Every year around September or October, online businesses begin to gear up for the holiday shopping season. This means a huge push to build awareness for new customers, to re-engage existing customers, and to generally promote products. It’s a proven (if not tedious) method for helping buyers and sellers get the most out of holiday shopping seasons. It’s also the time of year when businesses and shoppers have to plan for inevitable delays due to volume, scarcity, and weather.
This year more than ever before, you need to be thinking even earlier with your holiday planning.
To say that 2020 has been an unprecedented year would be an understatement. Everyone has felt the disruption from the global pandemic—publishers and authors are no exception. So, with the fourth (and final) quarter of 2020 on the horizon, it’s time to think about how you can close out the year on a high note.
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 is on-demand products. For some products, this is necessary because the product is customized immediately before ordering. I might create a book of family photos and customize the introduction for each family member.
Print-on-demand is great for custom products and for reducing warehouses, but it’s not so great for production times. That lamp can ship and arrive in a matter of days. But my custom 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.
For all the awesome things Amazon brings us, its Prime Shipping has created one huge problem for every business creating custom and on-demand products. They’ve created an expectation of speed.
It’s an unrealistic expectation too. While you can get an item that’s been sitting in a warehouse packaged and shipped in very little time, custom products naturally take longer.
Your mantra for the coming weeks should be PLAN AHEAD.
A few weeks ago, the American Booksellers Association published its guidelines for preparing for the fourth quarter. While the entire article is worth reading, I want to focus on one statement:
“We anticipate many supply chains being slowed or disrupted by COVID at some point during Q4.”
There’s a lot you can do as an independent author or small publisher to prepare for the holiday season in a normal year. From cleaning up your site’s pages to ensuring your books are all perfect and ready for purchase. But this year, you should add one item; order timing.
Every single business, in the entire world, is preparing for the end of 2020 by promoting and encouraging early shopping. MarketWatch predicts the holiday shopping season could start more than a month earlier than usual; jumping from the week of Thanksgiving to October 10!
Preparedness is everything this year.
Preparation & Print-On-Demand
If all industries—including retailers with warehouses full of their products—are expecting delays, we all have to prepare for those inevitable delays. 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.
Allow extra time for printing during the fourth quarter. Most orders take three to five days to print, but with the holidays and the existing delays, we expect that print time to grow.
Part of this is due to more orders than usual. But now our printers must also contend with social distancing and various delays in receiving materials. And in the USA, it’s an election year where the USPS is struggling to handle mail-in ballots and loss of funding.
Add these new concerns onto the already unpredictable delays caused by weather and volume, and deliveries this holiday season may experience a number of delays.
If you sell directly to your readers (maybe using our Shopify App or Open API), you should consider ordering some books to hold on-hand. In fact, that’s a good plan in general. If you always have a handful of your books stored, you can act like a warehouse retailer and ship books quickly if it’s absolutely necessary. And with the potential for delays in shipping and printing, it’s even better advice this year.
For authors who 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.
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 that the pandemic driving even more online sales and creating material shortages and we’re in for some difficult delivery times over the coming months.
When you are messaging to 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 having 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:
One unavoidable change that will impact everyone is the increase in shipper pricing. This is being seen now as a surcharge applied to vendors (like Lulu) who use shipping providers like FedEx, UPS, and others. It’s important to understand any potential changes in the cost to ship as provided by the shipper and to allow for this when thinking about your holiday shoppers.
On Lulu we have to adjust our shipping cost to cover shipper surcharges, which you’ll see listed as an increase in the various shipping methods we offer. Please note that this is not an increase controlled by Lulu; rather we are applying the increase our shippers have imposed to help them meet the increase in demand this year.
If you sell direct using Lulu xPress for Shopify or our API, you’ll need to allow for any changes in shipping costs by updating the amount you collect from buyers for shipping. Otherwise, any increase in shipping will eat into your profits from each sale.
Potential Delays For Lulu
We expect our printers to need a couple of extra days for some orders and we anticipate unpredictable shipping delays.
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.