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As the busiest time of year approaches for the e-commerce and shipping industry, peak shipping season naturally brings both excitement – and panic. Are you ready to take the rush head on or do you feel powerless when confronted with peak season shipping challenges? 

Dive into the impact of peak shipping challenges on your business and use the forecast for the upcoming 2023 peak shipping season to your advantage. Find the essential steps to not only survive but master peak shipping challenges once and for all! 

Understand how the peak season affects your business’s shipping

To kick things off, it’s crucial to grasp that peak season shipping is no far-off problem but can greatly affect your e-commerce business. With holidays and major shopping events like Black Friday and Cyber Monday on the horizon, customer orders and order shipments increase, straining supply chain and logistics alike. 

To cope with this sudden surge in orders, e-commerce companies must have the infrastructure and resources in place to handle the increased volume, get the desired parcels to their customers, and meet demands. After all, if a customer doesn’t receive their order in a timely manner, especially if it’s a gift or a holiday-themed product with some time sensitivity connected to it, they might not return to your store. 

According to the Annual Monitoring Update for Postal Services for the financial year 2021-22, the percentage of Royal Mail residential users who experienced delayed mail in the previous 12 months continued to be high at 31% (up from 23% in 2019-20).

When is peak shipping season for your business?

The peak shipping season may vary depending on the industry and the specific market you cater to. The demand for daily household goods typically remains consistent throughout the year as they are essential items. On the other hand, the fashion and apparel industry experiences significant fluctuations in demand (e.g., the winter sales period). 

In general, for toys, electronics, as well as fashion, the peak shipping season starts with Singles Day in November, followed by Black Friday and Cyber Monday. This bustling period continues until the Christmas holiday season. For some businesses, even Halloween at the end of October can already show increased sales volumes. For others, like home and gardening, peak season may start in February and last until April, or May.

Whichever industry you are in, your business can greatly profit from knowing your peak sales season and preparing for it. This means stocking up on your inventory in time, considering employee capacity, and making sure you have sufficient packaging material available from the start that will last until the end. 

But wait, there’s more. Peak periods often coincide with a surge in returns. According to Sendcloud’s E-commerce Delivery Compass 2023, 51% of consumers return items when dissatisfied. This means processing Christmas season returns can keep you busy until at least mid-January.

What to expect for the holiday peak shipping season 2023

Looking ahead, the holiday shipping season forecast for 2023 predicts high shipping volumes. While the official holiday season is set for December, parcel volumes begin to surge from November (+31.2%). December is anticipated to be the peak for parcel volumes, experiencing a remarkable 43.4% increase.

Sendcloud chart of shipping volume for peak season 2023 forecast

Sendcloud insights: shipping volume forecast for peak holiday season 2023

Distribution centres and logistics service providers also adjust their working hours and logistics operations to meet the high shipping demands of the season. To set your business up for success, be mindful, stay updated, and adjust your planning to the guaranteed delivery dates of your carrier(s). 

With more shipments coming in during the peak holiday season, other factors can start to spiral. November poses the highest risk of parcel loss, with a potential 40% increase compared to the average month. December closely follows, exhibiting a 21% higher risk of lost packages. However, with the right preparation, peak numbers shouldn’t have to take your stress levels to new heights.

How to regain control over your shipping process during peak season

Sales volumes surge and carriers have to handle massive volumes of shipments, so you’re stuck dealing with overloaded carrier networks, delivery delays, volume caps, surcharges, and an increase in lost and damaged parcels. When you feel like you’ve lost control amid the chaos, it’s prime time to take charge of your shipping process. Reclaim your influence even during the most chaotic times with these 3 shipping phases to master during peak season:

1. Own your shipping process and deliver excellence

During peak season, it’s essential to optimise your shipping process to handle the increased volume of orders. But how do you retain control over something that is, quite literally, (partially) out of your hands? Here are some essential practices to ensure the quality of your order shipping stays top-notch:

Connect with multiple carriers and service points

Connecting with multiple carriers and service points offers greater flexibility for you and your customers, from delivery to possible returns. For your business, that eventually translates into both a higher conversion rate and customer retention. Having the ability to choose a different carrier also helps navigating around the following issues:

  • A carrier that maxes out on capacity suddenly stops accepting new pickup requests
  • Closing times during holidays or no pickups on certain days depending on the carrier
  • Added peak season surcharges, which can vary from carrier to carrier

It is important to note that carriers may charge additional fees in cases where the recipient fails to be present for home delivery. Opting for service points can offer a more cost-effective and reliable delivery solution, benefiting all parties involved. By integrating service points into the checkout process, customers can conveniently choose the exact place and time for parcel delivery, ensuring timely arrival.

