Updated: Sep 21
Welcome to part one of our "Navigating the holiday rush: A guide for online sellers" series.
This series aims to make life a little easier for online sellers - whether new or with prior experience - at one of the busiest and often most stressful times of the year - Christmas.
Getting your shipping and packaging well-planned can feel like a vast task, but hopefully this guide will help simplify it. Consider these steps:
Parcel sizes and shipping rates
Begin by analysing the shipping company you're working with. Understand their rates and the sizes of parcels they cater to. You want to ensure that the company you choose can handle the sizes of parcels you typically ship. This is particularly important as incorrect parcel sizes can lead to expensive mistakes.
Speed is king
Get accustomed with the delivery speeds and services offered by your shipping company. It's crucial to know the processing times to ensure on-time deliveries; especially at Christmas time and with those last minute shoppers ( looking at you men 😉 ).
Often shipping companies will offer varying speeds of delivery and it can be worth offering these to your customers as an additional upgrade. Very often customers will be willing to pay extra if it means getting their order in time for the big day.
To track or not to track
In many countries worldwide tracking isn't provided by default and comes as an additional fee to the sender. Much like the speed of delivery, it is worth considering offering tracking as an upgrade to customers. This can avoid many headaches at Christmas time and will often result in less message from customers; after all they can track the parcels progress themselves.
In fact - once you get closer to Christmas day - it may be worth considering ONLY offering tracked services and baking this into your items price.
Be aware of cutoff dates (and then tweak them)
Even with upgrades to postage speeds there is always a "last day" that most shipping companies will guarantee Christmas delivery for.
While these can usually be found on their website, it can be useful to set a buffer and make your final cut-off date a week earlier than the one provided by your shipping company. Make your customers aware of this via your website or item page.
Familiarise yourself with the claims process
Things go wrong. Fact. Even with the best will in the world, there is no way to avoid lost or damaged mail. Whether we like it or not, during the festive period delivery companies are under intense pressure, with hundreds of thousands of items to deliver. This can means that they aren't quite as careful with your package as you would like them to be.
So it's important to understand the procedure for filing claims with your chosen delivery company. It's always better to be prepared for potential issues.
It also means that you can feel confident in issuing customers with refunds when things do go wrong; safe in the knowledge that you will be reimbursed - albeit not immediately.
Soften the blow
Whilst the above point is true, there are things that we can do as seller to ensure that any damage is kept to a minimum. Make sure your items are securely packaged to withstand the transportation process. This is particularly relevant for fragile items or items that shouldn't be bent. Using "fragile" stickers or tape on these items can make the couriers aware and will help in any claims process.
Your courier's journey might not always be a smooth one, so make sure your products are well-protected.
Source a good packaging supplier
If Christmas is one of your busiest seasons then it's critical to source a packaging supplier that is not only within budget but that is also reliable and fast with their deliveries. All of those orders are going to need packaging and there is nothing worse than running out of boxes or envelopes when your customers are expecting their delivery.
Buying these supplies well in advance and in bulk can help to keep costs down in the long run as many providers will offer tiered discounts for customers buying in bulk.
Personally we use priorydirect.co.uk, they are certified as a business doing good for society and our planet and 1% of their Priory Elements product sales go to supporting environmental charities.
The tips in this section apply all year round really, however they are especially relevant at Christmas time to avoid shipping delays or mishaps.
Tariffs and Duties can often feel like a mysterious maze. It's essential to figure out who will be responsible for these - you or the receiver? Make this clear upfront in your policies or terms and conditions. Customers may get annoyed when they discover that they have an additional duty charge to pay, however this is normal and if it's been made clear to them in advance they are less likely to refute it.
While we are discussing the *joy*😒 of customs, it's worth mentioning Harmonised System (HS) codes. These are crucial for telling customs what category of goods your product belongs to. Correctly applied codes can lead to smoother processing through customs, so it's essential (and your legal obligation) to provide the correct ones. For UK sellers the list of HS codes and their subcategories can be found on the government website.
So whilst we may not be as fast as Santa on his sleigh, with a little forward planning using the tips above we can hopefully ensure that your Christmas deliveries arrive safely and on time.
But why stop there? Feel free to comment below if there are any tips or tricks that you have learnt to help shipping go more smoothly. We'd love to hear from you.
Thanks for reading!