T’was three months before Christmas when, what should appear, but Christmas wreaths at Walmart® –instead of the lighted Halloween pumpkin I was hoping to find.
I groaned to myself when I saw the wreaths and the beginnings of the holiday decorations section and thought, “Really? Isn’t this even earlier than they usually start selling holiday merchandise?”
And it may be. I don’t remember the exact date stores started pushing holiday sales last year. But what I do know is that when big box stores start putting holiday goods on sale it’s time for small businesses to be sure they’re geared up for battle, too.
Especially this year. Shipping delays and supply chain disruptions are likely to continue. That means you may experience inventory shortages and/or delays in receiving finished products or raw materials you need. Boxes, bags and other packaging materials may be slow to be delivered to you, and orders you ship to customers may take longer to reach them. Shipping costs will be higher, too. What can you do to cope?
Manage Customer Relationships
Warn your customers in advance about the possibility of product shortages and delays in shipping. Alert them to upcoming increases in shipping charges and the need to order early to be sure to get their merchandise on time. If you’re increasing pricing, let them know why. Your email newsletter and store signs as well as inserts in purchases they make now can help forewarn customers to upcoming changes and other seasonal expectations.
Warn them of the extra time they may need to get their orders, too. Check with the shippers you use to see what cutoff dates they are suggesting and pass that information on to your customers.
Have a notice on your website about any expected delays in shipping. Remember, if you don’t make such a statement, federal law requires you to ship within 30 days. If you can’t ship within the federally required timeline, notify your customers and ask if they want a refund. If possible, give customers tracking numbers for their orders so they can check shipments themselves. And have someone in your organization available to answer phone inquiries.
Consider what changes you can make in your offerings if you can’t get the raw materials or supplies you usually need, of if those prices have gone up. Can you pass the price increases on to your customers? If not, what can you do? Can you reduce the size of weight of packages you ship to lower your shipping costs? Can you reduce the size of the items you sell and sell them at the same price? (Yogurt and coffee are two examples of products that shrunk the size of their packages over the years without shrinking their prices.
Start Your Holiday Marketing Early
Stories on TV and in print media are beginning to alert consumers to upcoming shortages and shipping delays. So many consumers will be starting their holiday shopping earlier than usual. That means you need to start your marketing early, too. Start sending emails to your list with holiday gift suggestions, and letting them know about new items in stock. Do the same on social media and with other methods you use to market to your customers.
Finally, don’t forget about your own holiday shopping needs. Order your own family gifts and corporate gifts as early as you can, for your own peace of mind.