services will reap big rewards for small businesses this year, especially when navigating anticipated longer delivery times.
So what should companies look for in a shipping service? Here are a few items to research:
The ability to reroute goods midway through shipment can help both a customer and a seller. Ask whether your shipping vendor offers:
- Rerouting to another address
- Keep the same delivery address but reschedule the shipment for a later date (up to 14 days later)
- Hold the package for up to 14 days
- Return to sender
Customers have come to expect email delivery notifications, but what about inbound notifications for your business with updates on necessary fulfillment supplies, products, or tools? These notifications will be especially useful this holiday season, when—unfortunately—some businesses will see unexpected and abrupt company or warehouse closures (for health and safety concerns).
Be sure to find out if your shipping company offers:
- Pre-delivery notifications
- Customizable notifications
- Shareable notifications to multiple staffers
COVID-19 has forced even the most reluctant e-commerce vendors to hop aboard the online sales bandwagon. And those who are still hesitating might want to think again. According to May 2020 data from daVinci Payments, “71% of US adults said they planned to do more than half of their holiday shopping digitally this year.”
That’s a pretty strong argument to ramp up online sales and quickly.
But making the sale isn’t enough. Consumers expect companies, regardless of size, to keep tabs on the shipping process of their package and know where it is if they ask. Fortunately, tech-savvy shipping companies have solutions for this consumer service demand.
Check to make sure your shipper offers an outbound dashboard so you can keep tabs on your packages.
Be Smart with the Data
Once you have a shipping service that can provide you with all of the above, it’s up to you to make sure you use it well. That means alerting your customers to changes in shipment times and fulfillment. By managing customer expectations, you’ll reassure customers that their product orders will be fulfilled.
What Other Steps Can Small Businesses Make to Get Ahead of Shipping Bottlenecks?
Being proactive is the most important step a business can take right now before the holiday rush. Rather than wait until sales pick up to implement a shipping process strategy, small businesses should sort out shipping logistics now.
But that’s just one piece of the puzzle. Here are other tips for managing shipping logistics:
- Determine Your Objective – Is your goal to offer the fastest shipping fulfillment possible? Free shipping? Or the cheapest shipping? Sort out your shipping objectives first, then begin your research.
- Find Out What Customers Want – What’s important to your customers? This is a question most small business owners can easily answer when it's applied to products or services. But what do they expect out of shipping policies? If you don’t know, ask. Then apply this feedback to your shipping strategy.
- Get Multiple Quotes – The rush to get a shipping service in place might seem like just another item to check off your list, but it pays (literally) to price check. Get multiple quotes before you commit, and then reassess as the season continues to see if your shipping costs could be better with a competitor.
- Prepare Operations for Worst-Case Scenarios – Do you have a shipping and receiving protocol in place? If not, now is the time to set one up. Then train all staff in the new operations so that they can effectively and efficiently fill and ship orders in a timely fashion.
- Forecast Sales – Having a good forecast of what you can expect from a given season can be immensely important in executing your shipping strategy. With good data you can hire appropriately and determine ROI.
Don’t Lose Sight of the Big Picture
Like anything in life, shipping will almost inevitably come with mishaps. Perhaps a package is misplaced by the delivery company. Perhaps an employee crossed off an item as “shipped” but was looking at the wrong order.
These things happen, and that’s okay.
Prepare your small business for these issues and have a plan to address them. And don’t lose sight of the big picture. During this challenging time, companies need to remember that health and safety come first. Being transparent with customers about health-related delays or closures is better than saying nothing at all and can even endear customers to your business.
A renewed need to communicate effectively and clearly with customers, stakeholders, and supply chain managers might be the difference between a good year filled with holiday cheer and a coal-stuffed season. Puns aside, here are a few ways you can do that.
Prepare for the Unexpected
It’s not just the weather that might throw off shipping logistics this year. As shipping logistics companies attempt to hire mass numbers of workers, they’ll be forced to train them quickly. That could cause errors and shipping delays outside of your control.
