The holidays are (basically) here. I’ve lived through 15 holiday seasons at Lulu, and this one promises to be quite different. If you’re a seasoned ecommerce veteran, you’re well aware of the time and energy needed to ready your online store for the holidays.
If you’re new to the game, buckle up! There’s a lot to do, so let’s get started!
1. Get Started Yesterday
I know this is impossible. But seriously, get your Holiday prep going ASAP! As we’ve entered November, we’ve ushered in Q4 and the wonder it will bring.
With the suggestions that follow, I’m offering you a few ways to ensure your Lulu-fulfilled products are as successful as possible through the Holiday season. As with any print-on-demand service, there are nuances that you must take into account. I’m here to speak to just a few that would be wise to spend some time thinking about as we enter into the Black Friday / Cyber Monday / Holiday sales season.
2. Audit Your Products
If you expect your orders to increase over the next 3 months (you should!), take a few moments and make sure everything is current and accurate with your Shopify Products, as well as your connected Lulu Direct Projects. The last thing you want is to sell a record number of books only to discover you accidentally had a previous version’s interior file loaded into the Lulu project.
To do a quick audit, open each Shopify product to ensure the images, description, price, etc. are all correct. For each product description, consider adjusting the text to be holiday-focused. Perhaps you’re offering a discount on a specific product. The description would be a good place to showcase this. Then navigate to the Lulu Direct app within Shopify and look through your connected projects. Download each print-ready cover and interior PDF and give them a once-over.
Simply ensuring your products and projects are up-to-date and error-free can save you countless customer support hours on the back end.
3. Understand Fulfillment Times
Lulu prints and ships your orders as they come in. This is a wonderful order fulfillment model (especially for books) for many, many reasons.
Using our completely automated production environment means no fulfillment headaches for you. We take care of it all. We also remove the extra overhead costs of warehousing/packaging/shipping the books yourself.
Now… printing books as orders come in means there is a fulfillment timeframe you must take into account. Our books can ship from our facilities and be on their way to your customers in as little as 3-5 days, however, it’s vital to understand that as we get later in the year, that production time will increase.
Right now, a good estimate for production time is more like 5-8 days. We always hope to beat our estimated production times, but to be safe, 5-8 days is a proper estimate as we enter into Q4.
This leads me to my next point: Communicating this to your customers.
4. Create And Communicate Clear Shipping Policies
It’s important for your customers to understand that you are not Amazon. You’ve made the decision to create your own business, snagged a fulfillment partner (Lulu!), and have completely taken the reins of your online business presence. We all wish we could offer 1-day fulfillment and free 1-2 day shipping. That’s not the reality for most independent book fulfillers. So, not being Amazon, your customers will have 2 main questions you will need to be completely up-front about.
How much does shipping cost?
This is an easy one to communicate and execute, as you’ll have your shipping costs displayed to customers in their cart. One thing to consider is to create a shipping cost chart that lives on your website under a dedicated “Shipping” page. Here you can explain shipping costs as well as any shipping/fulfillment policies you’ve created.
When will my order arrive?
This is a more complicated question to answer when you’re using a print-on-demand service, simply because there is a production time window, as well as an “in-transit” time window.
Setting correct expectations is the name of the game here. Estimating both of those time frames as closely as you can is critical to your communication. I’ve mentioned above that Lulu’s production times are currently around 5-8 days. Our Mail (USPS) option within the US can take up to 7 days in transit.
This means your up-front message to customers should let them know if they use your Mail shipping option, their order should take around 14 days for final delivery (you can obviously offer faster shipping methods). As a general rule, it’s a good idea to have these total fulfillment times available for customers to see within your cart.
There are a few ways to accomplish this, but the easiest way is to have the “in transit” time displayed in the shipping method title.
For instance, if you offer Mail shipping, when you’re creating the customer-facing shipping method, title it “Mail (7 business days after printing).” Then make sure you have a message explaining production times displayed. You really can’t communicate these items enough!
Create Shipping Policies
Lastly, (yes, I’m still on this topic) it would be a good idea to create a set of policies around production and fulfillment for your customers. Such as – “If your order doesn’t arrive by (choose a specific time-frame) please contact us and we will send a replacement.”
Create a return policy, and understand Lulu’s return policy. Finally, offer clear instructions on how to contact you if there is an issue with an order. No production environment is perfect, and Lulu can occasionally (gasp!) make a mistake.
Create clear instructions on how to contact you. You can then let Lulu know we made a mistake and we will immediately resolve the issue so you can let your customer know there’s another order on the way.
In an attempt to not reinvent the wheel, the best resource for information on shipping/fulfillment policies for Shopify stores has been provided by Shopify themselves.
5. Take Advantage of Shopify’s Marketing Tools
Shopify is all about empowering merchants to run successful online businesses (check out this list of free business tools they offer!). One area they excel in is Marketing. You can find everything you need to get started right here. I also suggest looking through this curated list of Shopify blog posts on How to Sell Online.
We want to do everything we can to make your Store successful this holiday season. We’ve taken the fulfillment work off your hands so you can focus on other important items like marketing, support, and communication.
Bring on the Holidays.
Cary is the Manager of our Ecommerce Support and Account Management team here at Lulu. Outside of managing the team, he helps creators of all types succeed in growing their business and online presence through using Lulu's expanding set of ecommerce tools.