Illustration of a man and woman on a laptop computer enjoying the benefits of ecommerce fulfillment, holding bags of purchases

This Black Friday and Cyber Monday, it’s all about ecommerce fulfillment

Written by

Beth Owens

on

November 25, 2020

No matter how much they change the rules, Black Friday and Cyber Monday, aka BFCM are still the Super Bowl of shopping and combine to form the main sales opportunity of the year for retailers. After the deflating 2020 we’ve been having, BFCM 2020 provides a chance for sellers to end the year strong. Ecommerce fulfillment will play a huge role in how well you win, so our team of experts has created this chalk talk of tips for manufacturers, makers and retailers preparing to take the field.

It’s weird, but it’s on BTW

First off Black Friday is not going away because of social distancing; it will just move to mostly online. And Cyber Monday isn’t going to just be annexed by black Friday. The two will likely meld a little in the days between and melt somewhat into the days before and after. 

Brace for impact

Hands and legs appearing from a sea of shopping bags with the text bubble ‘sale!’

This holiday season’s retail haul will be considerable—1% to 1.5% more than last year’s $1.14 trillion in spending according to Deloitte. They also forecast a 25% to 35% increase in online buying this year because of the pandemic. Retailers can expect more traffic during BFCM this year for another related reason: the major carriers have announced that there will be delivery delays. Consequently, people will be gift shopping earlier than ever this year for fear of presents not arriving in time. 

Playbook for a more fulfilling BFCM 2020

Take full advantage of the swelling opportunities during BFCM by making the right moves in ecommerce fulfillment to maximize your profits, minimize costs, gain repeat customers and deliver a brand-building experience. Here are our top plays for success during BFCM 2020.

A football-style game plan with x’s and o’s representing players

Plan contingently

A ton of people will be shopping online on Black Friday, Cyber Monday and the days surrounding them. They expect you to get their order right and deliver it in a timely fashion. Do anything you can ahead of time. Reorganize your fulfillment area, overstock your shipping supplies and preprint mailing labels for your most popular products.  

Prepare to delegate

Document the steps of your fulfillment process. Also lay out contingency plans for worst-case scenarios like: What do you do if your inventory is held up? Do you have alternate suppliers? Shippers? Where can you outsource fulfillment to when things get really hairy?

Call for backup early

Now’s the time to freshen up your list of potential ecommerce fulfillment partners and third-party logistics (3PL) providers. Reach out to ask them “How can you help me if...” Labor and warehouse space is tight and only going to get tighter during BFCM. So give them a heads-up. Establish contact and know your options. And if you plan to rely on friends and family to pick and pack for you, don’t wait to line them up for the weekend of Black Friday and the week following Cyber Monday.

Up your customer service game

Woman sitting on a chair next to variations of 1-5 star ratings

This BFCM is going to be different. Shoppers are jittery because of the predicted shipping delays and fear of stockouts. A lot of them are inexperienced shopping online, too. NetElixir says over 5% of all holiday online revenue will be driven by customers who are new to online shopping. So expect a high demand for customer service; and have enough people on hand to answer “where’s my package” emails, make changes, handle cancellations and answer questions. 

If couldn’t can’t handle a deluge of requests, it’s worth it to look into outsourcing. BFCM attracts many first-time customers to brands. Effectively resolving their issues in a timely fashion leads to repeat customers and earns loyalty. Now may be a good time to invest in that customer service software you’ve been researching. 

Master shipping rates BFCM-style

Shipping fees or the absence of them can make or break an ecommerce sale. This is especially true during BFCM when customers’ competitive nature to land the best deals and out-save their friends emerges. If you can’t offer free shipping, maybe try a flat fee that’s reduced a little but not totally—or just be transparent and give customers the carrier’s rate. Another way to soften the hit is to offer free shipping when customers spend a certain amount. 

Comparing carrier rates and ensuring you have the best prices is never more important than during BFCM when customers are watching every penny as a point of pride. If you don’t have the time, a 3PL can help. Part of their job is leveraging buying power to gain bulk discounts and priority service for shippers. 

Free shipping is an important value-add, but there are others. Free samples, coupons, stickers, a personal note—consumers value these things, too. 

Crush returns

There will be a lot of impulse buying during BFCM—not only as shoppers grab fleeting deals, but also when shoppers substitute items for others that were sold out. That means returns and lots of them. Returns present an often-overlooked opportunity to gain a devoted new customer or create a brand fan. According to Return Magic, 72% of consumers said they would spend more and buy more often with merchants that make the return experience simple. 

Ready to receive, inspect, exchange and refund your customers en mass and in a timely manner? It’s important. Not surprisingly, it’s a popular value-add provided by fulfillment partners. Consider one who can log in returns, initiate exchanges and refurbish/restock returned items for you. 

Don’t go dark

Hand turning off a light switch

Shipping delays are inevitable. So are stockouts. And some mix-ups are to be expected. During BFCM, diffuse disappointment by communicating proactively and defining expectations. Just because you’re out of something doesn’t mean shoppers will hate you. Customers appreciate knowing, and the transparency builds trust. If you can’t reach out yourself, delegate it or at the very least post general updates on your site or social channels. 

Be seamless between sales and fulfillment

If you’ve been managing inventory and shipment tracking on spreadsheets and/or a patchwork of software systems, BFCM will be a pressure test. Be sure and backup—your systems and yourself. The first is a given, but do you have your fulfillment processes documented in a list that a colleague or fulfillment partner could follow if you get buried?

Inventory management and shipment tracking are good things to outsource so you can focus on sales priorities. Software is available that makes it easy and integrates with your ecommerce platform, such as Shopify

Leave a lasting impression

BFCM gives you the opportunity to bring your store or brand experience to the customer. Take the opportunity to make an impression. Thoughtful wrapping, personal touches like a thank-you note or samples and coupons make BFCM more enjoyable. If you can’t scale your normal presentation during the black- and cyber-crunch, outsource it. The value-adds are worth it. Positive “initial introductions” during BFCM expand your market. It’s how you derive long-term value from short-term sales.  

Overall: play the long game

Whether you see BFCM as two spikes, a 4-day sprint or a weeks-long peak, it has the potential to right the wrongs of the past year in retail sales and to set many brands up for success in the new year. Now more than ever, how much companies make of the opportunities during BFCM depends on how well they fulfill on them. 

Say hello to Whiplash

Our Whiplash Platform enables the digital, omnichannel supply chain with fulfillment technology that transforms complex retail requirements into fail-safe instructions for warehouse employees worldwide. Through its growing partner network, Whiplash-backed facilities are strategically located worldwide. If you have a need and would like to speak to one of our order fulfillment specialists about the best service on the planet, we would love to help! 

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