By: Aaron Rubin, Founder & CEO of ShipHero
- You can’t enter the 2021 holiday season without taking a critical look at your inventory and fulfillment procedures. It’s as simple as stepping back from the business and asking yourself: What looks ridiculously stupid here?
- Protect your business now from the ups and downs of peak season staffing changes and current labor shortages. Start with the basics: a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) and consistent training protocol.
- Boost your holiday sales with complementary products or by partnering with third-party marketplaces.
If you’ve been in business for a while, and maybe expanded your facilities but would like to scale even further, it’s time to stop trying to be a superhero. Managing all facets of your brand’s operations singlehandedly leaves it vulnerable to mistakes.
Mistakes can be devastating for an eCommerce business during a season as important as the holidays.
I recently spoke with Steve Hutt on the eCommerce Fastlane podcast about how to avoid overselling and other classic faux pas committed by fast-growing eCommerce merchants.
We discussed why you’re most vulnerable to the invisible retention vampire during peak season, how your staffing and inventory management can improve with closer attention to internal processes, and how tools like ShipHero can facilitate the kind of growth you never thought possible.
I lay out five central pieces of advice for you here, but I highly recommend listening to the episode for the full details of our conversation.
1. Look at Your Business From a Bird’s Eye View
When you’re busy overseeing warehouse operations and making sure the day’s orders go out, you get stuck in a dangerous, all-too-common loop. One new hire or unexpected increase in sales can leave you barely managing chaos.
Like many entrepreneurs, you can’t see the proverbial forest for the trees. Then, peak season pops up and only highlights your weaknesses.
Before considering how you’ll profit from Black Friday Cyber Monday (BFCM) 2021, it’s important to zoom out.
Be a drone: Look at your business from an outside perspective and get honest with yourself. Which things are you and your team doing that simply don’t make sense?
It might be helpful to bring in an unbiased friend or family member to observe how things work (or don’t work) in your shipping and receiving methods. You might be surprised at the inefficiencies they catch — and that’s the idea.
Getting radically honest with yourself about what’s not serving your business infrastructure and long-term goals is the first step in making productive change.
2. Prioritize Accurate Inventory
The reality is that most merchants don’t think about having a process for inventory management. They just stick with what they’ve always done, even if their business is no longer in its infancy.
Don’t be like most. Don’t unknowingly oversell.
Telling a customer you can’t follow through on what you said you had in stock might seem like a normal part of the eCommerce business, but it shouldn’t be. You should know what you have in stock at any given moment, and that should be properly reflected live on your website and on any third-party marketplaces.
Overselling is an invisible vampire. It can suck away your potential for customer retention faster than anything else — especially during the holiday season.
Q4 has the potential to be your most profitable — and it has the same potential to destroy your reputation. It’s hard to predict how the courier companies are going to handle the demand this year, so overselling could mean being responsible for holiday gifts not being delivered on time. Disappointed customers will spread their negative experiences with your company all over social media. You may not be able to survive those negative Twitter mentions, so it’s best to avoid them altogether.
Luckily, most of the inventory problems that could lead to the dreaded overselling problem are easily addressable.
3. Protect Your Staff With Defined Internal Processes
In the critical holiday months, there’s no time for delays, but that’s exactly what the industry as a whole may face this year. Things may feel like they’re slowly returning to normal post-pandemic, but you’d be remiss not to prepare for additional COVID variants and restrictions, which could lead to unpredictable staffing issues.
Preempt the effects of the current labor shortage and seasonal staff turnover by delineating your SOP and training protocol now.
One of the best strategies to eliminate some of this risk is to cross-train your team so your key staff members aren’t irreplaceable. You should have training manuals for each role (accessible in the cloud). Set aside time for staff to document how they do their jobs before you hit the peak busy period. That way, anyone can step in if need be.
When you have systems in place, your team and warehouse will be ready to onboard new hires and adjust to temporary employee absences despite an uptick in sales.
