Last year Australians smashed spending records, reaching $8bn in the four days from Black Friday to Cyber Monday. And the same is expected for 2022. Alongside the serious congestion in global supply chains and hiking inflation rate, consumers are taking a more proactive and planned approach to shopping with 57% of Australians expected to have completed their Christmas shopping by the end of November.

While these e-commerce sales events can cause an uplift for online retailers, it is imperative to ensure a seamless process for customers when receiving goods. Rather than leaning into what’s worked in the past, retailers need to ramp up risk-mitigation plans, work on their logistics strategy and invest in optimal technology to make their supply chains more resilient and ready for the onslaught.

This is not just about getting through the peak shopping season, it’s also about reimagining logistics operations and adjusting inventory and transportation strategies to successfully navigate a new, volatile shipping landscape while providing a seamless and satisfactory customer experience. 

To prepare for the upcoming shopping frenzy, and to plan for 2023 and beyond, here are five valuable tips:

Tip #1: Get your shipping and delivery strategy right

For peak shopping periods, prioritise what is being shipped. Work with your customers and suppliers to obtain additional flexibility on orders, consolidate shipments and adjust packaging. These things could trickle down to require incrementally less capacity from carriers. 

If major carriers with capacity issues during peak times are limiting your ability to fill customer orders, look to expand your carrier network to include local, regional or specialty carriers to fill the gap.

For the long-term, it’s about investing in innovation and resiliency. Industry leaders are turning stores into warehouses and distribution centres and employing non-traditional carriers to get their products to customers within a faster time frame. Smaller retailers are relying on new ways of thinking such as dropshipping, meanwhile manufacturers are shifting their primary focus from predictability and efficiency to flexibility and sustainability, all in service to their retail customers and network partners. 

Getting your shipping and delivery strategy right involves utilising suppliers and data-led software to help eliminate friction, delays, carbon emissions, and doubt. Shipping effectively and sustainably is a competitive advantage so think of your carriers as strategic partners working with you to enhance your customer experience and brand. When selecting your technology vendor, choose one that takes compliance, sustainability, and certification seriously. 

Tip #2: Shift from a ‘Just in Time’ to ‘Just In Case’ Supply Chain

Brands are transitioning from Just in Time (JIT) supply chain strategies which became popular during the pandemic due to significant supply chain issues, to a Just in Case (JIC) strategy. Rather than keeping inventory as lean as possible to minimise extra costs, retailers and manufacturers are planning for the unexpected and making upfront investments in larger, buffer stock to secure their operations in the long term while also planning for longer fulfillment lifecycles. Many are investing in more extensive storage and distribution centres to create self-mandated insurance policies that will help protect their operations and customers against supply chain delays or unexpected lapses in product availability. 

This strategy reduces the probability of products selling out and simultaneously accounts for surges in demand and lapses in supply. However, transitioning to a JIC supply chain strategy doesn’t mean companies should take their best guess at inventory needs or buy out suppliers at every opportunity. On the contrary, companies should lean heavily on their data, including e-commerce data, logistics data, and inventory performance data.

Tip #3: Utilise tools and processes that give your customer service visibility and allow you to be proactive in managing exceptions in the delivery process

One thing is certain: We will see an increase in on-time delivery challenges this peak season. Your customer service organisation will be strained to respond to a high volume of ‘where’s my package?’ questions. Are you helping customers help themselves? Do you have the data available to answer their questions when they call your customer service centres and if they want to look shipment status up on their own?

Customer expectations are higher than ever, and the need to know if a package will be on time for the gift-giving season is always a priority for e-commerce customers. Visibility tools for customer service groups and direct consumer use are improving. Retailers need to take advantage of those tools to improve customer satisfaction and close the visibility gap between the ordering, payment, and delivery process.

Tip #4: Utilise benchmarks and indices to plan shipments and understand trends and disruptions. 

Getting your shipping and decision-making strategy right will help to improve margins, inventory levels, risk reduction, sustainability, speed-to-market, and customer satisfaction. Valuable insights provided by intuitive tools such as e2open’s supply chain management software, can help retailers better understand trends and challenges to make smarter business decisions for the future.

Paul Soong is regional director for Australia and New Zealand for BluJay.