Holiday shoppers aren’t looking for miracles, but they expect their online orders to arrive on time and not require that they disrupt their daily schedules. Look to technology to offer shoppers more information about when they’re packages will arrive.

Van Leigh, senior vice president of digital marketing, uShip

Van Leigh, senior vice president of digital marketing, uShip

This holiday season, more than ever before, online sellers and shipping providers will find themselves under an incredibly high-powered microscope. Anything but fast, free, and flawless e-commerce delivery can have very public consequences.

For example, despite hiring 95,000 seasonal workers to meet demand last year, UPS still struggled with “final mile” delivery, much to the dismay of customers who took to social media for an airing of grievances.

FedEx, USPS and others have also had their share of holiday humbug. Meanwhile, all eyes will be on Amazon and its growing network of third-party couriers as Bezos and Co. look to take an even greater piece of the e-commerce pie.

After online sales topped $108 billion last year, pressure has only continued to mount on merchants who know that nothing kills the holiday spirit—and customer loyalty—faster than a missed package or delayed delivery.

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Services now exist that can get that one-of-a-kind armoire across the country quickly and affordably.

So, how do e-retailers, whether a big-box seller, direct-to-consumer startup, online furniture marketplace, small business owner, or other type of seller, keep up with holiday delivery expectations and the likes of Amazon, which reportedly spends more than $21.7 billion in shipping costs alone?

Embrace the Gift of Technology

When it comes to holiday deliveries, customers aren’t necessarily looking for a holiday miracle.  They just want their items on time and without disrupting their daily routine. A recent uShip survey of shoppers who purchased oversized items online showed several things would improve their overall experience, including proactive status updates, the option to choose the delivery method, and having delivery time slots.

To that end, mobility in the supply chain has replaced the pen and clipboard. Now, companies such as Transvoyant are leveraging artificial intelligence for predictive analytics. This helps reduce stockouts and increase delivery accuracy. Wise retailers are also taking steps to integrate with several consumer-facing apps, which allow them to track their purchase during the final mile of delivery.

On a larger scale, FedEx is looking at robotic tuggers and safer, more efficient trucking technology platforms.

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Embrace the Final Mile

The “final mile” of a parcel’s journey is often the make-it-or-break-it point when it comes to customer satisfaction. Buyers’ anxiously track packages that are “Out for Delivery” from a carrier’s local terminal, and when those deliveries are missed or arrive after the holiday, for example, it’s tough to retain that customer no matter who’s at fault.

Given the Amazon Effect going on all around us, online sellers can’t afford to skimp on logistics technology and innovation, let alone ignore it. But brands competing with Amazon need not reinvent the wheel around the shipping process. Instead, focus on technology that brings more transparency and insight to customers during the shipping process.

For example, last year Wayfair announced a new tracking feature that takes on Amazon’s Map Tracker. The Wayfair app helps keep its delivery team accountable for deadlines in the final mile, giving customers transparency into the delivery process and setting expectations for item arrival.

Embrace White Glove for Oversized E-Commerce

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When it comes to large and bulky e-commerce such as furniture, mattresses and treadmills, the delivery game gets trickier still, even for Amazon, which has been less than clear about its logistics strategy around larger-than-parcel items.

In other words, in the estimated $20 billion online furniture and home furnishings market—one of the fastest growing segments of online retail—online sellers have the opportunity to out-Amazon Amazon.

Services now exist that can get that one-of-a-kind armoire across the country quickly and affordably, even placed in a customer’s room of choice.

Online sellers have historically felt the one way to achieve this speed-cost-placement trifecta was through less-than-truckload (LTL) carriers, rather than white-glove providers, who were perceived to be more expensive.

But that’s not necessarily the case today. Thanks to modern logistics solutions available, shipping large items fast and affordably via white glove is accessible to online sellers, including mom-and-pop stores, Etsy sellers, major furniture sellers, estate sale marketplaces, and more.

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Even big brands like Wayfair and direct-to-consumer companies like Casper are taking on Amazon’s two-day and same-day service (Prime Now) in major cities, where consumers can have something as big as a mattress delivered in a matter of hours.

Additionally, a number of online-only brands in this space, such as Burrow, are now opening storefronts and rethinking physical retail strategies. With 77 percent of shoppers planning to shop last minute in 2018 and brick and mortar raking in 84 percent of holiday sales last year, these brands might be onto something.

Conclusion

Retailers wanting to stay off customers’ naughty lists this holiday season must shift their focus to perfecting their logistics game, whether that’s incorporating key technologies, keeping customers updated during final mile, or finding better ways to deliver those big and bulky buys.

The ultimate goal is customer happiness and satisfaction. With that comes repeat and continued loyalty during the holiday season ahead and down the road.

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UShip Inc. operates uShip.com, an online marketplace where online retailers and others can find shipping carriers.

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