4. Adopt Scalable Tools
When you first opened your business, you probably had no choice but to wear all the hats.
From product research and manufacturing decisions to listing optimization and warehouse operations, you learned and did it all. But with growth comes growing pains, and it could be time to bring in some help in the form of automation.
To determine where you could use some tech solutions, start by identifying what you do best and what you like to do. Where are your time and skills most valuable? Stay true to that, and then use tools like ShipHero to replace you in the areas that exhaust your time and energy.
As Steve wisely remarked on the podcast, “Be intentional. Stop using duct tape.”
If you think peak season isn’t the right time to adopt new tools, think again. Of course, you don’t want to be trying out a new IMS during the week of Black Friday, but jumping in head-first in anticipation of your highest sales all year is a great way to test out whether the system will work for you long-term.
At ShipHero, we’re returning to our roots and helping you get rid of any duct tape you’ve been relying on thus far. We know small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) can grow bigger faster with the right guidance.
5. Consider Third-Party Marketplace Opportunities
Third-party marketplaces offer a huge opportunity to eCommerce sellers. With the right inventory management software, you can mitigate the risk of overselling and grow your brand’s reach.
Marketplaces like eBay, Amazon, and Etsy attract millions of buyers every single month. By listing your products with these and other retail giants, you’re putting your products in front of a whole new audience who wouldn’t have otherwise discovered you. It’s the equivalent of coming across an exciting new product on a Target endcap. Smaller brands benefit from the power of big-box visibility, and so can you.
Ideally, you’ll be able to implement omnichannel eCommerce and marketing strategies before the holidays. Bear in mind that this won’t work for you if you’re experiencing inbound stock issues heading into the busy season.
Bonus Quick Wins:
- List complementary products, but make sure to create unique bundle SKUs.
Bundling together appropriate products is a great way of increasing your basket spend and selling more products. Look at your product ranges and see what two or more products could be put together to create a package.
Whether it be a TV with a surround-sound system or mascara with a pocket mirror, you likely have items that can be bundled for a holiday exclusive.
- Deliver to Canada if you don’t already.
Are you open to sending your products to our neighbors to the North? You could see 4-to-5% revenue expansion with no need to change messaging, as the U.S. and Canada audiences are so similar (and speak the same language).
Explore this by targeting Canadian audiences on social campaigns or by listing directly with marketplaces like Amazon Canada.
- Create a plan for handling returns and enhancing the post-purchase experience.
As you well know, returns are part of being in eCommerce. Having a consistent process in place to handle them can result in rescued sales — exchanges rather than refunds — and offer up retargeting opportunities with the same customer.
Don’t neglect post-purchase communication, especially in the height of return season (January).
eCommerce Growth Spotlight: BlackWolf
One of ShipHero’s superstar users is men’s skincare brand BlackWolf. The brand came to us in September 2020, when they were operating out of one 1,250-square-foot facility. Working with ShipHero and using some of the strategies mentioned in this article helped transform the business.
Fast-forward to October 2021: The skincare company now has two large facilities (17,000+ square feet) and ships 20,000 orders per week. BlackWolf’s incredible growth speaks to the power of precise and automated inventory management.
As counterintuitive as it could seem to take on something new during the holiday lead-up, there’s no better time to solve internal problems.
Be ready to dive into what’s not functioning like it should for the sake of your current and potential lifetime customers — and give them a holiday season to remember.
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Aaron Rubin, Founder & CEO
About the author: Aaron Rubin is the Founder & CEO of ShipHero. He is responsible for planning and executing the overall vision and strategy of the organization. Rubin’s greatest strengths are leadership, change management, strategic planning and a passion for progression. He is known for having his finger on the pulse of ShipHero’s major initiatives, his entrepreneurial spirit, and keen business acumen. His leadership of ShipHero is grounded in providing excellent customer service that drives improved business operations. His passion for ShipHero comes from the culture and his ability to have an impact on the lives of employees, customers, partners, and investors.