According to the 2019 UPS Holiday Shopper Survey, 60% of Canadian shoppers plan to cut costs and search for deals as the holidays approach. That’s a consumer strategy tailored for e-business, since online customers can so easily find, price and compare products without leaving their homes. For e-commerce businesses, this trend offers many new holiday-season opportunities—if they can meet the challenges.

“The holidays bring rapid increases in demand and high website traffic,” says Steven Vitale, director of communications and public relations at UPS. “Businesses should be prepared with a strong digital platform that can manage high volume and a team that can keep up with fulfillment.”

Unforeseen events such as weather delays can present more challenges. Vitale adds, “There’s the increased load handled by carriers. You need to have good visibility on your shipments, a plan for heightened volume and incentives to encourage customers to order before the last-minute rush. This way, even if there is an unexpected delay, everyone will receive their holiday gift on time.”

Inventory can be another challenge. “The holiday season is the most fruitful time of year, given that 50 to 60% of retail sales usually come in the last three months,” says Imtiaz Kermali, vice-president of sales and marketing at eShipper. You don’t want to run out of stock. “This means that you must develop accurate sales forecasts to predict holiday demand. And you need access to sufficient working capital, so you can build the inventory you’ll need.”

Keeping an eye on the calendar is important. According to Canada Post’s 2019 Holiday Success Guide, this year’s peak season will run from Nov. 11, 2019 to Jan. 12, 2020. Make sure your promotions, inventory and shipping operations are ready for the early rush.

The holiday season is the most fruitful time of year, given that 50 to 60% of retail sales usually come in the last three months.

Imtiaz Fermali  —  Vice-President of Sales & Marketing eShipper

Domestic versus international shipping challenges

Keep in mind that you’re competing not only with Canadian e-retailers, but also with companies abroad. The competition can be fierce, so you need to fine-tune your holiday marketing to adapt to cultural differences.

You should also understand the customs regulations of your target market, so that local customs authorities won’t delay or hold your shipment at the port of entry. Also, if the market doesn’t have a free trade agreement with Canada, duty and taxes may be payable on your goods. If you don’t want your buyer to pay them, you’ll need to work with a shipper that can pay such duties and bill them back to you. “For those reasons, you may want to focus on markets where Canada does have free trade agreements such as CUSMA in North America, CETA with the EU or the CPTPP with numerous Pacific nations,” says Kermali.

Finding the right global shipping partner

For shipping abroad, especially in holiday volumes, you’ll need a reliable, efficient logistics partner. “Your global e-commerce business should work with a provider that is present in your key markets, has an extensive air and ground network and has expertise in cross-border trade,” says Vitale. Other things the partner should offer:

  • Systems that can keep up with the increase in shipping volume
  • The ability to provide shipping visibility, no matter where your packages are
  • Help with managing your supply chain such as providing delivery options, payment processing, post-sales service, shipment status and returns

Your global e-commerce business should work with a provider that is present in your key markets, has an extensive air and ground network and has expertise in cross-border trade.

Steven Vitale  —  Director, Communications and Public Relations UPS

“Your provider should also be in touch with global shipping trends such as tariff changes,” says Kermali. “Their technology should offer a broad range of services—from automatically printing shipping labels to determining the optimum mode of delivery. Confidence is a major boost for overall customer experience.”

Making returns easy for your customers

An over-strict return policy or a complicated return process can kill a sale no matter how much the buyer wants the item. More than half of online shoppers look for information about returns before they make a purchase, so you should disclose your return policy upfront.

For your customer, making a return should be transparent and simple. One good solution is to work with a logistics provider that can help you incorporate an easy, fast return process into your e-commerce platform. If the process lets your customer track the return shipment back to the refund stage, that’s even better. Your system should also allow you to put returned items back into your inventory without delay.

Being eco-responsible for the holidays

Most customers have a positive impression of businesses that are ecologically responsible.

 Here are some ways to reduce the environmental footprint of your shipping process:

  • Work with environmentally responsible shipping partners.
  • Use sustainable materials in your packaging.
  • Combine separate orders for the same customer into one shipment.
  • Encourage multiple orders by offering early-bird promotions.
  • Reduce the amount of packaging used in your products.

9 top tips for holiday shipping

  1. Plan for holiday volume.
  2. Encourage customers to order before the last-minute rush.
  3. Develop accurate sales forecasts to predict holiday demand.
  4. Increase your inventory to meet the projected demand.
  5. Choose the right global shipping partner.
  6. Be aware of the import regulations of your target market so your goods aren’t delayed at customs.
  7. Consider targeting markets where Canada has a free trade agreement.
  8. Make sure your promotions and your logistics systems are ready for the early rush.
  9. Ensure that your customers can make returns easily and quickly.