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Delays: Print-On-Demand, Pandemics, And Holiday Shopping

While online ecommerce has been a boon for creators, retailers, and shoppers, it created a new set of roadblocks too. Most notably, the reliance on shipping carriers to retrieve and deliver products on time. Delays in fulfillment were most acutely felt during the global pandemic, but as we’ve adjusted, many of the problems that lead to holiday shipping delays have persisted.

What Causes Shipping Delays?

According to Shopify, there are five primary causes of shipping delays: 

  1. Labor shortages
  2. Holidays
  3. Extreme weather
  4. Supply chain issues
  5. Inaccurate shipping information

They do a great job of further defining each, so I won’t rehash it here. But there is one common factor among all five causes that should stand out to you: each and everyone is (largely) outside of your control.

You can’t control the weather, when holidays will happen, or if your customers can type their mailing address accurately. That leaves most entrepreneurs and independent creators stuck: you can’t make products ship faster and you can’t make your customers order early enough that shipping delays aren’t a factor. You are, unfortunately, at the mercy of the postal service.

And because you’re creating and selling books using print-on-demand (or POD), you’re also at the mercy of your print-on-demand company’s timeline, product supplies, and fulfillment schedule.

Publishing And Print-On-Demand 

When it comes to shopping and buying products online, there are two distinct ‘sourcing’ methods that can cause some confusion. The historical method is to source a product from a warehouse. This one is pretty easy to understand. 

Let’s say I want to buy a lamp. I go online, find the lamp I want, and order it. An automated system sends my request to the appropriate warehouse. Someone at the warehouse finds the lamp and packs it up for shipping.

Bam! I’ve got a sweet new lamp! 

Because the product is just waiting and ready for someone to buy it, the process of fulfilling an order from a warehouse can be fast (thanks Amazon). 

The other method uses print-on-demand services to create and ship your product. For some goods, this is necessary because the product is customized before ordering. Like a book of family photos and a customized introduction in each copy.

Print-on-demand is great for custom products, but it’s not so great for production times. That lamp can ship and arrive in a matter of days. My custom photo book has to first be checked to ensure it can print, then sent to a printer to be printed and bound. Once all of that is done it is added to a shipment and picked up by the carrier. Only then does it start the journey to my mom’s doorstep.

Planning Ahead For The Holiday Shopping Season

For all the awesome things Amazon brings us, Prime Shipping has created one huge problem for every business creating custom and on-demand products: the expectation of speed.

It’s an unrealistic expectation. While you can get an item that’s been sitting in a warehouse packaged and shipped in very little time, custom products take longer. To get your book to your customer, first we have to print the order. Then your book has to be processed and shipped, meaning the book is trimmed, bound, packaged, and picked up by the shipping carrier. 

Your mantra for the coming weeks should be PLAN AHEAD. 

There’s a lot you can do as an independent creator or small publisher to prepare for the holiday season. Readers might not know about the time involved in print-on-demand. And data from Salesforce shows that sites averaged a 43% increase in new visitors

Selling books online through your ecommerce platform (using Lulu Direct) is a great way to sell to your fans, earn the most from each sale, and control your product. But you’ll still have to allow for standard shipping times and keep a watch on holiday shipping deadlines to ensure your customers know what to expect and can get your book delivered in time for the holidays.

Preparedness is everything this every year.

Preparation + Print-On-Demand

For print-on-demand retailers (which is you if you’re using POD for your books), you’ll need to consider not just the delays in shipping but also potential material delays that may impact the printers. 

Printing

Most orders Lulu prints take only a day or two from the time of order, but with the holidays approaching, we expect that print time to grow.

While we process more orders for the holidays, we expect Lulu’s delays will be exacerbated by shortages in supplies and inevitable shipping hold-ups. Ink and paper stock shortages coupled with a lack of freight drivers are straining the entire publishing industry. 

The first thing you should do is order some books now. Get a box of your books to have on-hand, ready to use for fulfilling rush or last-minute orders. It’s always been smart to keep some books stocked and available; with the potential for delays in shipping and printing, it’s likely to be necessary.

If you rely on retailers (like the Lulu Bookstore) to sell your books, you’ll need to focus instead on sharing information with your readers. Start marketing for your holiday sales earlier than in years past and share information about delays from a variety of sources.

Shipping

Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot you can do to allow for shipping delays. 

In the fourth quarter carriers always experience an increase in delays and lost or damaged orders. It’s just natural when they’re trying to get more packages delivered in a set timeframe. Stack on top of the trend in online shopping and we’re in for some difficult delivery times over the coming months.

When you are messaging your readers (and potential readers) about inevitable delays in shipping, be sure to encourage them to order early and plan for the longest predicted shipping time.

One idea for buyers who purchase too close to the holidays to guarantee to have your book in time is a custom gift voucher. Lulu’s Bookstore offers these as we approach our shipping deadlines and if you sell using Shopify or our API, you can create your own using Canva or another (free) design tool.

Here’s a template I made you’re welcome to use:

Gift Voucher-Lulu-Made with Canva

Potential Delays For Lulu

We expect our printers to need a couple of extra days for some orders and we anticipate unpredictable shipping delays. You can use our Pricing Calculator to see Lulu’s shipping time estimates—we keep this page updated so you’ll always see the most accurate estimate for shipping times we can offer.

That doesn’t mean you can’t have a successful holiday season though! You just need to plan ahead and actively share information with your readers. To help you plan your holiday sales, we’ve created this infographic to help you plan around potential delays in printing or shipping.

Paul H, Content Marketing Manager
Paul H

Paul is the Content Marketing Manager at Lulu. When he's not entrenched in the publishing and print-on-demand world, he likes to hike the scenic North Carolina landscape, read, sample the fanciest micro-brewed beer, and collect fountain pens. Paul is a dog person but considers himself cat tolerant.

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