Process your orders faster with shipping automation

During peak season, processing large volumes of orders can be challenging, to say the least. One way to tackle this is by automating your shipping process, which can reduce manual intervention, minimise errors, and increase the efficiency of your shipping operations. 

Think of generating bulk shipping labels in a few clicks, automating picking and packing processes in your warehouse, and reducing employee workload when they are at their busiest. Automating shipping processes can result in faster order processing, improved accuracy, and increased efficiency. By eliminating manual tasks and managing potential shipping delays, businesses can ensure swift delivery, which leads to enhanced customer satisfaction and retention. 

Moreover, automation enables businesses to scale their operations without sacrificing accuracy and quality, resulting in significant cost savings by reducing manual labour and streamlining overall processes. The best part: smart automated shipping means setting it up once and not having to worry about it again.

2. Enhance visibility and trust with order tracking

Customers value transparency. Essentially, the ability to track order delivery and send notifications enhances the overall customer experience. On the other hand, implementing order tracking systems and logistics services also helps you stay on top of issues that will eventually arise. 

Increase customer trust with tracking notifications

While delays during peak season are inevitable, proactive communication with customers is the key to managing expectations. With the help of tracking software, you can send customised tracking notifications to keep customers informed throughout the shipping journey. Providing delivery time estimates during the checkout process and keeping customers informed of any delays can go a long way in ensuring customer satisfaction and loyalty. Parcel tracking can also help manage the “Where Is My Order” (WISMO) inquiries straining your customer support team during peak season.

By personalising notifications and incorporating elements of your branding, you can strengthen your brand’s customer loyalty and retention. You can even use this opportunity to offer special holiday discounts, share how-to guides, or showcase social media feeds, providing additional value and engagement for future orders. After a parcel has been delivered successfully, a final delivery notification could also be the ideal time to ask the customer for a review.

Woman returning holiday gift during peak shipping season with a convenient self-service package returns portal

Simplify returns with a self-service portal

It is often overlooked that by gaining better control over returns, you can provide better service to your customers. Adjusting your returns policy for the holiday season to allow customers to return their orders later, can also help increase customer satisfaction. After all, who wants to worry about returning unlucky gifts while the well-meaning giver is still around? Better to sort this out after the holidays!

By offering different return options, your customers have the freedom to manage their returns in the way that suits them best. With a self-service returns portal, returns become hassle-free. Customers can effortlessly select items to return, choose their preferred refund option, and opt to return via carrier or service point. The return options can already be shared at the purchase phase of the journey, and everyone involved can be updated at every step of the return process. Additionally, implementing an automated returns policy helps lighten the load on your customer support team by reducing the bottleneck caused by manual processes.

3. Protect your shipments to ensure safe delivery

Parcels are more prone to damage, theft, or loss during the peak season when carriers process a lot more parcels than usual. That is why parcel insurance is highly recommended during peak season

Insurance and other measures for shipment protection

When the odds are against you, shipping insurance is a valuable investment to protect against lost, damaged, or stolen parcels. This not only reduces the financial risk but also ensures orders get replaced quickly and customers remain faithful to your brand. 

Partnering with shipping insurance providers can provide your business with a streamlined and reliable solution for insurance coverage if you choose wisely. The benefits of parcel protection go beyond cost savings and the protection of the brand’s reputation. When considering the lead time for insurance payouts, carrier insurance can take up to 28 days to process a claim. Conversely, with the speedy claims and support you get from the right parcel protection, a swifter 2-3 day turnaround time for claim payouts can help you navigate a tough predicament effectively. 

Shipping with confidence: Own your shipping process during peak season

When it comes to owning your shipping process, the benefits greatly exceed the effort. A carefully controlled shipping process has a significant positive impact on customer satisfaction and loyalty. During the peak season, it’s important to keep in mind to not only focus on increased sales but also prioritise customer retention, as this fosters long-term success. By providing a streamlined return process, real-time visibility of parcels, and shipment protection, you as a merchant can offer faster resolution of customer queries and concerns. 

Peak season is a chance to not just survive but thrive — throughout the entire shipping process. You’ve got this! Owning your shipping process not only allows you to have peace of mind during peak season but also helps you grow your business. However, if you get stuck and need any support along the way, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Zeldi Smulders

Zeldi specializes in guiding online retailers toward insights that empower them to grow and thrive. An innate explorer, she’s always on the lookout for valuable tips, tools, and trends to help e-commerce owners overcome the most puzzling processes and enjoy a front-row seat on a journey to success.

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