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An expert’s advice on handling holiday ecommerce stress

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Now that the Black Friday/Cyber Monday maelstrom is in the review mirror, it’s time to focus on what online merchants have to look forward to.

More of the same.

I’m not trying to be a wise guy, but the truth is the official start of the holiday shopping season is called that for a reason. Black Friday and Cyber Monday were only the beginning. There will be plenty of zany days ahead for retailers, including online retailers, with orders numbering several times what they do on a typical day.

So, after weeks of reading about how frenzied holiday shopping gets for consumers and merchants alike, we thought we’d call a little post-Cyber Monday time out and offer some advice from a retail veteran and shipping expert on coping with the craziness. 

Hey Cyber Monday and what follows is exciting — really

As ShipStation’s vice president of marketing and partnerships, Robert Gilbreath deals with a long list of customers who are in the thick of the crush of holiday orders. A retail veteran himself, he’s offered tips and guidance in presentations and webinars. And like any retail veteran, the holiday shopping season stirs his strategic soul.

Robert Gilbreath

Robert Gilbreath

“It’s exciting, exciting for me personally because I was on the other side of the table for so long,” says Gilbreath, meaning he’s no longer directly in the fray. “I kind of miss it. I don’t miss the all-nighters, but I miss that weird pressure of Black Friday and Cyber Monday and wondering, what’s going to happen? Will everything work?”  

The answer, unfortunately, is “no.” Everything won’t work. The holiday shopping season is always a work in progress for retailers. The big thing, then, in the heat of the holiday shopping season, is to remember why you started doing the job you do in the first place.

“I think always trying to have fun is important,” Gilbreath says.

Sure, things are going to go wrong when the number of orders increases exponentially, but “stop a second before you scream,” Gilbreath counsels, “and understand it’s a good thing that you just got a ton of orders. You did something right in order to get all those orders. Try to keep that in mind.”

Don’t hesitate to celebrate the little victories — the 100th or 1,000th or 10,000th holiday order shipped, a record-breaking day, the positive customer feedback or a note of praise from another department in the organization. 

“Try to inject some stress-relieving things into the mix,” Gilbreath adds. “If a retailer doesn’t normally bring in lunch, this would be a great week to bring in lunch. If it already does that, mix it up. Bring in a chair massage person. Think of things that show appreciation to your staff. It’s a good time to remind everyone how thankful you are for everyone.” 

And while creating a positive and supportive vibe will go a long way toward easing holiday stress, Gilbreath has some practical steps retailers can take, too, including those he shared in our previous post on coping with the holiday fulfillment spike. 

First, don’t underestimate the expertise of the vendors you work with. 

Look to vendors for advice

“The tools that you’re using just to run your business, most of them will have great support mechanisms in place,” he says. “If the stuff hits the fan, our users can call us or chat with us and get help, whether that help is, ‘I think something is broken,’ or ‘Help, I don’t think I’m doing this the right way. Can you help me out?'”

And keep in mind that while your experience may be vast, a vendor is most likely working with hundreds or thousands of retailers who face the same challenges you do and who quite likely have come up with a range of solutions. 

As we’ve said before, Gilbreath is a big believer in understanding your fulfillment and shipping processes on a granular level. Knowing exactly the steps involved in getting an order approved, packed, out the door and to a customer — and how long each step takes — means a merchant has a crystal clear idea of what to expect as orders come in. 

Ideally, the process is easy to learn and is understood by everyone in the organization. It helps, too, to adhere to the process and run dress rehearsals for peak time well ahead of peak time. Granted, it’s a little late for rehearsals this year, but make a note for next year if early rehearsals are not already on your holiday check list. 

As you consider your process, look especially hard at functions that are automated. By their nature, automated steps often can be scaled up immediately. Take advantage of the scalable technology you already have in place.

Finally, don’t hesitate to turn to loved ones for support. And not just moral support. Gilbreath says he knows of smaller businesses that have called in kids, parents, aunts, uncles, grandmothers, grandmothers-in-law etc., when orders have peaked precipitously. Hey, it’s part of being a merchant — doing what needs to be done. 

At times, the holiday season can be all about survival. And getting through requires ingenuity, determination, planning and accepting help from anyone who can give it.

Featured photo by iStock. Photo of Robert Gilbreath courtesy of ShipStation.

Contact Mike Cassidy at [email protected]; follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy.

Mike Cassidy

Mike Cassidy

Mike is the head of storytelling at Signifyd. A former journalist and a retail geek, he covers ecommerce and the way technology is transforming digital commerce. Contact him at [email protected].