Black Friday has been gaining popularity as the shopping event of the season since coming to Australian shores in 2013, with Cyber Monday riding its coattails in the eCommerce age. Last year’s shopping event reached an all-time high in Australia, with more than 6.8 million shoppers spending an estimated $8 billion.

This year the sales event is set to grow, as inflation and cost of living bites and consumers look for more ways to cut costs and grab a bargain. This, combined with the crazy weather bestowed upon us by La Nina, means that Aussies are being urged to get in early and start shopping for Christmas now to avoid delays. At Sendle, we’re expecting parcel volumes to surge, with up to a 50% increase during the Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales.

To make the most of the peak sales season, retailers of all sizes must prepare early for the influx in customer engagement and orders. Here, I share my top tips and tricks to deliver a seamless retail experience this peak season.

Preparing for the peak (season)

Our latest SMB survey has revealed that four in ten businesses expect to sell more during the Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales, and with the era of eCommerce showing no signs of slowing down, retailers must have adequate stock and packaging units to meet surging demand and to avoid customer disappointment.

Before the sales begin, ensure you’ve got plenty of postage packaging in a variety of sizes to suit every type of order. Packaging dimensions have a significant impact on shipping costs because most options are based on size and weight. By using the correct sized packaging, you can reduce your shipping costs, which can be the difference between making or breaking a sale.

 If you’re a small business owner, you’re likely working in a small team and wearing many operational hats. To avoid becoming overwhelmed with orders, pre-packing best-selling items will ensure stock is ready to be shipped to customers as quickly as possible.

Knowing what delays and issues partners are facing, such as how weather may impact shipping delivery, will also enable retailers to predict pain points accordingly. Strategic partnerships with shipping suppliers, especially those who offer door-to-door delivery will save retailers precious time by avoiding long queues at the post office.

Simple tactics like this will allow you to focus on other important tasks such as customer service or marketing, while also driving customer loyalty with speedy product delivery.

Gifting customers with a winning experience

Aside from planning and preparations, the next best thing retailers can do to set up for success this peak shopping season is to invest in customer communications to deliver a winning experience. Our new research into the state of small businesses has revealed that almost half (46%) plan on gifting customers with free shipping this peak season. Not only does free shipping minimise cart abandonment, it also acts as a surprise and delight strategy with customers, it’s also a way of saying thanks and giving back for the community’s continued support.

Despite delays caused by unpredictable weather, shoppers expect a high standard of service so it’s important to be proactive and transparent when communicating with customers. It’ll go a long way when it comes to building long-term trust and loyalty with customers.

Start by broadcasting shipping cut-off dates so customers know the deadlines for holiday season purchases, in addition to being transparent on weather delays for deliveries should they occur. Create a banner on your website, share critical shopping timelines with customers in emails and direct messages and activate a countdown timer to ensure this information is easily accessible for customers and to help mitigate an influx in this vein of customer enquiries.

Customer-friendly shipping

Equally important is having a clear shipping policy. Invest in shipping services that offer insurance to protect both yourself and the customer in case parcels get damaged or go missing. Set realistic expectations with customers about shipping times, costs, postage information like tracking numbers and the process for refunds or exchanges. The key during peak holiday events (and otherwise) is to over-communicate to keep customers in the know to help avoid any delay disappointment.

We know that one in two Aussies are actively looking for greener products or services, so do the right thing for customers and the planet by reducing the environmental impact of shipping and packaging. A couple of ways to do this is through compostable packaging s or carbon-neutral delivery services. Showing your commitment to the environment will help build trust with your customers too.

November and December are the busiest time of the year for retailers and delivery services. With proper planning and thoughtful customer care, small businesses are well-positioned to reap the rewards of the peak online shopping season. Retailers should plan to succeed by preparing early and serving customers a winning customer experience. The result? Strengthened customer relationships that’ll inspire loyalty long after the silly season is over.

Laura Hill is managing director of Australia at Sendle.