The retail rush: 7 ways to plan for the next sales peak

A record-breaking 2020 in eCommerce showed the importance of planning ahead. And it’s never too early to get started for the next peak. Here are seven things you can do to help deliver a great customer experience.

Key points

  • Australians are still shopping online at higher rates than before the COVID-19 pandemic
  • To manage increased seasonal demand, it’s important to work closely with your logistics partner and prepare your team
  • Communicating accurate parcel delivery timeframes, improving warehouse efficiency, and using the correct packaging and labelling can help improve the delivery experience for customers.

After a record breaking 2020 in eCommerce,1 Australians are still shopping online in bigger numbers than they were pre-pandemic. April 2021 online purchases were a significant 56.1% higher than the same period two years earlier, in April 2019.2 This isn’t surprising considering many Australians said they expected to continue shopping online even after the pandemic ended.

The ABS November 2020 Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey showed 33% of Australians preferred to shop online more than they did before the pandemic.3 And participants in a December 2020 Australia Post survey said they expected their online shopping frequency to remain 28% higher than pre-COVID levels.1

Last year’s unprecedented eCommerce volumes certainly showed the importance of reliable supply chain partnerships. And with the next retail peak around the corner, it’s already time to start planning. Here are seven ways you and your team can plan for the next rush – and deliver a quality customer experience.

1. Plan and share your volumes with your partners

Let your Account Manager know you’re expecting more volume – perhaps due to a free shipping promotion or increased marketing spend. Then Australia Post can better prepare for that influx of deliveries. Volume projections can also help forecast Unit Loading Device (ULD) and pallet requirements, and will help you order ample supplies and ULDs via Australia Post’s Lodgement Quality System (LQS).

2. Manage customer expectations

While customers like a choice of delivery speeds, clear delivery information is even more important. According to a survey of more than 2,000 people who received a domestic parcel in February 2021, 60% said certainty around delivery timing was more important than speed.4 This communication helps build confidence around delivery.4

“We’ve learned over many years that certainty is more important than same-day delivery for books,” Booktopia CEO and CTO Wayne Baskin says. “So we tell people the delivery timeframe before they buy, and give them the ability to enter their postcode to get a more accurate estimate for delivery.”

When quoting shipping times, make sure you take internal pick, pack and lodgement process time into account – not just the Australia Post delivery timeframe – for a more accurate estimate.

Customers also want shipping cost clarity. In that same February 2021 survey, 89% of respondents said they valued clear, up-front information about postage and delivery charges.4 And the same goes for international customers. In the 2020 International Postal Corporation shopper survey, 90% of shoppers said they wanted to see clear, up-front information about delivery fees – the most important delivery factor for the fifth consecutive year.4

3. Store stock closer to customers

While the rise of retail outlets as picking and packing centres has helped move distribution sites closer to customers, additional warehouse alternatives can help you manage end-of-year surges in demand. This is especially important for delivering on a next-day promise.

Partnering with a 3PL such as Fulfilio, which is owned by Australia Post, can help you decentralise fulfilment so you can have multiple state-based distribution centres – potentially cutting the time it takes to reach your customer’s door.

4. Find the best fit for your packaging – and the environment

Best-fit packaging can enhance your brand perception and increase customer loyalty.1 The right packaging should be cost-effective, protective and sustainable. Research shows half of online shoppers would choose to buy products from businesses taking action to reduce their impact on the environment.4 Customers are taking note of packaging waste, and businesses around the world are responding with a more eco-friendly approach.5

Baskin says Booktopia has stopped using bubble wrap, which allows more parcels to fit in each delivery truck and reduces overall fuel consumption. He says Booktopia has also seen a significant increase in NPS score for customers who received new right-size packaging.

If you use plastic satchels, consider recycled plastic satchels – the most environmentally friendly packaging option according to independent research commissioned by Australia Post in 2019.6

5. Prepare your freight for collection correctly

Only 1% of parcel deliveries are delayed by parcel sorting machines being unable to accurately read difficult-to-scan, incorrectly printed or applied labels. But these delays can cause a four-point NPS score decline and up to 40% more customer service contacts.4

Every parcel needs a barcode label. If it can’t be scanned (due to low ink quality for example), it can still be delivered thanks to Australia Post’s remediation label. But it won’t be visible in the network, meaning your customer won’t receive any tracking notifications, potentially impacting their delivery experience. That’s why stocking up on packaging material – including printer ink, barcode labels and tape – for peak delivery periods is essential.

Also, make sure your team separates parcels for pickup – for example, Express Post from Standard Parcel Post or metro from interstate – and familiarise your staff with packaging size limits.

6. Send manifest data on the same day as lodgement

When a manifest transmits data digitally, it triggers a delivery notification to the customer. Send the data too soon before the parcel is collected, and an early notification could make customers anxious about their parcel’s location. Send it too late and Australia Post might have to enter the data manually, which means no automated sortation and potential delays. That’s why it’s best to send it on the same day the parcel is lodged.

Incorrect manifest data can also lead to further downstream costs, such as higher contact centre call rates with parcel tracking enquiries. Almost a quarter of call centre contacts are made before an estimated delivery date can be provided.4 Manifesting as close as possible to lodgement can help reduce this.

Providing your customers’ contact information, such as mobile and email details, allows Australia Post to reset customer expectations on estimated delivery date in the event of delays. This can reduce contacts by up to 76%.4

7. Prepare to flex your schedule

Looking ahead can help you plan your warehouse staff roster and parcel collection schedules. To manage increased volume, you might need to consider additional pick-ups and larger semi-trailer collections.
Christmas Day falls on a Saturday this year, which means it’s even more important to plan delivery cut off times, and when to transition to express delivery.

Your Australia Post Account Manager and Service Partners can discuss all these options with you, and help you optimise lodgements so they work into your operating rhythm. Because ultimately, we all want the same thing: to ensure all customers get their holiday gifts and parcels on time.

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Your account manager will be in touch soon to set up a peak planning session with you. 

This article is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to be specific advice for your business needs. 

Inside Australian Online Shopping eCommerce Industry Report, Australia Post, 2021

2 Inside Australian Online Shopping eCommerce update, May 2021, Australia Post

3 Household Impacts of COVID-19 Survey, Australian Bureau of Statistics, November 2020 N=3400

4 The Delivery Experience data and insights report, Australia Post, 2021

5 The drive toward sustainability in packaging – beyond the quick wins, McKinsey, Jan 30 2020

6 Australia Post Packaging Life Cycle Assessment by Selerant, November 2020