What You Can Learn from This Year's "Cyber Week"

This year’s “Cyber Week” -- the quickly growing trend in which retailers stretch out their Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals online -- proved extremely popular for consumers and highly profitable for brands. But not every retailer was ready for the deluge of online shoppers flocking to their websites in search of deals and the resulting influx of orders. Macy’s saw their website go down during peak hours while a cargo pilot strike caused delayed shipping and delivery for Amazon and DHL. So with this high-pressure, high-yield week behind us, here are some key take-aways for retailers.

Preparation is (almost) everything

When it comes to order fulfillment, preparation is key to success, and we’ve written previously on the importance of establishing a holiday shipping plan of action with your shipping partner.

When the number of orders is high, the level of preparation must match that. But how you prepare is just as important as what you prepare. Of course, retailers are going to want to equip their websites for a high volume of traffic, but they should also make sure their website’s shipping information is accurate and up-to-date so customers know what to expect. If shipping windows are different due to the holiday season, your customers need to know before they buy.

The best way to properly gauge and manage expectations during milestone shopping days like Black Friday and Cyber Monday is to forecast and communicate those expectations with your shipping partner, especially if you’ve planned holiday promotions or flash sales — the resulting number of orders cause a bottleneck on their end if they’re unable to prepare. Shippers can add staff, lanes and even extra shifts as necessary to mitigate a high order volume, but it’s essential they know in advance.

Customers appreciate updates, dislike delays

While customer expectations for fast and low-cost shipping continues to loom large over the heads of shippers and retailers alike. Customer expectations have increased in recent years, with many expecting overnight shipping options and, in many cases, “free” shipping altogether. Unsurprisingly then, customers now expect shipping updates earlier and more often.

OSM Worldwide’s 2016 “The State of Online Shopper Expectations and Actions” study found that a third of online shoppers would contact customer service when a non-urgent item arrives even just one day late. And 79 percent would contact customer service if a non-urgent was running three days late. This is less surprising in light of the study’s findings that more than half, at 55 percent, of online shoppers expect order status updates to be current as of few hours ago.

Argos, the popular British catalogue retailer, learned this the hard way last year when a spike of orders during the holiday shopping season caused a number of delayed and canceled packages without explanation. Customers had to call in to find out what was going on with their orders, with many waiting hours to speak to a customer service representative and with many others being disconnected. The lapse in communication prompted a spate of dissatisfied customers to flood social media and review pages with angry comments.

Bottom line: Retailers, and by extension their shipping partners, must be able to let customer know where their package is at all times, and if there is a delay, they must make sure it is communicated to them as quickly and accurately as possible.

Your shipping partner is your best friend

When it comes to Black Friday and Cyber Monday, order fulfilment provider/shipping partners are a bit like Santa’s elves, working silently behind the scenes to make the magic happen. Of course, when everything goes right and packages are delivered on time to happy customers, it doesn’t exactly make headline news.

But the relative success of this year’s Cyber Week speaks to the organization, efficiency and logistical mastery that retailers and shipping partners have achieved in recent years to avoid debilitating bottlenecks and large-scale delays.

Communication is key to keep things running smoothly during the hectic and high-volume holiday shopping season, and it is the retailers who communicate their needs and expectations well in advance are the most prepared, and ultimately, the most successful when it comes time to fulfill all those Cyber Week orders.

Order fulfilment is the last step in the customer journey and integral part of the customer experience. Outsourcing fulfillment is often a smart choice for retailers, but to deliver a superior and seamless customer experience, from first contact to delivery, they must stay tuned in with their shipping provider.

For more information on choosing the right shipping partner, visit our previous blog post here.