How to avoid ecommerce shipping delays during Black Friday/Cyber Monday—and for the rest of the holiday season

The phenomenon known as Shipageddon was a disruptive event for ecommerce retailers in 2020. 

Customers who were used to being able to place a last-minute order with free two-day shipping suddenly were faced with week-long delays and missing packages. 

While the 2021 holiday season may look different from 2020, it will likely have a similarly chaotic atmosphere. 

So, what will Shipageddon 2.0 look like? Big Brown has an idea of what’s in store.

The CEO of UPS, Carol B. Tomé, warned in a recent interview, “Package delivery demand during the 2021 peak season is projected to exceed capacity by about five million pieces per day.”1 

Five million packages is about 20% higher than UPS’s usual daily volume. And at the peak of the holiday season, UPS projects that one-fifth of its packages will end up sitting on the shipping room floor—with no capacity to move them. In other words, you can expect that approximately 20% of your deliveries will not make it to your customers on time.

This disruption is going to affect all carriers. The peak of the holiday shipping season will have millions of packages not moving towards their destination. 

Here are a few steps that you can take to make sure that you have a successful holiday season—despite the perils of Shipagedon 2.0.

Bigger, better—and earlier—sales

Consumers wait all year for Black Friday/Cyber Monday (BFCM) sales. This year, reward your returning customers by offering your BFCM deals early. 

Make it clear to your customers that they’re getting the same deal—or better—than they would during a regular year. Explain that because of the challenges of the past year and a half, they’re getting their deals in advance.

An email from the brand Grace Eleyae promoting an early Black Friday BOGO sale.
An email from Grace Eleyae promoting an early Black Friday sale.

Any pressure that you can take off your fulfillment centers and carriers in advance of BFCM will help for a trouble-free delivery. Your customers will get their packages earlier, be satisfied sooner—and give you more room for your holiday operations.

Hint: Fear avoidance and availability bias are incredibly powerful motivators for human behavior. Instead of just advertising your sales, play into your customers’ desire to avoid the anxiety that comes with the holiday season.

Emphasize to your customers how relaxed they’ll feel when they finish their holiday shopping well in advance of the chaos. And when they read about the grim news of shipping delays, they can feel good about their foresight.

Set up a second fulfillment center

Does your business have just one fulfillment center? This may keep your operations simple, but if there are any localized challenges—like weather or labor issues—it can hurt your business. 

Adding a second warehouse will help your business become more reliable and operate more efficiently—and it’ll save you money in the long run.

Not sure where to place your next fulfillment center? Check out this map showing travel times from various US cities to common destinations.

Average delivery times for packages shipped and delivered during the month of August from Baltimore to various cities in the continental US. Blue and green times, which appear in the Northeast, are the fastest.
Average delivery times for packages shipped and delivered during the month of August from Baltimore to various cities in the continental US. Blue and green times are the fastest.

While each city may have different delivery times, choosing the biggest city isn’t necessarily the best option.

This year, it might be too late to get another warehouse running in time for the holiday season—but you can begin to plan your logistics for next year. 

Fine tune your shipping service levels 

At a certain point in the season, your carriers will become very unlikely to hit a delivery date of December 25. And there’s also a chance that major carriers like FedEx and UPS will suspend any of their delivery guarantees until well into 2022. 

Because of the growing demand for ecommerce delivery, there just isn’t enough staff, trucks, or planes for national carriers to fulfill shipping needs in the United States after UPS’s volume jumped 65% in 2020.2

The holiday rush is fast approaching, and with the unpredictability of shipping transit times, it may be difficult to plan for the surge. Here’s a rough idea of what to expect:

  • Service levels that rely on handing off a package to USPS for final delivery will be the first to go down. If you ship using UPS Mail Innovations or FedEx Smartpost, you’ll find those service levels will have longer delivery times during the holidays than during the rest of the year. To be safe, stop relying on these services by December 18 for a December 25 delivery. 
  • Ground service levels that are handled by one carrier will be the next to slow down. These packages often pass through many sorting facilities, and a backlog at any of them can leave a package stuck in the middle of its journey.
  • Express shipments like Priority Overnight) will still work up until the last few days before Christmas, but at that point, even overnight shipping can sometimes turn into three-day shipping. Many brands will find that December 21 is the last date they can safely ship packages overnight and have them arrive before December 25. 
Showing typical delivery times for 4 large carriers in the US, for packages shipped and delivered in the month of August.
Showing typical delivery times for 4 large carriers in the US, for packages shipped and delivered in the month of August.

Plan ahead for the holiday season

Shipping delays pose an unwelcome challenge to ecommerce marketers who are preparing for the largest shopping event of the year. But if you plan ahead and practice transparency in your messaging, you can still help your customers check all the items off their shopping list in time for the holiday season.

Disruptions to timely deliveries may be unavoidable, but you can still use these tips to communicate shipping delays with your customers.

Sources:

1UPS: Peak demand projected to exceed capacity by 5M packages daily’ Supply Chain Dive
2UPS shipping volume soars 65%‘ Arkansasonline.com

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