6 powerful steps retailers can take now to prepare for the holidays

Shopping Carts

It may be too early for eggnog and fruitcake but not for planning a profitable sales season.

Upticks in economic growth, employment and consumer spending all point to a fruitful holiday season in 2014 for retailers. But another short shopping season (just 27 total days between Thanksgiving and Christmas), combined with rapid growth in e-commerce, means the pressure's on to get everything right.

To gear up your business for the busy season, plan ahead now.

To handle the increased volume, UPS has invested in new infrastructure (including new equipment for 300 sorting centers and 15,000 additional vehicles), retooled volume forecasting, and enhanced communications. And for the first time, we'll make pickups and deliveries of air and ground services on Black Friday, Nov. 28. (You can get the full holiday schedule and other reminders here.)

To gear up your business for the busy season, plan ahead now. Here are six invaluable tips from Bala Ganesh, UPS retail segment marketing director, for a smooth holiday shipping season:

1. Plan your discounts and specials. Many retailers are open on Thanksgiving Day and running promotions in the weeks prior to Thanksgiving. "Market data is telling us that the period during and prior to Thanksgiving is oriented toward people buying for themselves to take advantage of offers," Ganesh says. Even after Thanksgiving, some 40 percent of people are buying for themselves, he says.

Through promotions, "try to move purchasing by your loyal customers further ahead, so you can cater to the impulse buyers who will hit you later in the season."

Another tip: Split up promotions along geographic lines to avoid overstressing your web servers, fulfillment and transportation processes. "For example, run a promotion in Texas today and New York after a couple of days, rather than roll it out systemwide."

2. Sync with your supply chain. It's important to keep your supply chain in the loop and communicate about your marketing and promotion plans. The last thing you want is to be out of stock at the very time you need it most.

"Make sure your inventory is staged where it needs to be," Ganesh says, "which is especially important for retailers who are using stores as virtual distribution centers." Keep UPS informed as well, he says. "That way we can be ready when your package volume increases."

3. Think about your shipping strategy. Whether you charge for shipping, set cart thresholds or have free shipping, you need to be up-front about it, Ganesh says. "Give buyers full transparency to the specific delivery day, not just the number of days, because our research shows a vast majority of consumers prefer a specific date."

Integrating your website with the UPS Time-in-Transit API makes that possible.

Now's the time to test cart thresholds set for free shipping, if you are going that route. "Cart thresholds are a useful way to increase basket size, and the cart size needs to be optimized through testing," Ganesh says. "Too big a basket size may lose customers; too small and you may leave value on the table."

4. Promote your returns policy. Make sure your returns policy is readily available and highlighted on the landing page. "Some 66 percent of online buyers look at the returns policy before making a purchase, so make sure it is easy to find," Ganesh says.

5. Make sure your technology is up to the task. Black Friday and Cyber Monday set double-digit records year over year in terms of online ordering.

"You need to be ready to handle the traffic in terms of bandwidth and server capacity," Ganesh says. "There are cloud-based service providers who will give you the capacity you need to handle peak season demands."

6. Plan for staffing and training. Manpower is at a premium during the holiday season, and everyone's looking to ramp up temporarily.

"More retailers are taking advantage of their locations and inventory to ship from stores," Ganesh says. "We work with retailers to optimize store operations with processes, technology and training that make the shipping process as simple and seamless as possible." You can find out more about UPS solutions by talking to an account rep.

Learn about the full range of UPS retail solutions.


Reader Comments

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This was helpful and did not throw too much information at me. We just launched our e - commerce site about 2 months ago and it is very new to me. Now just need to start planning for the holiday season.
Thanks UPS for getting this information to us this early. At we obviously need to plan and ensure that our inventory is ready for the holiday rush.
It is great to see that UPS is ramping up for the impending holiday season, but it sure is a shame that UPS employees have to work the day after Thanksgiving this year. . .
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