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5 tips for brands to succeed this holiday season


Published on: November 22, 2021

Updated: September 8, 2023


The 2021 holiday shopping season is going to be bigger, smarter, and more online than ever before. But that means new challenges for operations experience management, too.

In this post, we’ll look at the evidence for a particularly rich Golden Quarter this year – and suggest 5 ways you can prepare before the season begins.

Retail in the holiday season: what’s going on?

Long before trends show up in sales figures or news articles, they’re already visible in search traffic. This year, that search traffic is sending clear signals to retailers.

Searches for “holiday gift ideas” surged in August, suggesting a higher interest in holiday shopping than in 2020. It’s also far earlier than the usual start of holiday shopping, in early November.

What’s more, 78% of US consumers say that they’ll be buying from online retailers that offer free shipping. So you should expect high demand with high standards of customer service.

Fortunately, you can holiday-proof your online sales. We’ve collected 5 tips to upgrade your operations experience before the peak season kicks off.

#1 Plan for more customer contact during peak

More search traffic means more sales, more customer queries, and more problems to solve. If you want to keep customers and employees happy, then your first priority should be effective customer service.

Start with the bare bones. Does your software for customer service chats work properly? Do staff have up-to-date, functional hardware? Shipping intelligence group Reveel recommends a full audit and tune-up of all your hardware and software before November.

Next, you can take some pressure off by investing in AI and automated customer service. For example, smart chatbots could handle straightforward customer queries whenever your team is offline.

#2 Offer more delivery options

What makes consumers happy? Surprisingly, the answer isn’t “lower prices” or “faster service”. It’s… choice. If you offer a range of delivery options, you’ll see higher rates of customer satisfaction and retention.

Plus, multiple options can relieve pressure on your supply chain and delivery services. A growing number of customers are interested in Buy Online, Pick up In Store (BOPIS) fulfilment – which is faster and cheaper for retailers, too.

#3 Create a shipping cost strategy

Many customers now expect free shipping on their holiday purchases. But how can you offer free delivery without swallowing too much of the costs?

It’s time for some psychology. Research shows that 70% of consumers will add extra items to their cart in order to qualify for free shipping. Simply setting a minimum spend for free shipping could increase your sales!

Another strategy is to offer free shipping for limited periods. For example, you could offer free shipping at weekends only. Result: a regular spike in sales traffic, while weekday orders still cover their own shipping costs.

#4 Stay in touch during delivery in the holiday season

What happens after a customer clicks “pay now”?

Most e-commerce retailers hand their customers over to third parties. Once the order is dispatched, they cut all contact. What’s the point in staying in touch?

Two words: customer retention. Repeat customers are only 8% of e-commerce website visitors, but they represent 40% of all revenue. And the best way to retain those high-value customers is by staying in touch.

Retailers get better results when they send personalized, proactive delivery updates. Our research shows that loyalty can be created at every stage of the customer journey, from dispatch to delivery and even returns.

Here’s the proof: consumers say that transactional emails are the most important emails they get. Shipping emails get an average of 1682% more engagement than marketing messages. Imagine what you could achieve with all that customer interaction.

#5 Test-drive your returns process

Returns are an unfortunate fact of life, especially in e-commerce. Customers will always want to return some of their orders.

That’s even more true in the peak season. Many holiday purchases are gifts, so there’s a higher chance that they’ll be returned or exchanged. Retailers handle up to 45% of their annual returns in the first 3 months after Christmas each year.

But if you handle returns the right way, you can re-convert those customers into loyal brand advocates.

Make sure that your returns process works online; that customer service is available; that there are multiple options on offer; and that you stay in touch with customers every step of the way. fulfilmentcrowd recommends test-driving your returns process by making a test order and sending it back. It’s the easiest way to check that everything is working as it should.

Want more holiday insights, OX management tips, and exclusive research? Read our report on US Holiday Season Operations Experience.

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