The holiday shopping season is already in full swing, with customers placing orders at a record pace so far this year. Some part of that is due to early warnings about fulfillment backups — rather than risk a stressful last-minute waiting game, shoppers are getting all their holiday shopping done now.
However, not everyone will buy what they need early. The consumer pressure to fulfill shipments on time is growing, and the stakes are higher than ever due to expectations set by quick fulfillment and transparent deliveries through companies like Amazon.
What can ecommerce brands do to stay competitive in the face of systemic supply chain snags and increasingly fast and ferocious competition? A few trends will define the success — or failure — of the holiday season when peak shopping comes around. Here’s what we’re keeping our eye on.
One of the most robust ecommerce innovations to come from the pandemic years will be omnichannel fulfillment. Many customers have grown comfortable with cutting last-mile delivery out of the ecommerce equation, opting to pick up the product in-store within hours rather than waiting on a package for two days or more.
It’s easy to see the benefits for customers. They get the near-instant gratification that comes from a brick-and-mortar purchase, but with the added convenience of pre-ordering — no long waits, no hunting around a busy store, no driving into town to discover an empty rack. At the same time, they can check for available stock from the comfort of home, and even grab a few other items when they come to the store. It’s low cost for customers, and highly efficient for stores.
Retailers get to cut last-mile delivery — which is arguably the most difficult part of the fulfillment cycle — out of the equation, leading to both cost and time savings. Omnichannel also makes returns and reverse logistics in ecommerce easier for stores and shoppers alike.
Social selling grows up
Mobile ecommerce sales will also continue to grow thanks to things like Instagram stores, micro-marketplaces like Etsy, and social selling. Part of this is a focus on influencer marketing at scrappy startups and institutional ecommerce leaders alike, but another factor is that finding what you want on Google Search is getting more difficult.
Your customer’s expectations will be affected by their growing comfort with mobile-first ecommerce fulfillment workflows, including shipping notifications and product tracking.
To-the-minute product tracking is the new norm, and will be expected by most ecommerce shoppers as the holidays approach. Customers have grown accustomed to seeing their packages move through the fulfillment cycle, from the initial pick-and-pack to the final delivery (often with an attached photo confirmation of the package on their front steps).
Companies that offer step-by-step transparency and open up lines of communication in case of delays will win over their customers. This makes the anxious last-minute moments spent waiting for holiday gifts a little less nerve-racking.
Advanced ecommerce forecasting
Shipping bottlenecks have resulted in shortages of key products for the past several months. Many retailers are concerned about restocking popular items or even getting raw materials to produce what they need stateside.
Not all shipping bottlenecks are due to increased volume and container shortages, however. An increase in ecommerce shipping has taxed the US postal system, leading to an increase in shipping times.
To combat this dual source of delays, smart ecommerce retailers are looking for alternative solutions to forecast demand and plan for overstock. For example, a 3PL partner like GlobeCon can manage supplemental warehousing at the port to store extra stock near urban centers where customers tend to live. This warehousing support can be flexed up and down to meet changes in demand, which is especially important for furniture and appliance sellers, as well as retailers that rely on drop shipping from the manufacturer to minimize their warehousing footprint.
Being able to forecast your demand and more accurately plan inventory and delivery schedules will be hugely important this holiday season. Good planning will allow you to communicate needs to suppliers ahead of time, so you don’t end up in a bind when crunch time arrives.
Silicon chips and lumber aren’t the only shortages in the US — staffing shortages are currently one of the biggest issues facing employers, especially in heavy manufacturing, trucking, and the service industry. Carriers and shippers are short on warehouse staff, LTL drivers, and delivery people, so each leg of the shipping journey is taking longer.
As you plan for potential supply shortages, forecast your top-level need for employees, and consider getting those people hired and trained now — even if it costs a little more than usual.
New technologies in warehousing and fulfillment
Researchers have predicted for years that labor shortfalls would become an issue for warehousing and distribution firms as older generations retire and replenishments from younger workers dwindle. Fortunately, new technologies are helping to fill staffing gaps by allowing for quicker and more efficient operations in warehouse management with fewer human touchpoints.
Advanced warehouse management software (WMS) efficiently plans for pick-and-pack in a way that paper lists can’t, then builds a collection of data that can be used to further refine workflows. Connect WMS with yard management software and route setting technology for drivers, and you can move cargo faster, with less human oversight.
Ecommerce retailers are bracing for a holiday season of early shoppers and supply chain challenges. With trends like labor shortages and omnichannel fulfillment transforming the shipping landscape, an experienced 3PL partner like GlobeCon can ensure your fulfillment runs as smoothly as possible.