U.S. ecommerce sales are expected to grow by about 3 percent this holiday season compared to last year, according to research  from eMarketer. That’s pretty moderate growth. But small ecommerce businesses still need to be prepared for an influx of orders over the next few months if they want to reap the benefits of the busy holiday shopping season.
The team at ShipStation  knows all about what it takes to get an ecommerce business ready for the holidays. The software company provides automation options specifically for ecommerce businesses and works directly with a lot of independent online sellers. The company recently spoke with Small Business Trends to share some tips for getting your small business ready for the holiday rush.
Getting an Ecommerce Business Ready for the Holidays
Create a Fair Returns Policy
When buying holiday gifts, consumers like to know that the recipient will have the option to return that gift if they’re dissatisfied. And they’ve come to expect free and convenient return options from large online retailers. So if you want your small business to compete, you have to consider those factors when crafting your own return policy .
Robert Gilbreath, vice president of marketing for ShipStation said in an email to Small Business Trends, “Small businesses should have a good understanding of the most common return reasons, and what constitutes a reasonable window for returning items. For example, if your products are often bought as gifts for others, the standard 30-day return period may not be enough time. Many retailers consider the holiday season returns window to go until late March.”
Test That Policy on People Inside Your Company First
Just because you think your shipping policy is fair and easy to understand, that doesn’t actually make it so. So Gilbreath suggests getting some extra eyes on your policy to make sure there won’t be any misunderstandings when the holidays roll around.
Gilbreath says, “It’s a good idea to test your returns policy on employees, friends and family to make sure it’s clear to someone who works outside your company. The returns policy should be consistently communicated for customers across all channels including your website or third party marketplaces.”
Build Awareness on Social Media
Getting ready for the holidays also means making sure you have enough brand awareness  beforehand so that your holiday marketing can be effective. For that, Gilbreath recommends focusing on social media especially, since it’s a low cost solution that lets you connect with customers directly.
Gilbreath says, “Today’s customer expects a business to be highly accessible and easily recognizable online. Small businesses are constantly trying to find and win the next sale and social media allows them to connect with a larger audience across a wide demographic. Also, marketing your business on social media is cost-effective and can stretch your marketing budget substantially in comparison to relying on costly print, digital ads and other traditional marketing mediums.”
Get Your Processes Down
Once the holiday rush hits, your team is going to be busy enough fulfilling orders. So you don’t need to add any additional tasks like communicating with carriers or checking delivery schedules. Instead, do those things now and practice your fulfillment processes so that you know exactly what to do during the holidays.
Gilbreath explains, “Retailers need to prepare ahead of the holiday rush and coordinate details, including pricing and logistics with shipping carriers before the rush and make sure that all shipping options are clearly communicated to the customer. Online retailers should also be aware of the carriers’ holiday delivery schedules. The last thing you want to do as a retailer during the holidays is ship something too late to get to their customers on time.”
Automate Where Possible
You can make the process even easier by using automation tools  like those from ShipStation. If you don’t have to worry about some of the little things like sending shipping notifications or printing labels, you can free up your time to focus on more important tasks.
Gilbreath says, “Businesses are faced with the highest demand during the holiday season and on-time delivery is more important than ever. Printing shipping labels or notifying customers when their product has shipped may seem like minor tasks, but all the little things quickly add up. Ecommerce businesses can make their shipping and ordering process easier for customers by using automated tools like ShipStation that integrate with all major shipping carriers, shopping carts, ecommerce marketplaces and more, saving you and your customer time.”
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