6 min read

Setting Shipping Expectations for Your Holiday Shoppers

Geoff Whiting

Last updated:

Your holiday shoppers have become savvy, and many have their own shipping expectations for this year, but do they match your reality? Your business should take charge and explain what you’re seeing so that customers have the right idea in mind when they buy from you. It not only can improve your sales now, but it’s an intelligent step to building a healthy long-term relationship. With the supply chain in a constant state of change, here are some things to tell your customers and set their shipping expectations.

supply chain setting shipping expectations

Why talk about the supply chain?

Your shoppers are aware of supply chains now, and that’s a significant change from even last year. According to an Oracle survey, 45% of Americans said they never thought about supply chains and what is involved with fulfillment before this year. But, now 91% say they think about the supply chain when making a purchase, especially if that’s a gift.

You should work to set shipping expectations because your customers are thinking about it. And they’ve had poor experiences that are still fresh in their minds. Nearly half say that a gift has missed a special occasion because of supply chain issues. Two-thirds worry that delays will ruin someone’s holiday this year.

Customers want you to prevent that if possible. One of your best tools is being honest because it demonstrates when you can help keep holidays joyous. Or, if you’re facing supply chain issues with certain products, honesty helps you push customers to different items. Shifting sales helps you be part of a positive experience this holiday season instead of something that potentially ruins it. Let this communication be part of your larger growth strategy.

creating an order to set shipping expectations

How do you set shipping expectations?

Nearly all your shoppers changed their buying behaviors over the past two years. That means a lot of new experiences, potential markets, and customer service interactions. With the ongoing supply chain concerns, companies should expect those customer service demands to stay high through peak season and beyond.

Marketing and communications are your best line of defense against upset customers around shipping issues. Embrace customer service capabilities, tools, and honesty to help. Prepare customers for the potential of delays and explain what you’re doing to mitigate these issues. Some things aren’t in your control; others might be. Tell people the difference.

If you’re not sure what to tell customers, here are three questions that every communication should answer.

Customer service for backorders

1. What do customers need to know?

You can set shipping expectations best by sharing the relevant information you have. Your communications should be clear and consistent, and proactive when possible.

Explain the issues you’re facing, both general and specific to the customer’s order. You can do this in multiple ways, for example:

  • Adding a general note to confirmation pages and emails to notify customers what delays are happening broadly
  • Sending update emails for delays to a specific product or order
  • Telling customers how long products are taking now due to supply chain issues
  • Updating product pages to identify stockouts and backorders
  • Adjusting marketing to ask shoppers to buy early and avoid potential delays later in the year
  • Adding banners and on-site notifications of potential delays
  • Providing tracking details and resending this information when you ship an order or delays happen
  • Offering updates as they occur, whether things are on-time or stuck in transit

Remember always to thank your shoppers for their business. Be upfront about delays, explain the reasons, and note anything you’re doing to address these concerns. If you can afford it, consider making the customer an offer — like free shipping or an additional coupon — to help minimize the chance that they’ll cancel the order.

2. What are carriers telling them?

Carriers have put forth specific dates that they say will guarantee products arriving at residences by December 25th. Customers may not necessarily trust carriers to stick to these dates. However, it may set customer expectations for what you can deliver.

Unfortunately, the dates vary and aren’t always clear. FedEx dates range from the 15th to 24th, depending on the service used. UPS lists dates between the 21st and the 23rd for expedited options, but ground shipping doesn’t have a firm deadline. The Postal Service says to try and send things before the 15th for most packages, but customers can ship some as late as the 23rd.

You’ll want to understand these deadlines and how they impact you. Remember that carrier deadlines can change and may be confusing for customers. When sharing details with customers, focus on the dates they tell you, not the general published dates. This allows you to better set shipping expectations based on date, your shipping volume, and the capacity a carrier is giving you.

3. What are carriers telling you?

Carriers are working on setting shipping expectations with you, too. Look at what your reps are saying and review what those updates looked like this time last year. If you don’t have a rep or aren’t getting consistent communication, start the process yourself. Contact your carrier and ask for updates on delays in general, capacity issues, and if you’ll be impacted.

Generally, carriers are being upfront about issues in today’s supply chains. They don’t want to set unrealistic expectations that harm their relationships or your business. Use this information to inform your customers and set marketing or other business elements. If carriers are telling you slowdowns may impact your warehouse’s region in December, or it’s facing a capacity crunch there, start accelerating your sales and other timetables. Get proactive about setting fulfillment goals and shipping expectations.

packaging and setting shipping expectations

Do you need to set shipping expectations at other times?

While the holiday season is top of mind for these efforts, you’ll want to set shipping expectations regularly going forward. Peak season’s end date is tentative, and we’re seeing some fees or increases become semi-permanent from select carriers. It’s time to start thinking about how you protect customers and operations, whether that’s shifting warehouse locations with new 3PL partners or asking for help adding regional carriers to your mix.

Now, while you’re thinking about communications and marketing, push this focus to the rest of your operations. Ask if you’re setting shipping expectations correctly for your team as well. You still have a chance to prepare for peak season fulfillment and the growth of returns that will follow. Click the image below for our guide on how to secure peak fulfillment today.

clickable guide on how to prepare for eCommerce peak season fulfillment

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