Have community responses ready should anything happen, and have a plan in place with staff to be agile and adaptable given difficult situations.
Allocate the Appropriate Resources
Making sure you have enough people to handle returns this year might require an entire department or team of workers. Dealing with customer complaints or questions might also need an independent staffer. By effectively allocating resources and personnel you can better navigate shipping challenges.
Make sure each team understands their objectives, and don’t be afraid to adapt your resource allocation if one team is swamped.
Communicate Clearly & Often
As mentioned before, clear communication across the board will spare you headaches in the long run. Make sure your vendors are well aware of expectations. Inform customers of any product delays. Talk to your shipping salesperson about opportunities to improve logistics. By staying in touch, you’ll have a better shot of keeping everyone on the same page.
2020 is a year no one expected. As small businesses struggle to stay afloat and weather this unprecedented season, being honest with customers is the best approach to maintaining relationships, keeping customers, and staying in business. That means letting people know when you’re struggling, and more importantly, letting them know how you plan to fix it.
With shipping logistics predicted to be difficult this year, you can keep your customers up-to-date on your own shipping plans by:
Updating Your Website
Keep it brief and concise, but let customers know on your site if they should expect shipping delays. A short message about how “you wish this weren’t the case, but you’re doing the best given the circumstances” can go a long way in earning goodwill toward your brand.
Post on Social Media
If you’re trying to get in front of potential shipping issues by offering a discount or deal, let your followers know on social media. Ask them to spread the word to build interaction and brand awareness.
Send an E-Newsletter
A quick update to subscribers is a great way to let them know how you’re planning to tackle the holiday rush. Give them details on what they can expect if they order from you and how you plan to ensure they get the products they’ve purchased.
Nextdoor is where you can tap into the neighborhood, and it’s a great resource for small businesses, especially during this difficult year. The hyperlocal space is filled with members from your own community—the same people you live next door to, shop with, and see at the coffee shop. And they’re all there for the same reasons, to connect with the community, share recommendations, look out for one another, and stay in touch.
And you can be a part of it too, sharing your own story along the way.
It’s easy to join, and creating a Business Page is completely free. Plus, once you have your page updated, you can run promotions and engage with your audience using Local Deals and free Business Posts. Whether you want to alert your customers about new holiday curbside pickup protocols or offer a sweet buy-one-get-one free deal, it all starts with Nextdoor.
What are you waiting for? Meet your neighbors and let them know how your small business will operate and handle shipping logistics this season.
PennLive. DHL Supply Chain hiring more than 600 workers. www.pennlive.com/life/2020/09/dhl-supply-chain-hiring-more-than-600-workers.html
WishTV. FedEx to hire 70,000 workers to meet holiday demand, raise shipping rates www.wishtv.com/news/business/fedex-to-hire-70000-workers-to-meet-holiday-season-demand
Forbes. UPS Hiring 100,000 Workers As Retailers Anticipate Whopping Holiday Shipping Season www.forbes.com/sites/lisettevoytko/2020/09/09/ups-hiring-100000-workers-as-retailers-anticipate-whopping-holiday-shipping-season/#769ff76763b9
Wall Street Journal. Postal Delivery Delays Trouble E-Commerce Sellers. www.wsj.com/articles/postal-delivery-delays-trouble-e-commerce-sellers-11597869212
CNBC. Holiday spending will hinge on how much the rich splurge and the poor cut back, Deloitte says. www.cnbc.com/2020/09/15/deloitte-estimates-2020-holiday-retail-sales-will-rise-1-to-1point5percent-.html
DaVinci Payments. Payments Experience and Insights Create Greater Value. www.davincipayments.com
Claim your free Business Page to get started on Nextdoor. For resources on how to use Nextdoor to stay connected with your local customers, pertinent news affecting businesses, and more, follow us at @nextdoorbusiness on Facebook.