Everything Small Businesses Should Know About Holiday Shipping

From remembering the basics to understanding international rules, here are some tips on how to have a successful holiday shipping season.

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By Chet Paul

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With the holiday season in full swing, small businesses should keep one important fact in mind: thanks to the rise of ecommerce and mobile commerce, online shopping for the holidays is now a global affair. Throughout the year, businesses of all sizes, including corner retail shops, home-based enterprises and larger internet-only merchants, are reaching -- and shipping to -- customers as far away as India and China. During the holiday season, this international activity ramps up, just as domestic sales do.

If your business is selling to global customers, then you need to be prepared for the unique marketing and shipping challenges that the holiday season brings. Of course, your international customers will be looking for many of the same things as your U.S. customers this holiday season, including competitive prices, impressive sales offers and free or reduced shipping. But communicating with buyers in different countries, and delivering your goods to them on time and in one piece, take special care and expertise. For instance, you will want to make sure your social media and marketing strategies account for the language and cultural differences that exist from area to area. Additionally, ensure your shipping partner understands high-volume planning and is experienced with customs and border clearance processing.

Related: 5 Lesser-Known Challenges of Running an Ecommerce Store

For online sales, this holiday season promises to be one of the biggest ever. Adobe Digital Insights predicts 11 percent growth, with holiday online sales expected to reach $91.6 billion.

With this in mind, here is what your small business can do to make sure the holiday rush is a success:

Get your shipping offer in order

Your holiday shipping offer must be clear and competitive within your industry. Consumers often research return policies before making a purchase, and so a "free returns for the holidays" approach can keep you competitive. Research suggests that a lenient return policy will boost sales, and a longer window for returns will lessen the amount of returns that your business must process. Also, be sure to clearly display estimated delivery dates and ordering cutoff dates for Christmas delivery.

Related: 10 Questions Every Entrepreneur Needs to Ask Suppliers

Understand international rules

When shipping outside the United States, it's critical to understand the rules and requirements that apply so that you can avoid getting your holiday shipments delayed. Each country has its own standard for which goods are subject to duty. Also, ecommerce policies vary from country to country, so small businesses that sell internationally should be aware of the policies affecting their customers. For example, a European Union rule requires e-tailers to allow customers 14 days to return unwanted goods.

Be social

This holiday season, the impact of social-media marketing and communications is expected to be big. It is a fast and effective way to reach customers and engage with them. Social media is a particularly effective tool for broadcasting promotions and bargains, and importantly, it is a tool that crosses barriers and boundaries. You may even consider moving into social-media platforms that are specific to different countries. For instance, in China your company should have a presence on Sina Weibo and Qzone.

Related: 10 Ways to Trim Shipping Costs

Remember the shipping basics

At DHL Express, we forecast that the 2016 peak shipping season (between the Monday after Thanksgiving and Christmas Day) will see pickup and delivery volumes that are 12 percent higher than the 2015 season. To make sure your customers receive what they ordered – on time, on target and in one piece – you need a shipping strategy that works. You also need to remember the basics, including:

  • Don't unintentionally ship dangerous goods internationally. Always declare the contents. Many common gift items can be classified as dangerous goods for air transport. These include but are not limited to children's toys that contain batteries; electronics and battery-operated Christmas decorations that have lithium batteries; cologne, bath sets, nail polish and lighters, and any aerosol cans — all of which may be flammable.
  • Each country has its own standard for which goods are subject to duty. It's critical to understand the rules and requirements that apply so that you can avoid getting your holiday shipments delayed. Export.Gov has a wealth of information to help guide small businesses on exporting to other countries.
  • Wrap items individually in bubble wrap, or use Styrofoam inserts so they don't touch each other. Each item should have a minimum of two inches of cushioning on all sides.
  • Fill the box. This will help prevent items from shifting and breaking in transit.
  • Add an extra address label inside the package in case the outer one is damaged or stripped off. Even the stickiest labels can come off!
  • Ensure that all seams and flaps are securely taped. For additional reinforcement, apply extra strips of tape to the bottom and top of the box.

These tips should help your small business navigate the hustle and bustle of the holiday season and ensure your customers' shipments arrive to their final destinations before December 24.

Chet Paul

Chief Commercial Officer at DHL Express U.S.

Chet Paul is chief commercial officer at DHL Express U.S.

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