The holiday shopping season – which kicks off in October, reaches its pinnacle during “the Turkey 5” (the five days between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday), and lasts until the end of the year – is a pivotal period for ecommerce businesses. Indeed, online retailers can rack up over 40% of their annual sales during the holiday shopping season.
We are seeing a shift in consumer behavior, with more and more shoppers going online to make their holiday purchases. In 2022, online holiday sales soared to a record high of $211.7 billion, representing a 3.5% year-over-year rise. And analysts predict that 2023 will see an even greater number of consumers doing their holiday shopping online.
To satisfy demand and capitalize on the opportunities for revenue growth during the peak shopping period, ecommerce businesses like yours must be able to effectively manage end-to-end logistics operations.
But handling logistics for the high volume of online orders during the holiday season is no easy feat and, unfortunately, there’s no Santa Claus that can magically deliver your products from the factory floor to your customer’s door. That’s why so many ecommerce businesses engage third-party logistics (3PL) providers to help them with their inventory management and order fulfillment during the holidays.
In this guide, we discuss some of the common logistics challenges that ecommerce companies like yours face during the end-of-the-year peak, and explain how a 3PL provider can help you successfully deliver products, delight customers, and drive revenue growth during the busy holiday shopping season.
The holiday shopping season presents a unique set of logistics challenges that ecommerce merchants must grapple with. Although each year’s peak season is different, there are a handful of common challenges that emerge every year:
Dealing with these and other holiday shopping season logistics challenges can be overwhelming, but fortunately there are 3PL providers out there that can help you overcome these obstacles.
Amazon Multi-Channel Fulfillment (MCF), for example, can help you handle your holiday order fulfillment challenges by:
- Allowing you to leverage Amazon’s fulfillment network – which has over 2,000 facilities (including more than 200 fulfillment centers) – to handle the surge in customer orders during peak season. MCF provides order fulfillment – with shipping speeds as fast as one day, a >97% on-time delivery rate, and deliveries made 7 days a week – for orders from off-Amazon sales channels including your brand website, other ecommerce marketplaces, and social media stores.
- Enabling you to utilize MCF’s 3PL services on demand – with simple, pay-as-you-go pricing for fulfillment and storage – so that you can easily scale your logistics operations up and get the warehouse, workforce, and transportation capacity you need to cope with the influx of customer orders during the holidays.
- Helping you to optimize your inventory management by:
- Consolidating your stock into a single pool that can be used across all your sales channels. MCF orders are fulfilled using the same inventory pool that you use for your Amazon.com orders (with Fulfillment by Amazon or FBA) – so that can maximize inventory turnover and minimize stockouts.
- Distributing your inventory across Amazon’s fulfillment network so it’s as close as possible to your customer base – thereby minimizing shipping times and costs.
- Leveraging cutting-edge technologies such as warehouse management systems and scanners to give you an accurate, real-time view of your inventory levels as well as warehouse robotics to automate and expedite your order processing.
- Providing carrier services using Amazon’s fleet of over 120,000 trucks, vans, and planes to deliver your holiday season orders. Most 3PLs depend on external carriers to ship orders, but a handful of 3PLs – including MCF – are carriers themselves. By dealing directly with MCF as your carrier, you can ensure that your peak season shipping needs will be met.
- Managing the end-to-end returns process – from handling the shipping of unwanted products, to receiving and processing them at Amazon’s fulfillment centers, to helping you assess whether they should be disposed of or added back into your Amazon inventory.
With a 3PL like MCF, you can conquer the logistics challenges of the peak season, and consistently deliver packages on time and deliver smiles to the faces of holiday shoppers around the globe.
What does your ecommerce business need to do to make sure you are ready and able to manage the spike in orders during the holidays?
Although there’s no blueprint for success when it comes to holiday order fulfillment, there are three key actions you can take that will help you prepare for peak.
#1: Choose the right 3PL provider
As we’ve discussed above, the holiday shopping season brings with it a whole slew of logistics challenges and complexity – and a 3PL can help you navigate those difficulties.
Ecommerce companies of all sizes – from small- and medium-sized businesses to large enterprises – opt to outsource logistics operations to 3PL providers during the end-of-year shopping period (and at other times as well).
Of course, it’s imperative that you choose the right 3PL for your unique business needs – and there are tons of providers out there to pick from. When evaluating prospective 3PLs to help you handle your peak season order fulfillment, some important questions to ask are:
- Does the 3PL offer the range of services that your business needs during the holiday shopping season?
- Does the 3PL have a global network of warehouses and fulfillment centers in the markets where your suppliers and customers are located?
- Does the 3PL have the capacity and flexibility necessary to handle the spikes in order volumes that you’re likely to see during the peak season?
- Does the 3PL have contingency plans in place to handle weather issues and other supply chain disruptions and unexpected events?
- Does the 3PL have a pricing model that works for your business?
- When is the 3PL’s cutoff date (after which you won’t be able to inbound new shipments of inventory to their warehousing and fulfillment center facilities for holiday season orders)?
- Does the 3PL have strong relationships with carriers (or are they – like MCF – a carrier themselves) so that they can ensure you get the shipping capacity and rates you need to fuel your holiday season order fulfillment?
By asking these and other questions, you can identify the right 3PL partner that can help your business thrive during the peak shopping season and beyond. Learn more about the questions to ask prospective 3PLs.
#2: Establish alignment across your team
For your ecommerce business to be successful during the busy holiday season, everyone on your internal team (from sales and marketing to product to operations) needs to be on the same page.
Establishing coordination and collaboration across your internal team ahead of the end-of-year holiday shopping season is paramount. Take the time to ensure all your internal team members are aligned, and involve your 3PL as early and as much as possible in your holiday season planning and preparations. Indeed, giving your 3PL a seat at the table during your internal team’s peak season planning discussions will help you get a good grasp of their capacity and service-level agreements (SLAs) during the holidays – so you can tailor your sales, marketing, inbounding, and other plans accordingly.
#3: Develop an integrated peak season plan with your 3PL
Once you’ve firmly established the lines of communication and collaboration across your internal team and with your 3PL, you can work together to generate an integrated peak season plan that covers sales, order fulfillment, inventory management, and other areas. You will probably want to start putting together this integrated plan for the holiday shopping season a few months before the onset of “the Turkey 5” – so that you can make you’re ready for the surge in customer orders.
Your integrated peak season plan should encompass several critical components, including:
Once you’ve gotten input from all key stakeholders – including your 3PL – and pulled together your integrated peak season, you are ready to start executing that that plan. As the saying goes, “Plan your work and work your plan” – get your team aligned and prepared conquer the challenges of the peak season order fulfillment, and then put your plan into action!
The holiday shopping season is a time of high importance for shoppers, who want to have all their orders for family and friends delivered on time. According to recent research, 65% of shoppers are worried about shipping delays during the holiday season.
To meet customers’ expectations for fast, reliable order fulfillment during the holidays and manage the huge volume of orders, ecommerce businesses like yours need to overcome numerous challenges.
By engaging the right 3PL provider, establishing alignment across your team, and putting in place an integrated peak season plan, you can set up your ecommerce business to succeed during the holiday shopping season and beyond.