International holiday shipping demands are on the rise, and it’s time for e-commerce businesses to ensure they’re prepared for the wave of orders that is likely on its way.
Though e-commerce has revolutionized the way consumers shop, it hasn’t cured all that ails retail. Instead of the stress of overcrowded malls, today’s e-commerce consumers are most concerned with package delays. Shipping delays even beat out concerns over money. It makes sense, though: no one wants to show up empty-handed to a party despite choosing two-day shipping.
To satisfy these high consumer expectations, there are many things to consider before shipping out holiday orders. We’ll tackle how e-commerce retailers can capitalize on the seasonal rush and turn international holiday shipping into a slam dunk instead of a headache.
The Rise and Challenges of Holiday E-Commerce
Holiday spending online has rapidly cut into brick-and-mortar sales. In 2017, for the first time, consumers committed to spending more online than in-stores. Now that the Internet is the go-to place to shop for the holidays, retail stalwarts like Target and Walmart are trying play catch-up.
While they struggle, a new crop of exclusively e-commerce retailers has emerged. They’re succeeding by being “digitally native, vertically integrated brands” and their sales growth is three-times faster than the rest of the U.S. e-commerce market.
These brands are built for e-commerce, but even the most robust online retailers face unique challenges as the holiday season rolls around, with both international holiday shipping and domestic shipping. Some of the top challenges for e-commerce retailers include:
Sky-high shipping needs place stress on logistics capabilities
Increased online traffic compared to the rest of the year
Demand can exceed available stock
Poor user experience, especially around mobile
These challenges are amplified when e-commerce retailers expand their businesses abroad. International e-commerce, according to Pitney Bowes, adds in the challenge of addressing regulatory issues in more than one country, as well as special payment and logistics considerations.
Despite the learning curve, businesses willing to tackle cross-border e-commerce can find a wealth of opportunities. Consider Latin America, with over 40 countries and a population twice that of the U.S.: currently, the region features the highest e-commerce growth in the world. Latin America’s 19% growth is 8% over the global average.
As emerging markets keep growing and more people have expendable income and access to Internet/mobile devices, the e-commerce boom will continue to spread, as will the demand for international holiday shipping.
When businesses open up to international e-commerce markets, they expand the reach of their brand. With international marketplaces like Amazon, eBay, and Alibaba reducing the technical barriers to cross-border selling, getting your products to international buyers has never been easier.
The holidays are the perfect time to make a push into international markets, as consumers are more willing to spend and more likely to impulse buy—even if it's for themselves. By capitalizing on the holidays, e-commerce businesses have an opportunity to stoke growth throughout the rest of the year.
Preparing for the Challenges of Holiday E-Commerce
There are four main areas for e-commerce companies to consider as the holidays approach: the customer experience, staffing, logistics, and analytics. Let’s talk about what your business needs to do in each of these areas to make the most of the holiday season and avoid the common pitfalls that can overwhelm any e-commerce retailer, especially when it comes to international holiday shipping.
Improving the Customer Experience
Without the benefit of face-to-face interaction, e-commerce retailers must attend to the technical aspects of their online properties to ensure that customers have a great experience. This is especially important around the holidays, when businesses are trying to do anything and everything to drag consumers away from competitors.
One bad link could send a consumer into your competitor’s waiting arms.
In the pre-holiday months, it’s important to do an overview of the customer experience from the customer’s perspective. Poke around on your site, try to buy something on your mobile device, and sign up for the promotional emails your marketing department sends out. In many instances, companies run into one (or more) of the following problems, according to CustomerThink:
1. Lack of personalization in the experience
2. The e-commerce platform isn’t modern enough
3. Your website is hard to navigate
Each of these problems are readily apparent to your customers.
People hate irrelevant ads—4 out of 10 consumers will scroll past a social ad in their feed. What they do like, though, are ads for new products they’re interested in. Personalizing your customer’s e-commerce experience means attention to detail and the ability to use data in creative ways. It can provide a major boost during the holidays when more people make impulse buys.
