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The Ultimate e-Commerce Fulfilment Strategy for Peak Season

What is peak season in e-Commerce?

If you’re like the majority of e-Commerce businesses, it’s likely that you don’t have a steady stream of business all year round. Instead, there will be certain times of the year when your products are in heavier demand. Although the period running up to Christmas (and just after) is the peak season for most e-Commerce traders, it’s possible that your own busy time may differ:

  • Garden furniture sellers are likely to have a peak period in the summer months, with lower demand as the weather turns colder.
  • Perfumiers and chocolatiers can expect a surge in customers in the lead-up to Valentine’s Day
  • Stationery sellers may experience higher volumes of sales in August, as students prepare to go back to school and university

peak season

You probably already have a good idea of when your peak period begins and ends, but if not, it’s important to use accurate forecasting to predict your busiest times. Having anticipated these key periods, you can employ a rock-solid fulfilment strategy to ensure that you will be able to keep up with demand.

Black Friday, Cyber Monday and other key peak days

Black Friday, which follows Thanksgiving and marks the start of the lead-up to Christmas, is notorious as the busiest day in the e-Commerce calendar. Customers will be on the lookout for a bargain on this day and may be poised and ready to part with their cash. Similarly, Cyber Monday is the term coined to describe the beginning of the following week, when online sales soar to their highest levels.

But it’s worth thinking carefully about whether you want to capitalise on this one-day shopping bonanza, or whether you would prefer to spread your sales over a longer period of time. Statistics show that some savvy customers are no longer holding out for Black Friday to spend their money, preferring to get their seasonal shopping done earlier, to spread the cost. Some in the industry refer to a ‘Black November’ phenomenon, which shows a more sustained level of demand across the whole of the month before Christmas. This may be an easier approach for your business, with a steadier workload that can be maintained over a longer period, rather than a dramatic spike that must be dealt with all at once.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday aren’t the only peak days during the busy Christmas period. If you are selling goods for delivery you can also expect a surge on what’s known as ‘Last Collection Day’, the last possible date that people can order in order to receive their goods before Christmas.

Challenges during peak season – and how to overcome them

If you’re underprepared, your peak trading period is likely to put you under pressure, overwhelming your staff and exhausting your inventory (meaning you don’t have the stock available to profit from all of those potential extra sales). So, as always in the e-Commerce industry, forward planning is key. Here are some of the main issues you’ll need to think about in your fulfilment strategy:

  • Staffing. Do you have enough people on the payroll to ensure that you can fulfil your orders during peak times? It’s important to get this right: if you employ too many people this could eat into your profits
  • Inventory. What are the products that are likely to fly off the shelves? Stock up well in advance so that you can fulfil the surge in demand.
  • Delivery. If your peak period falls over the Christmas season, there will be increased pressure on postal systems. This means you will need to allow extra time to get your orders out, to ensure they reach your customers in good time.
  • Returns. Don’t forget what happens after people make their orders. You’re likely to experience a surge in e-Commerce returns, which you’ll need to handle promptly and efficiently.

In order to rise to all of these challenges, accurate forecasting is essential. If you make the wrong predictions, you could end up with a costly surplus of unsaleable goods on your hands, while missing out on sales that could’ve boosted your bottom line. Here’s what you’ll need to get in place:

  • Accurate sales forecasting, to predict when your busy period will happen. This should be based on previous years, but also on current events that could affect demand; things like the Covid pandemic and Brexit could change consumer behaviour.
  • Get your inventory in place, so you have the right stock levels to serve your customers. If you’re savvy, you could do some clever marketing to build up demand for any excess stock that you need to get rid of.
  • Have a distribution plan that can handle time-critical deliveries, so that customers are guaranteed to get their goods when they need them

  • It doesn’t end with delivery; have a returns management system on standby to process a higher-than-usual volume of returns and exchanges.
  • Not sure your existing workforce can cope with the extra demand? Consider outsourcing your fulfilment to an external 3PL company, who can handle the surge in sales.

When should an e-Commerce business start planning for peak season?

Forward planning is always key, so start as early as possible; around 4-6 months before your anticipated peak time.

For businesses who experience their main peak during the Christmas season, you’ll need to be poised and ready for a surge that could start as early as October, and continue until January. This will include a peak returns period in December and January.

Contact Fidelity for support with your fulfilment strategy

Here at Fidelity, we’re the go-to e-Commerce fulfilment company for warehouse operations, returns management and e-Commerce order fulfilment. Want to know more? Just get in touch to see how we can help you prepare effectively for the peak period.