How retailers can overcome holiday shipping challenges.

October 26, 2018

The retail industry booms during the holiday season. In fact, according to the National Retail Federation, the holiday season generates up to 30 percent of annual retail sales. With this in mind, retailers need to ensure they have their stores prepped and all the details ironed out ahead of time. Every square inch of store space costs money, and there are plenty of details that you have to account for to ensure they’re being utilized to maximize profit.

To understand how the retail industry functions behind the scenes during the holiday season, we must look at the shipping challenges, as getting freight into and out of stores sets the table. Here are a few challenges to be aware of as you begin to prepare for the holidays, and how you can work around them to make this your most successful holiday shipping season yet.


Timing is everything.

Each day in retail is planned out right down to the hour during the holiday season. Once one holiday ends, everything in the store is quickly turned over (oftentimes that night or the next morning) in order to prepare for the next. The reason for such a quick turnaround is a) customer demand and b) so as to not disrupt the store during peak hours. With each day planned out so carefully, there is simply no time to spare. If one shipment is late, everything can be thrown off.

While you may think every order is in place, on time and ready to go, you might run into a few last-minute orders that absolutely have to make it onto shelves. It’s difficult, but situations like these provide more of a reason to have strategies in place during the peak season.


Keeping shelves stocked.

Sure, stocked shelves are going to be attractive and appealing to customers no matter what time of year it is. When a holiday is approaching, however, it’s absolutely imperative. Let’s take a look at a few examples to better put this into perspective:

  • Halloween candy and decorations. Customers will be running to the store to buy Halloween candy and decorations right up until trick-or-treating starts. (And in some cases, during for a refill!) Due to this type of demand, shelves have to be brimming with Halloween items for the entire month of October.
  • Sweet potatoes. Yes, sweet potatoes. Or green beans, asparagus, squash or any other Thanksgiving side dish essential. All of these need to arrive in stellar condition and ready to go so no customer is left without fresh produce.
  • Frozen turkeys. Like Halloween candy and decorations, turkeys are an item that customers are buying right up until the last minute. For this reason, your cold chain has to be efficient. After all, a late shipment could very well end up making or breaking someone’s holiday.
  • Christmas lights. Items such as Christmas string lights have the tendency to get wiped out by the early birds. Making sure you are preparing for and anticipating that next order is crucial.

Many retailers are willing to reduce the price of a product below their own cost to get customers in the stores and shopping around for other profit-driving items.


It all comes down to flexibility.

The best quality you can have during the holidays is flexibility. Again, last minute orders can and most likely will come into play at some point. Leaving extra wiggle room to adjust your plan will help you in the long run.

You also have to have the flexibility to handle the sudden influx of capacity. After all, you will be dealing with surge capacity day in and day out for the entirety of your final quarter. In today’s climate, tight freight capacity causes difficulties on a daily basis. This is why you as a retail shipper need to anticipate capacity challenges that will occur during the holiday season and the setbacks that come with them.


Understanding how a freight service provider can help.

Pairing up with a freight service provider can help you create a solid plan and stay aware of specialized services. Freight service providers are going to work based off of retailers’ needs, as they are experienced in working with complex scheduling systems and meeting retailers’ expectations. This means that if you would like to book with a less expensive option, you could go for intermodal – as long as you have ample time to plan for it. Or, if you have less time on your hands, providers can help work through an expedited plan. Consolidated options are also available if several small holiday items need to be crated and shipped together via a trusted carrier network.

A final note to remember is that communication is key. Layout your expectations - and what is expected of you - for your service providers. The number one goal for a service provider is to know what your needs and wants are, so tell them. Explain why your expectations are what they are and why you need the execution you have asked for so your provider can then present you with the most accurate options possible.


As the season continues.

The shipping challenges you face during the holiday season could be a piece of cake if you have the right plan, backup plan and an open line of communication in place. These challenges are unique, but not at all impossible to get through. And as always, don’t be afraid to ask for help, that’s what service providers are there for.

For more information on how you can navigate the holiday shipping season, contact us today to speak with an expert.  



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