Dear B2B sellers, you're running out of time
In this life, there are three things you can count on: Death, taxes, and some schmuck complaining when Target sells Halloween decorations in July. Perhaps you have found yourself taking on the role of said complainer. But, have you ever wondered why these stores seem to stock up on holiday goods earlier each year? There is a good reason for it, and it has nothing to do with the rising holiday spirits.
If you are involved with business-to-business transactions, then the concept of early holiday preparations should come as no surprise. The holidays are a raging cacophony of stress for all businesses. There are many things for which they must plan and prepare. We here at QQ Studio have already started planning for Christmas. Why? Because we need to get ready before the businesses we serve get ready.
Santa Starts His Shopping Early, So Should You
Here is a scenario. You own a cookie company. You make and sell batches of cookies in person and on the internet. For Christmas, you want red and green baggies for your cookies. So, when do you start buying them? Surely, you would not start on December 1st. You would not have enough time to get the bag shipment, package the cookies in said bags, then mail the finished product to your customers, or set up stands to sell them. You'd need to start getting ready at least a month in advance so that you can spend the remainder of the time leading up to Christmas marketing and advertising your Christmas cookies. So, you would buy the bags around November, maybe even October if you want to be really prepared. Therefore, when should the packaging company get ready for the surge of people buying holiday packaging in mid-autumn? If you guessed in the summertime, you would be right! This is the standard operating procedure for us and our fellow B2B businesses. Now, mix in the Covid variable, and this timeline becomes even tighter. This is thanks to a few changes that the pandemic has enacted.
Online Shopping Is Through the Roof
It's sad to see, but we may have to give up on the great American tradition of trampling children to get discounted television sets on Black Friday. Online shopping has proven itself to be far more addicting, and slightly less dangerous. Last year, Black Friday shopping hit a new record of $9 billion spent, which is a 22% jump from the $7.4 billion spent in 2019. Before you start gasping, know that Cyber Monday online sales reached $10.8 billion, which means it was the largest U.S. online shopping day in recorded history. Amazon alone is responsible for 1.5 billion of the packages delivered. What about in-store Black Friday sales? Well, they fell around 52%. Coincidently, the amount of shopping cart-related fatalities also fell by about 52%.
Online shopping puts more power into the idle hands of holiday shoppers. They can shop anytime, anywhere. That means once the smallest drop of discounted blood enters the viral waters, they will smell it, and they will come. All you can do is sharpen your spears and batten down the hatches.
Shipping Times Are in Flux
As the number of online purchases increased, the quality of the shipping decreased. It is truly a mystery as to why. Perhaps it has something to do with the underpaid front-line workers delivering the myriad of essential goods being treated like disposable napkins. In any case, the two-day shipping promised by the unnamed megacorporation morphed into a week and even two weeks in some cases. That is an eternity to shoppers. This shows that shipping times can alter without warning. This is even more of a reason why being ahead of the game is the safest play. Always assume that your package will arrive late, or some unforeseen issue will arise and plan your timeline accordingly.
It's not just Amazon, the USPS is cracking under the pressure. Perhaps the efforts that were made to defund the USPS affected shipping speed. Either way, the USPS has no plans to return to pre-2020 levels. As outlined in its 10-year plan, the USPS will modify service standards for First-Class Mail letters and flats from 1- 3 days to 1-5 day service. While this is fine for the postal workers, it does mean that Amazon will continue to have a rather strong grip on our collective necks in regards to shipping.
Lucky for you, QQ Studio offers free domestic shipping year-round. We also offer expedited shipping options for when you want your bags extra quick. If your business cannot provide the same, then it is imperative to be open and honest about delays and shipping speed. Remember that business owners are consumers too, and consumers don’t tolerate paying for shipping anymore. If your shipping is not free and not fast, then your customers will not be happy.
Businesses Are Prepared for the Worst
Other people may also be aware of the unreliability of shipping, and are being smart by ordering their products early as well. If you want to be extra prepared, you need to start buying even earlier than them. Monitor inventory of desired materials, for they may sell out faster than you think. Are you seeing the trend here? You do not want to be 2 steps ahead of the competition, you want to be 3, 4, possibly 5 steps ahead of them. Scratch that, let's just round up to a nice even 10.
Returning to our cookie scenario, let's say you want pumpkin-shaped sprinkles. In 2019, the sprinkle manufacturers sold out of the pumpkin ones on September 10th. You should then assume that this year, 2021, they are going to sell out on August 20th. Other cookie makers will recognize that unreliable shipping and increased demand will make the sprinkle inventory shrink sooner than last year. I suggest you make a schedule for inventory restocking. Then take the start date and make it 2 months earlier.
Working around Holidays
Corporations are people too, so you cannot forget about the human element of the holidays. Workers are going to be more distracted and prone to taking time off as the season approaches. A survey of around 8,000 workers globally found that 82% felt that their productivity decreased during the 2020 holiday season. Gift hunting and vacation planning is in itself a great source of stress; recognize that this could affect productivity in your staff. If you are worth your salt, then you already have some kind of plan or content release strategy for the holidays. Start the process two months in advance to counteract the festive work funk. More time acts as a safety net that can catch any unforeseen issues.
You also have the option to hire more staff to tackle the holiday workload. This has its own set of problems that need consideration. The biggest factor is that holiday hires will never be as productive as older, seasoned employees. Loyalty and commitment to the company are invaluable, and not easily gotten from holiday hires. There are things you can do to combat holiday dips in performance. Secret Santa, flexible hours, and work-from-home options are possible strategies. Alternatively, you can always aggressively threaten them with termination. That sometimes works.
We Don't Really Know Anything
Here is the thing, we cannot predict a gosh darn thing nowadays. What we are all dealing with regarding shifting in consumer habits, trends, marketing strategies, etc., is not even over yet. The next trend or chaotic event could happen tomorrow and throw a wrench into everyone's carefully choreographed routine. In that case, perhaps it is worth cutting down on your season theming and instead focus on year-round strategies that are not as time-sensitive. One thing is certain; we need to think beyond traditional marketing strategies. You have two options, prepare several months in advance for everything you do in an attempt to be prepared, or instead, never stop planning. We are driving on a winding and narrow path; a hazard is surely lying somewhere up ahead. I do not know where or what it is, all I can say is that you should put on your seat belt, and brace for impact.