Whether you’re accepting orders in-store, online, at markets, pop-ups, or festivals, customers now expect impeccable customer service and lightning-fast shipping.
With so many retailers offering free shipping and same-day delivery (some even inside the door – we’re looking at you, Amazon!) the pressure to get orders out quickly and efficiently is fierce.
Throw a promotion or busy holiday shopping season into the mix and fulfilling all those orders can be a major challenge.
When sales are swift and orders are stacking up, try some of these tried-and-true methods to master the art of fulfillment.
Hire Extra Staff (for the Right Jobs)
The first question to ask leading up to any busy period is: Are we properly staffed? Do we need extra people to maintain customer service, more staff in store to deal with the influx of shoppers, or someone whose job is focused entirely on shipping?
Mara Devitt, a retail consultant and Senior Partner at McMillanDoolittle, says it’s important that companies take a hard look at trends in their business.
“What does that mean regarding your workflow on the customer satisfaction side and product flow in and out?” she says. “You don’t want to be overstaffed at the wrong time.”
Once you’ve worked out where (and if) you need extra help, you’ll want to make sure new recruits can handle the pressure.
On top of making sure new people are properly trained, Toronto-based lifestyle retailer Good Neighbour gives priority to friends of current staff who shop in the store and understand their philosophy.
“We prefer to fit roles to people who’ve worked with us in the past so they can come in and hit the ground running,” says co-director Sam Jalees.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Hopefully, you’re already doing this day-to-day, but if there’s one thing that can potentially make or break your busy season, it’s communication.
With staff, that means having daily team meetings about what’s needed today and about key promotions in store and online.
Also, “take time throughout the day to celebrate good ideas and successes,” says Devitt. “It really keeps employees focused and engaged.”
It’s also a good idea to keep your suppliers and vendors in the loop. Let them know when you anticipate gaps in product stock or a slower response time. They’re important cogs in your work wheel, so keeping them informed is key to your own success.
And let’s not forget about the most important people in this whole process: your customers. Reaching out to your buyers directly, especially when there are delays, can make a huge difference between a repeat customer and one who’s disgruntled.
After fulfilling orders, sustainable fashion label TAMGA Designs makes a point of emailing individual customers if there is any sort of shipping delay.
Finally, never underestimate the personal touch. For designer shoe brand Tanya Heath Paris Canada targeting products to specific customers is paramount to its success.
“I sort all my customers by size and I send them a note to let them know that a shoe in their size is on sale,” says co-owner Leslie-Ann Dominy.
Anticipate Problems Before They Happen
“It’s so important to organize your team to deal with exceptions,” says Devitt. Addressing productivity issues and developing solutions before they come up will make your busy time run a lot smoother.
“Take a hard look at the customer journey and make sure you’re handling them well. Do you dedicate a specific team to returns? Do you have the right staff and resources for in-store returns? Many companies forget about the impact this has on frontline [employees]”.
Adding fraud protection tools to your site can be especially helpful for new staff who don’t always know what to look out for.
FURTHER READING: To kick bogus transactions to the curb, read our article on fraud prevention tactics.
When Good Neighbour first launched its ecommerce site, a surge of suspicious orders prompted them to install Signifyd fraud protection. For a small percentage of sales, it ranks orders according to risk and compensates retailers if fraudulent orders are processed.
“Our staff changes seasonally and this takes the uncertainty out of something that can be quite scary,” says Sam Jalees.
Review Your Inventory
Before a collection launch or promotion, it’s important to do regular audits of your inventory to make sure you have products on hand.
A single pair of Tanya Heath Paris Canada shoes can take up to four months to make, so having the right inventory at the right time is crucial. To make this happen, Leslie-Ann Dominy does quarterly reviews using StockSavvy. It flags barcode duplicates or products not entered into the system.
“Human error happens,” she says. “We have 1,700 barcodes for different styles and sizes, so we use StockSavvy to compare what we have [in store] with what’s on our site.”
Selling mainly online and at markets, Tamga Designs keeps its stock of sustainable fashion in a warehouse where everything is organized by color, style, and size. Clothing is shipped from Indonesia ahead of any new collection launch.
“We review all our products to make sure all pieces are accounted for and there’s no water damage,” says co-founder Yana Barankin. “Everything comes a long way so we want to make sure it all arrived intact.”
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Make Sure Your Website is Running Properly
During peak seasons, your website will be seeing a whole lot of extra traffic and stats show that even a two-second page loading delay can lead to a 20% abandonment rate.
You’ll also need help on hand to fix problems as they come up, and fix them fast. Tamga Designs has a web developer but uses HeyCarson for all its smaller tasks.
“It’s a fraction of the cost and great for one-off changes that our web developer may not be able to get to right away,” says Yana Barankin.
Review Shipping Practices
Customers will never complain that they got their merchandise too quickly, but they certainly might if it’s late or damaged.
Tamga Designs uses Chit Chats Express to bring its Canadian products into the U.S. using DHL or USPS.
“We like it because they offer a great business rate and our U.S. customers will get their items within three days at the most,” says Barankin.
Pre-weighing all their products and establishing which shipping boxes will be used for each item has also helped Tanya Heath Paris Canada remain efficient, says Dominy. “It saves lots of time and makes sure items are getting to my customers faster”.
Learn From Your Mistakes
At the end of every launch, promotion, or holiday rush, take some time with your team to look back and conduct a post-mortem. What worked well and what didn’t? How can you apply this knowledge to next year’s playbook?
Mara Devitt offers this example: “After one busy season, Best Buy noticed a higher number of returns on certain TV models that were showing up cracked. They solved the problem by sending them out double boxed.”
For Tamga Designs, the key to keeping its business productive at busy times has been to take a big-picture view of its practices.
“When you’re starting out, you tend to do everything task-by-task on a daily basis so you can cross things off your list,” says Barankin. “Stepping back and looking at the bigger goals and how you will achieve them week-by-week can really be a turning point for a new business.”
Devitt agrees. “Focus on areas that will really move the needle forward for your particular business, because retail isn’t one size fits all.”
Moving Forward With Efficient Order FulFillment
Staying motivated during busy seasons can be difficult, but with a little pre-planning and organization, retailers can stay on top of their to-do list and fulfill all those orders quickly and efficiently.
How do you stay organized and ensure you get orders fulfilled ASAP? Share your tactics in the comments below.