The holidays are coming. Are you making a list of things your new eCommerce business needs to do? Checking it twice?
We are, too. Your first holiday sales season as an online store owner can be a lot, so we’re walking through the basic prep you can do now for a successful fourth quarter.
Our series on how to rock your online store’s first holiday season has covered:
- Planning holiday promotions
- Marketing your holiday promotions
- Creating exclusive offers for holiday shoppers
Serve up special delivery options and perks for your holiday shoppers
Now, let’s look at what can be one of the most fun parts of your store’s holiday experience: giving customers the extras and special options they want for gifting and delivery.
Holiday gift wrap and messages
Unwrapping presents makes the holidays fun. Ordering, wrapping and re-mailing them, not so much. You can help your customers by offering to wrap their purchases and include a message before you ship them out.
Not skilled at making sharp corners with wrapping paper? Offer to ship gifts in a cute box or bag instead. Be sure to serve up some great photos of the gift wrap you offer and show a couple of wrapped or bagged items ready to go. Then add gift wrap to your checkout menu.
What to charge: Because wrapping paper and gift boxes are inexpensive, you can turn a profit on this quick but crucial service. Many large retailers charge between $4 and $6 per items, so feel free to charge in that range.
Local same-day and next-day deliveries
In our post on holiday exclusives, we mentioned the possibility of offering special deals for local delivery only, like a locally themed gift basket or something too delicate or bulky to ship.
This kind of offer works well if you have customers (or potential customers) near your fulfillment center and if you have a way to deliver the goods. So how do you do that, especially if you’re your store’s only employee?
One option is to hire a temporary delivery driver to handle your local orders. You’ll know exactly who’s making deliveries, which is a plus. However, adding someone to your payroll and insurance may only make financial sense if you expect to have a steady stream of local delivery requests through the holidays.
If you’re not sure how many local deliveries you’ll have, or if you don’t have the time to onboard a new employee right now, consider a delivery service. Dropoff and Roadie cater to local businesses and take care of screening, insuring and training their drivers.
What to charge? Make local delivery on your holiday exclusives free for your customers. Just bake the cost of delivery plus a bit of profit into the price of the items that are available for delivery.
Comprehensive package tracking and insurance
Everybody who buys online wants to know where their stuff is and when it will arrive. Just before the holidays, the need to know gets even more intense. Will their mom’s gift get there in time? Will the package get stolen off the porch? What if it’s damaged?
The result can be lots of calls and emails to your customer service desk, just at a time when you have a million other holiday-related issues to focus on. But you can’t leave your customers wondering.
Fortunately, you have options to help your customers track their stuff and file claims if there’s a problem.
Tracking and claims through the shipping carrier
This is the option many small businesses start with. UPS, USPS, FedEx and others can provide tracking numbers your customers can use to keep tabs on their stuff. Carriers also offer insurance, although filing a claim for a lost or damaged package can be a bit of a hassle.
Tracking through a shipping extension or app
If you want to give your customers more than basic carrier shipping data, consider an extension or app that goes the extra mile. Here are a few popular options to consider:
- With a site extension like WooCommerce Shipment Tracking your store can give customers an easier way to track their stuff from your site or their emails.
- With a shipping and returns app like Shippo connected to your store, your customers can see the progress of their packages and their estimated time of arrival – helpful for foiling porch pirates.
- Another app, Route, does package tracking and takes on shipment-related customer service inquiries and package claims to save you and your customers time.
What to charge: Not a thing. Package tracking is table stakes for eCommerce. Build the cost of any paid tracking services into your product pricing.
Holiday return policies
Customers check return policies before they buy, and they prefer the kind of no-hassle, no-cost return policy that Amazon has had for years.
What to charge? To customers, the ideal return fee is $0. But returns get expensive for merchants.
It’s a conundrum the whole eCommerce industry is wrestling with: How can you balance your customers’ reasonable desire to return purchases or gifts that don’t work with your need to avoid losing too much money on return costs?
Here are some options.
- Offer a free-return policy just for the holiday season and a few weeks beyond, so that your customers’ gift recipients can return items that aren’t quite right. That can keep your customers happy and encourage them to buy from you, without forcing you to bear the full cost of return shipping year-round.
- Another option? Charge for return shipping but waive your normal restocking fee for returns during a special holiday window.
- Include return labels with all your outgoing packages during the holidays to make things easy for your customers. If you use a shipping and reverse-logistics app like Shippo (which works with our eCommerce Website Builder), you’re only charged return postage if the customer uses the label.
- Offer gift receipts that don’t show the purchase price but do include information for returns and exchanges.
- Don’t want to offer returns? Sell items like swimwear or cosmetics that can’t safely be returned? Offer store credit or exchanges instead of returns.
If you make holiday changes to your return policy, make sure to let customers know and clearly spell out the dates when the holiday policy is in effect. Update your site’s return page, mention the updated policy during checkout and put a “holiday return policy” link on each page.
The steps above are great for building loyalty in your customers. But there’s no denying that returns cost you money. Here are a couple of options for reducing the impact on your bottom line.
- Add an “open box” section in your store where budget-conscious shoppers can buy returned items in good condition at a discount, to help you recover some of your return costs.
- Consider partnering with a liquidator (Overstock and B-Stock are a couple of well-known examples) to sell your returned inventory.
Now that you have ideas for making holiday deliveries special and easy for your customers, we need to think about how to get those orders delivered on time, without busting your budget.
In the next Rock the Holidays post, we’ll get into the finer points of delivery that all eCommerce merchants need to know. From cutoff dates to holiday surcharges to international shipping policies, we’ll help you get up to speed on shipping for your store’s first holiday season.