Maybe your e-commerce platform is good enough on a web browser, but if it’s glitchy on mobile devices, you’re likely falling behind your competitors. By 2021, 73% of e-commerce sales will come from mobile devices worldwide. Consider that for many people, mobile devices are the most consistent form of internet connection—especially in emerging markets. A mobile-ready design is imperative.
Lastly, your website may not be designed in the most optimal way. Problems range from the host server being unable to handle traffic spikes (like those that come with promotional emails to your entire list) to the design lagging behind your competitors. If you’re targeting an international market, consider localizing your website to provide a comfortable language experience for these consumers.
Uncover Staffing Issues
E-commerce typically requires less staff than a traditional brick-and-mortar operation. But there are two areas that are particularly stressed during the holiday season: customer service and order fulfillment. While marketing can scale its email blasts and social media presence fairly easily, a seasonal increase in orders can tax your current staff levels as they work to fulfill more orders than usual more quickly to ensure that they arrive on-time.
If you do your fulfillment and shipping in-house, make sure that you have the infrastructure to meet your projected holiday demand. Even though e-commerce retailers don’t have the traditional seasonal worker like Target or Best Buy, there’s still a case to be made for hiring temporary staff to get through the holiday season.
Beyond hiring extra help, Digital Commerce 360 suggests extra training to deal with the challenges of the holiday season. If you’re delving into international markets for the first time, this training is especially important. Customer service needs to be aware of the different languages, time zones, and cultural expectations they’ll be dealing with by phone and email to address international holiday shipping issues.
Fine-Tune Your Logistics
During the holiday rush, fulfillment and shipping is the make-or-break moment for your customers. Will packages arrive on time and in good condition?
While many e-commerce retailers are succeeding, they’re not doing it alone. Third-party logistics, including warehousing, fulfillment, and shipping, are making it possible for small retailers to compete with bigger companies that have their own logistics centers.
Whether you work in-house or with third-party help, during the holiday season it’s important to set clear expectations for your customers based on your company’s realistic fulfillment and shipping capabilities. Don’t advertise what you can’t deliver. A few tips for getting it right:
Set hard dates for order cutoffs to ensure that your staff has enough time to fulfill every order on time
Offer clear pricing on rush shipping
Use tracking numbers to provide peace of mind to your customers
While all of these recommendations hold true for cross-border orders, international holiday shipping adds extra layers of complexity to the logistics process. Read our post on how to avoid common shipping failures to make sure you’re up to date on the challenges of international shipping.
One of the hardest parts of the holiday season is that, after it’s over, many people return their gifts. For e-commerce retailers, this means reverse logistics. Whether goods are returned, undeliverable, or damaged, the fact is that many items need to come back to your company.
Having a plan in place to deal with reverse logistics is critical.
Make reverse logistics a selling point of your customer service, and have a plan for how to manage the influx of inventory. Try to encourage exchanges over refunds and train your customer service on assisting international customers with returns that will have to pass through customs again.
Get the Most Out of the Season With Analytics
Not only is the holiday season a great time for sales, but the increased traffic provides a treasure trove of data. The right analytics on your e-commerce site will help you make better decisions next holiday season. And, if you segment your data by geographic location, it can help you create targeted marketing campaigns for each region in which you sell.
What sort of data do you need to pay attention to this holiday season? According to Internet Marketing, Inc., there are four key reports to monitor:
Merchandising reports to help you manage stock more effectively
Abandoned cart reports so you know which items to discount
Customer Segmentation reports so you know who is buying your products and from where
Marketing reports to show how effective your campaigns are
These analytics reports will give you the data you need to sell more, stock better, and save money.
Tackle International Holiday Shipping with SkyPostal
If you’re considering opening your e-commerce business to the Latin American markets, you’ll need a strong logistics partner to help you navigate this new market. With decades of experience, SkyPostal can help you tackle the international holiday shipping rush, from fulfilment to returns.
Learn more about how SkyPostal can help you keep your shipping costs to Latin America low and your customers happy by contacting us today.