The holidays are a stressful yet exciting time for retail industries. Sources forecast even more excitement this year, with retail sales predicted to increase by 4.5% in late 2023.

Prepared store owners will reap the rewards of massive profits. But it might feel like the ship is going down for the unprepared. It is crucial for online shoppers to plan ahead and stay informed about potential holiday shipping delays.

Check out our tips to learn more about shipping delays and how to prevent them.

What is a shipping delay or disruption?

A shipping delay or disruption causes an order to not arrive on its promised date. This results in a poor customer experience which might reflect in your product or company reviews.

What happens to holiday shipping delays during the holiday season? We buy lots of gifts for friends and family. So, naturally, when those gifts don’t show up on time, the giver shows up on special occasions empty-handed and embarrassed.

This means emotions run high when we face delivery delays. The risk is that customers will take that emotional energy and speak out against your company later.

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Overview of the challenges of the holiday shopping season and the potential effects on logistics

During the holiday season, a mass influx of new orders comes in. While this can be great for store owners, it’s hugely stressful for logistics workers.

Challenges can come up during any stage of the supply chain management process. Common touchpoints where issues occur include when the order is made, prepped, and goes out for delivery. Those working in logistics suddenly have to handle a massive number of orders. While despatch staff are usually highly attuned to working efficiently, it doesn’t take much for things to go wrong.

Logistics contingency plans are commonplace during the holidays. Some companies are well prepared for holiday shipping delays and still see an overwhelming backlog. Something as simple as running out of paper to print shipping labels can become a huge problem.

Other warehouses might not be prepared for the massive order volume. Experienced logistics managers don’t often make this mistake twice.

Below, you’ll learn more about the common causes of shipping disruptions.

Four causes of shipping delays and disruptions

  1. High order volumes. The holiday quarter accounts for 27% of most retail business. These large order volumes can be stressful, causing delays and creating a backlog of unfulfilled orders.
  2. Lack of resources. The resource that most often runs out is people. Companies can also lack other resources like delivery trucks, loading equipment, or space to fit the extra product.
  3. Weather conditions. While not holiday-specific, weather delays can be incredibly disruptive during the holidays. A lousy weather system can come through at the most inopportune moment, delaying orders for everyone.
  4. Global pandemic. During the COVID-19 Pandemic, e-commerce sales increased by a whopping 50%. Increases like this are unprecedented, causing a supply chain emergency.

These are just a few examples of what causes shipping disruptions. But ultimately, anything can happen, so be prepared.

You can also avoid some of the fallout from these circumstances by communicating honestly and transparently with customers. When your customers know what’s going on, they’ll be more understanding of your delays.

Four strategies to avoid shipping delays and disruptions

Planning is the ultimate tool to avoid potential delays. Below, you’ll see four tips to prevent these disruptions.

1. Analyse potential sales metrics

Metrics detail the data regarding potential sales for the future. With those available, you’ll be prepared for increases and lulls in your product.

If you’ve been selling the product for years, look at the previous year’s holiday statistics. This should give you a good idea of what to expect, allowing you to proactively order more inventory.

You can use special tools to gather this data if you sell on Amazon. This can be incredibly helpful when adding a new product to your lineup. Even if you don’t use Amazon, data from the e-commerce website is a great pulse for the industry.

If you need more help analysing trends on Amazon, read this guide.

2. Utilise supply chain technology

Supply chain disruptions can be handled by using the right technology. Companies from one to 100 thousand can leverage supply chain software to improve their processes.

Supply chain technology can help you identify bottlenecks in your process. It does this by improving your visibility, so you can easily find where inventory is and where it needs to be shipped.

Knowing where your inventory needs to go is crucial during the holiday season. As your inventory needs increase, having a straightforward way to track where it goes is essential.

Some investments allow for supply chain automation. Automating standard tasks will enable you to expand faster, handling larger order volumes without hiring more staff.

3. Optimise delivery routes

Optimising delivery routes saves money and time. When you look at where your delivery trucks go, you might spot some inefficiencies or common delay spots.

First, it helps to discuss with the courier drivers. Since they know the routes, they have some insights on what spots to avoid.

UPS has a unique policy of avoiding most turns into oncoming traffic. It prevents the vehicles from idling (which saves on fuel) and avoids getting stuck at intersections (which saves time).

Plan when optimising these routes, and communicate the route expectations with drivers. This helps with major bottlenecks when out on the road.

4. Pre-plan for peak season

As we said at the top of this section, planning is the ultimate tool for avoiding delays and disruptions. So, if you want to be ready for peak season, plan early.

We’ve discussed this in passing in the prior three sections: setting up supply chain software, researching the trends, and planning your route. For everything else, have a pre-plan checklist at the ready that includes these three items and the list below:

  • Test your store page to be sure it works (especially if you plan on implementing a new design for the holidays)
  • Prepare your store page for an influx of new traffic
  • Check with your fulfilment team to see if they need anything extra
  • Be sure all equipment is in working order
  • Check your supply levels (boxes, printing paper, etc.)
  • Test all your channels (social selling, store page, Amazon store, etc.)
  • Check with your marketing team to align on promotions

If you sell on Amazon (or through any third-party marketplace), get your inventory out to fulfilment centres early. Otherwise, everyone else should be ready at least a month before the peak season starts.

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Shipping disruptions and delays can be a massive headache for buyers and sellers. The holiday season adds an extra level of stress on top of this.

Disruptions can be caused by weather conditions, high order volumes, or even global pandemics. By avoiding these shipping delays and planning ahead, you’ll reduce customer frustration, increase your earnings, and have less stress.

So ask yourself, how do you plan on avoiding shipping delays in your business?

To help avoid delays and disruptions, create an account with New Zealand Couriers. Our services include next-day delivery and international shipping, giving you the best chance to avoid these common delays.