By Heather Hughes
Last year, to put it mildly, was not a normal year. One result of having significantly more people staying at home during the pandemic was a huge increase in online shopping, which strained the capacity of many delivery companies. It all culminated with a shipping pile-up during the holiday season as Americans sent an estimated three billion packages — an 800 million increase from the previous year — that industry experts called “Shipageddon.”
As we count down the final days before Christmas 2021, this year has turned into a different kind of nail-biter for many small business owners. First-mile supply chain slowdowns have delayed the delivery of merchandise from wholesalers to stores, putting retailers at a disadvantage in getting those items delivered to customers before Dec. 25. This comes as their customers are visiting their storefront less and less, preferring instead to “add to cart” from the comfort of their homes — a rapid acceleration of a pre-pandemic trend.
For business owners currently confronting last-mile delivery challenges, there may still be options for reducing delays right now. But just as importantly, the calm after the great holiday retail storm can be an ideal time for retailers to begin getting a better delivery strategy in place for the coming year.
Here are some strategies to help small retailers minimize delivery delays – through this holiday season and beyond:
- Look for providers with no holiday cut-off dates. With many retailers receiving merchandise later than normal due to supply chain issues, you can maximize sales and customer satisfaction by using delivery providers that let your customers shop right up till Christmas Eve with same-day delivery. For a package to arrive before Christmas, many carriers’ 2021 holiday cut-off dates ranged from December 9 to 23, depending on service type. But some same-day providers aren’t applying holiday cut-offs, which means the only cut-offs are any that retailers choose to apply themselves.
- Don’t put all your eggs in one delivery basket. The biggest takeaway from the 2020 peak season is that it’s no longer wise to have just one delivery mechanism for your online sales. With so many variables that might affect the reliability of a particular mode of delivery, the key is to go all-in on omnichannel. That is, creating a menu of various delivery methods at various speeds, including options like curbside pickup and buy-online, pickup-in-store. You might also want to have more than one delivery or shipping provider, which gives you a backup in case one of your partners – or your own in-house delivery vehicles – starts struggling with peak-season volumes, or imposing volume limits.
- Monitor on-time performance. A big part of customer satisfaction comes from on-time delivery, particularly with holiday gifts and supplies. As you assess delivery options, pay attention to providers’ recent on-time performance. Some providers offer options like real-time tracking, signature on delivery and photo confirmation, which can make it easier for you to monitor a delivery’s progress.
- Look for flexibility in your delivery mix. Retailers understand that consumer demand can be notoriously unpredictable. A quiet period might be broken by your business’s busiest day in recent memory, or a prolonged time of heavy demand might suddenly slow down for no apparent reason. Smart retailers need to have a delivery mix capable of handling both extremes. One way of accomplishing that is to add crowdsourced delivery, which taps into an on-demand network of independent drivers to handle same-day, scheduled and urgent deliveries. One of the major benefits of crowdsourcing is that it’s as scalable and flexible as retailers need it to be. Pricing is also transparent and upfront, because the best crowdsourced providers don’t apply surcharges for handling, fuel costs, evening and weekend deliveries, big-and-bulky items, and hard-to-reach destinations.
- Consider options with fast onboarding. If your business didn’t get its delivery mix right this year, time is running short to fix it before Christmas. But post-holiday sales are right around the corner, and it’s never too early to start thinking about next year’s peak season. The good news is that some delivery providers offer an accelerated onboarding process that takes just days, not weeks. By starting to explore options for your delivery mix now, your business will be well-positioned to handle high delivery volumes whenever they arrive in 2022.
Heather Hughes manages communications at Roadie, a crowdsourced delivery platform with more than 200,000 drivers nationwide reaching more than 20,000 zip codes.