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Everything has changed this year, and holiday shopping is no exception. As the coronavirus continues to spread, retailers have had to come up with creative ways to attract Black Friday shoppers while creating a safe shopping experience. In addition to implementing contactless pickup options, stores are widening their aisles, adding registers to avoid congestion and offering pre-booked shopping times.

But despite retailers’ efforts to make in-store shopping as safe as possible, three-quarters of people surveyed by RetailMeNot said they prefer to shop online this year. The same percentage said they will try to have their holiday shopping done as early as possible. That means businesses must be ready to deliver, so we’ve put together a rundown of strategies to help you prepare and make the season bright for you and your customers.


Extend your sale dates

Carrier capacity will be tighter than ever this season, and holiday shoppers are being warned to prepare for delays and bottlenecks that some are calling “Shipageddon.” In fact, due to these anticipated delays, experts say those who haven’t yet started their holiday shopping are already behind. One way to help your customers receive their orders in time for the holidays is by expanding your Black Friday sales window. Giving customers early holiday deals can be a great way to spread out demand over a more manageable timeframe and alleviate shipping bottlenecks.


Prepare inventory for the rush

There are several ways to get your inventory in top shape ahead of Black Friday/Cyber Monday. Before the rush starts, verify that you have enough inventory to meet demand. Reviewing historical sales data and which products have been popular can help you predict which items are likely to be top-sellers. Additionally, retailers should dispose of “dead inventory,” or slow-moving stock that takes up space and ties up cash. This will help make room for new items and safety stock to lower your risk of stockouts. Smaller retailers that have limited capacity and don’t want to risk overstocking items should consider having similar products available so customers can purchase comparable items.


Assemble bundles in advance

When holiday shopping, consumers are not just looking for discounts but value. One way retailers deliver extra value during the holidays is through product bundles and bonus gifts, which hold greater value than standalone products. Mystery boxes—packages filled with surprise products—are another increasingly popular way to captivate holiday shoppers. These not only create an exciting customer experience, but also help retailers clear out inventory. Ask your fulfillment partner to do kitting and assembly in advance to ensure these items are ready before the holiday rush. If you perform these services in house, store the bundled items near each other so they can be picked and packed more efficiently.


Offer free shipping and options

Amazon has had an undeniable impact on consumer expectations. Shoppers want to order products with ease and receive them quickly without paying for shipping. Free shipping makes shoppers feel like they’re getting a deal, and many will even buy more items to hit the free shipping minimum order threshold. While many shoppers will choose free shipping if given the choice, others will be willing to pay more for expedited delivery. Research shows that customers simply want options.


Optimize your packaging—and make it special

Your packaging is an extension of your brand and a critical component of the customer experience. Packaging not only provides in-transit protection but also presents an opportunity for cost savings. Evaluate whether you are using the right materials—and the right amount of materials—for maximum efficiency. Optimizing the size and weight of your packaging and eliminating excess materials saves you money while also reducing the environmental impact.

Another important packaging consideration is the experience your customer will have when they open their package. Memorable, unique packaging that gives customers a special (and frustration-free) unboxing experience can improve your brand value and turn customers into brand advocates. A thank-you note, coupon, bonus gift or sample will also surprise your customer and make them feel appreciated. With the number of YouTube channels dedicated to unboxing and the millions of views they garner, it seems likely that having memorable packaging is a trend that’s here to stay.


Be prepared for returns

When the rush of returns starts, usually shortly after Black Friday or Cyber Monday, it is critical for businesses to have a strong returns management plan in place to deliver a positive customer experience and build trust and loyalty. An effective returns strategy should be focused on expediency and transparency, which require proper planning, systems and resources.

To process a greater number of returns as efficiently as possible, make sure that you are properly staffed and that you’re taking advantage of automated workflows in your system. It’s also important to be transparent about your return policy and ensure it is communicated clearly so customers know what to expect. And, as always, customers should have full visibility to shipment and tracking information.


Take care of your employees

Last but certainly not least, remember to take care of your team. Employees who feel appreciated are more likely to provide quality customer service and be more productive. With the high-stress environment of a fulfillment center around Black Friday and Cyber Monday, plus the longer holiday hours, this time of year is at high-risk for employee turnover. Maintain open communication by having conversations with employees to make sure they feel appreciated during this critical time.

Your supply chain planning is tested during peak seasons like Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but with proper preparation and a flexible range of options, your supply chain can meet these challenges. Our team of professionals is here with industry-leading supply chain solutions and services to support your business and help you deliver excellence all year long. Contact us today at 877.728.5328 to speak with one of our supply chain experts.