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Managing the peak holiday season: your e-commerce guide

Business · 7 min read

Managing the peak holiday season: your e-commerce toolkit

Black Friday and Christmas are just around the corner which means your e-commerce business should be preparing now. From inventory management to order fulfilment, follow our guide to ensure your supply chain can handle the peak trading season and maximize every sales opportunity. 

The days are getting shorter, the leaves are turning orange, and Starbucks’ pumpkin latte is back in stock. But for retailers, Fall is most significant as the countdown to the busiest shopping period of the year.

The peak season typically kicks off on Black Friday (to be held on 26th November this year), followed by Cyber Monday (29th November), and then Christmas. Furthermore, in recent years, China’s Singles' Day (11th November) has also crept onto Western shoppers’ radars, which means it should be in your sales calendar too.

Though these are the official dates, many e-commerce retailers have begun offering deals earlier and earlier in the season to cash in on the buzz, which means your business should be preparing for the rush now.  Efficient supply chain management in e-commerce is vital, so, where to begin? Read on for the key considerations that will help you maximize every sales opportunity this holiday season.

Get your website in tip-top shape

Your e-commerce website is soon going to receive an increase in traffic so now is the time to fix any bugs and make improvements. Is it prepared to manage the surge without the page loading speed suffering? Your site should have easy navigation with a powerful search bar to help customers find what they’re looking for, and offer product recommendations based on their previous browsing history to give them a personalized experience. Ensure any seasonal sales are clearly highlighted on the home page.

Remember too, that customers want an easy and fast checkout experience, so offer Guest Checkout to save them having to fill in lots of details. Also, shoppers are 70% more likely to finalize a purchase if their preferred payment method is displayed at checkout2, so give lots of options.

Don’t forget about mobile!

M-commerce is growing faster than ever, so make sure your online store is optimized for the small screen. Have you thought about larger font and button sizes? Removed excess logins and pop ups? Kept form fields to a minimum so your customers don’t have to deal with unnecessary and fiddly information entry? These factors are crucial to any successful m-commerce strategy. Our guide to mobile commerce will help you cover the necessities and keep customers browsing.

Create content now

Your marketing content calendar should have been planned already (if not get on it today!) and posts should be created now, ready to publish when the time comes. This means you can focus on selling and inventory management during the busiest period instead of worrying about how your social feed looks.

Email marketing campaigns, festive competitions and social media posts will all build buzz around your company’s seasonal promotions, and gift guides are sure to be a winner too. Don’t be afraid to use a fun tone of voice across comms – it’s the countdown to Christmas after all!

Demand planning

It’s called peak season for a reason; it’s not unusual for some retailers to make over 50% or more of their annual sales in the month to Christmas. Yet, knowing exactly which products will be your biggest sellers may take a little digging. A good place to start is to look at your sales analytics from last year’s peak season to see what sold well, what didn’t, and what days are likely to be your busiest. Keep a close eye on industry trends, and listen to customers’ feedback on social media to get an idea of their preferences this year.

Ultimately, agility is crucial. Be ready to adapt quickly – if something isn’t selling as well as you’d hoped, offering extra discounts can help shift the stock. Be flexible and willing to price match with competitors too.

Managing international suppliers

It’s common practice for sellers to source products and materials from overseas manufacturers, where production is cheaper. Yet, it’s been a tricky 18 months for global supply chains. As if the pandemic wasn’t enough, Brexit and Europe’s VAT de minimis removal have increased the complexities of cross-border trading. If you’re relying on manufacturers from overseas, it’s important to have regular communication throughout the busy period. You should be checking in with your suppliers several times a week for status updates on all purchase orders so that if there are delays or problems, you can react quickly to find a solution that won’t disappoint customers.

You may also want to consider diversifying your suppliers. Relying on just one has always had risks, even before the recent global disruptions. Having more than one gives your business a safety net should unexpected events occur, and there will also be fewer bottlenecks in your production line at times of peak demand.

Inventory management

This can be one of the trickiest elements to manage in the midst of peak trading. You know you’re going to need more stock than usual, but how much more? Overestimate and you’ll have excess products on your hands that could take months to shift (especially tricky if the goods are seasonal) - but underestimate, and you risk losing customers who try to buy a product from your website only to be told it’s out of stock.

