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Christmas post – 5 shipping rules for the holidays

Man in warehouse with piles of stacked boxes behind him. He is scanning the barcode on a box.

If you're like many small business owners, you're feeling equal parts happy and harried about the impending holiday season. You are happy because the sales period between Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) and the New Year often puts small businesses back in the black. But, you are harried because of the pressure that comes with the holiday shipping rush.

It’s not too late to face this holiday season with a smile – you just need to start preparing now to meet the increased seasonal shipping demands. Fortunately, a little prior planning and lots of hard work will keep you organized, prepared and on top of the complex challenges ahead.

Here are five tips that can help you make this your best holiday season yet.

1. Prepare to ship early

According to the latest estimates by Forrester, online holiday sales are projected to reach $129 billion in 2017, with two out of five customers spending more this holiday season than in 2016. Since online holiday shopping inevitably leads to holiday shipping, Christmas delivery can be a very high-volume time of year for most businesses.

Prepare to ship early and clearly educate your customers on shipping terms.For example, many customers hear "Next Day Air" and assume their package will be delivered the next day, no matter when they order it. In reality, UPS Next Day Air® packages are delivered on the next business day after UPS receives the packages from the shipper.

2. Plan for returns

We already know companies that offer more return options increased their yearly revenue by up to 5 percent of total sales, but what's new this year is how fervently customers choose companies according to shipping options: 68 percent of shoppers say flexible or free return policies influence where they shop, and 34 percent of customers abandon online shopping carts because of difficult-to-return items and long delivery estimates.

Easy, swift returns are essential to keeping customers satisfied and maintaining the longevity of your small business, and that's where UPS Returns® Manager technology can make you stand out. It gives you better control and visibility over your returns so you're never surprised by an incoming shipment, and you'll be able to better control speed and cost of inbound shipments by minimizing mistaken or misdirected returns. It also provides more return label options. So your customers have three ways to get their returned product to you, minimizing stress and confusion during the hectic holiday shipping season.

3. Pay attention to product shapes

Another thing to think about when you’re putting together your delivery planner is the shape of the products you sell and ship. Shipping a snow globe or framed artwork is different than shipping a sweater, so it comes with different shipping requirements. The more unique the item and the gift packaging, the more complicated – and expensive – the packing and shipping options can be.

You can try to DIY the best solution, but it can be costly both in terms of damaged products and disgruntled customers. The UPS Packaging Solutions engineers can help you develop creative packaging solutions that minimize cost and ensure the most secure delivery for holiday shipping. You'll have an entire team at your disposal: designing, developing and testing packaging that works best for each product.

4. Keep an eye on inventory:

When inventory moves in and out of your warehouse quickly, it's important to keep track of what sales you can fulfill and which you can't. The UPS Ready® Program offers a vetted list of inventory management providers that integrate UPS technology into their software systems to assist small- and middle-market businesses. Also accessible is the UPS Customer Solutions team, whose members use a 10-part process to gather data and identify areas for improvement in the supply chain, optimization and the inventory.

Another important part of your pre-season preparations is inventory selection. To better anticipate what customers want this holiday season, don't miss the 2017 UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper study, which details the digital evolution of online shoppers' behaviors and preferences. You'll get valuable research and purchase insights that will help you plan your holiday stock effectively.

5. Manage the process

In a small business, the more time you spend on administrative tasks like billing, tracking, address validation and paperwork, the less time you have to interact with customers and develop products. Get that time back with the UPS Developer Kit , which offers various programming tools to assist in many aspects of business management. The automated programming interfaces (APIs) can be integrated with a company's existing systems and assist with everything from locating packages in transit to better understanding international shipping regulations.

Thinking through your shipping options before the holidays can lead to a better experience for both you and your customers. "The surge starts well before Thanksgiving," says Mark Boyles, who works with retail segment customers at UPS. "But UPS has a variety of technology tools to help our customers run a more efficient and productive operation, even when things get crazy."

Click here to find out how UPS helped one company solve its shipping challenge and reduce costs.

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