Another challenge lies in store for multichannel retailers. If you’re selling through an e-commerce website and a bricks-and-mortar store, the complexities of tracking all the incoming and outgoing stock increases. You may also be selling via an online marketplace, which adds another channel to monitor. Before you know it, you’re in spreadsheet hell, trying to track inventory across multiple touchpoints, and spending a great deal of time creating listings for each.

Implementing a single inventory management system for all channels will save you time and reduce your mistakes. QuickBooks Commerce3 (formerly Trade Gecko) is one such example. The solution is specifically designed to help multi-channel retailers manage their inventory seamlessly. Brands can enter their product information into the platform which then pushes it out to all e-commerce channels, whether an online marketplace, mobile shopping app, independent website or a combination of all. It means a brand’s online stores will always display the latest product details, available products, and the exact stock on hand for each item. It also shows, in real time, stock level updates across warehouse and stores, and syncs with purchase orders. Jump online and do some research to find the best inventory management system for your business.

Streamline processes

Aligning your supply chain processes is something you should be doing anyway, not just during peak season. An order management system (OMS) will monitor data from your various systems to track sales, orders, inventory and fulfillment so that you can get your orders to your customers cheaper and faster.

Ultimately, an agile supply chain is a strong supply chain, and an OMS will help you build that by informing you immediately when orders are cancelled, inventory quantities change, or there are delays with fulfillment, so that you can pivot quickly.

Automate your warehouse

During peak season, your warehouse will be a thriving hub of activity, so make sure it’s set up to optimize time and space. Consider automating as many processes as possible – whether picking, packing or managing e-commerce returns. Making changes such as altering the layout so that the most in-demand products are closest to the pack stations will save valuable time.

Ask your employees for their suggestions to improve efficiencies. After all, they are the ones on the frontline, so can see where time is wasted, or processes are overcomplicated. 

Plan your staffing needs

This is something you definitely don’t want to leave until the last minute. Bring in extra staff as early as possible so that you have time to properly train them. Great customer service is what keeps customers coming back, after all. 

Unboxing magic

Your products’ packaging gives you a unique opportunity to add a little bit of extra magic to your customers’ purchases – something they’ll particularly value with their Christmas orders – so get creative! Remember too, that consumers are increasingly eco-conscious when shopping online so consider using sustainable packaging to make a positive impact.

Delivery

Inventory and e-commerce supply chain challenges are all for your business to worry about, but the only part your customers care about is delivery. They expect international shipping as standard and want their purchases delivered fast, on time – and preferably for free. Use DHL’s E-commerce Website Health Check as a guide to help you tick off the key features you should be offering at checkout.

Outsourcing your shipping and fulfillment to a reliable and trusted logistics provider like DHL means you’ll have more time to focus on other areas of your business that need your attention during the busy period – like inventory and customer management.

After the sale

E-commerce returns should be a key part of your after-sales strategy, too. As annoying as they are to manage, they're not going away. Giving customers a simple, stress-free returns experience can be the difference between them returning to your store or not so make sure you get it right.

So, you’ve made it through the busy period, and managed to get your customers’ orders shipped on time. But, before you put your feet up and wait for Santa’s arrival, it’s time to think about your after-sales strategy. Peak season may have brought new customers to your store and you want to ensure they’ll return. Sending a thank-you email is a nice touch, and inviting customer feedback will help you improve your service over the next year, too. 

Are you selling in the right places?

A good place to start in your peak trading planning is to give your existing business a general health “check-up”.

Firstly, are you selling on the right platforms to reach your target customers? The customer path-to-purchase has become increasingly fluid. They might browse your products on social media and then go in store to purchase, or head straight to your website to buy after a nudge from a marketing email. Yet, they don’t treat these sales channels in silos, so it’s important you invest in your omni-channel retail strategy to deliver a unified brand experience at each touchpoint.

1 - Wunderman Thompson Commerce, Marketing Charts, May 2020

2 - 2Checkout blog, June 2020

3 - QuickBooks Commerce

Anna Thompson
Anna Thompson Discover content team

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