Every year as the leaves begin to change, eCommerce sellers begin envisioning sugar plums dancing in their heads, the prospect of holiday season sales, and potential record profits a highlight of the year.
For the well-prepared retailers it is indeed a time for dreams to come to fruition, but for those that fail to follow some simple steps before the season commences, it can be a nightmare before Christmas.
The following areas are key to any seller’s performance year round, but are particularly important during the higher volume months coming soon:
- Inventory Management
- Stock the Right Products
- Marketplace Exposure & Competitive Pricing
- Shipping and Fulfillment
- Monitor Metrics & Buyer Communication
Many sellers list their inventory on multiple channels, so let’s start with how confident you are in your quantities on hand and your ability to replenish and keep up with demand.
Whether you’re selling on your own website, Amazon, eBay, or multiple other channels, your selling reputation is on the line so it’s up to you to ensure you have sufficient quantity in stock to fulfill your order volume demand.
If your quantity is locally warehoused, you can physically audit your inventory to ensure the items listed online are accurate. In addition, if you are a Monsoon customer, using our selling tools can automate quantity updates across channels to keep inventory counts synchronized.
For sellers using third parties to guarantee quantities, you’ll want to make sure you have an automated process to keep up with any quantity changes. You will also want to protect yourself by setting minimum quantities you’ll accept in the logic you employ when deciding what items you choose to sell. If you fall below your targeted minimum quantity, you can de-list items from lower-priority markets to avoid an oversell situation.
For online marketplace sellers, the audit process should also include a complete de-listing and re-listing of inventory prior to the holiday season to ensure inventory quantities are in sync, a routine maintenance task recommended to avoid older inventory from potentially causing stock out issues to crop up during your busiest time of year.
Another suggestion is to cull any ‘dead’ or ‘stale’ stock that isn’t selling and is only collecting dust on your shelves, slow moving items that eat up physical and virtual resources that impact your bottom line.
For media category sellers, this means getting rid of items with poor Amazon sales rank and low values, while for consumer goods category sellers continual review of your product offerings is important to ensure you’re offering what buyers want this year and aren’t hanging onto last year’s product model that could now be considered obsolete.
Stock the Right Products
While it may seem cliché to mention this, stocking the right products is one of the best ways to ensure you will have a successful holiday season.
Some items always sell well during the holidays, but there are also new hot items each year. Whether it is a new toy or tech gadget, these items will be in high demand. Researching trends and stocking up on new products is vital to having a successful holiday season for eCommerce sellers.
There are many ways to research which new products are going to blow the roof off of sales. One way is to check the major retailers to see what products they are investing heavily in bringing into their stores. These companies have large research departments that forecast product demand quite accurately, so learning what they think will be the best sellers is a great way to gain intelligence on what to stock up for in your facility as well. Amazon’s top sellers lists and industry publications are also great sources to see which products are getting the most buzz in your industry.
Once you have identified the new products you are going to offer during the busiest time of year, make sure you purchase enough to meet the demand.
Marketplace Exposure and Competitive Pricing
Once you’ve verified you’re focusing on the right inventory and know the quantities are accurate, the criteria you use for listing items is equally important to ensuring you’re getting not only the maximum exposure for your products, but also minimizing the risk of overselling. Monsoon Commerce selling tools provide multiple features to help you with this, including the following (if you are using another software solution or independently managing your marketplace sales, be sure to keep the following in mind):
- The ability to set minimum quantities required prior to listing, age-based rules to let you decide which market gets listing priority, and for sellers using Fulfillment By Amazon (FBA), the capability to customize how you manage FBA inventory versus local or third-party supply.
- Pricing rules are just as important to consider, so it’s critical to control how competitive your items are on each market to give your inventory the best opportunity to convert to sales. Dynamic pricing rules offer you a powerful weapon to combat the onslaught of competition online, keeping your inventory automatically repriced to hold your position at the top of product searches where buyers find your listings.
- Foreign or domestic, every market has its nuances and poses unique challenges, so the tools available in Monsoon Marketplace are designed to provide you the means to win sales over your competitors while preserving margin at the same time.
- Market-specific and weight/size specific criteria allow sellers to maintain consistent margins regardless of where in the world a product ships.
- If you need to account for supplier or fulfillment specific costs you can build those into your price floors to protect yourself from losing money on sales.
- To give yourself even more of an edge over the competition, markets such as Amazon and eBay offer Free Shipping to entice buyers. Monsoon Commerce lets you take full advantage of these options to maximize sales and protect your margins by factoring in shipping costs into your total price.
Shipping and Fulfillment
Now that your listing and pricing rules are squared away, you’re ready to handle the extra volume, right?
Some of the most basic mistakes a seller can make are not stocking up on shipping supplies, not getting shipments off to FBA early enough, or failing to double-check their third-party suppliers’ inventory availability, as fulfillment times can also be affected during the holidays.
Order volume can easily double or triple as the season picks up, so don’t wait until the last minute to check if you have enough envelopes, boxes, or postage labels to keep up. At best you’ll end up paying more for something you could have purchased at a discount in advance. At worst you risk suspension from a marketplace if your late shipment rates spike due to one or two days where you ran out of supplies.
Sending off shipments to FBA early might cost you a bit more in storage fees, but it can also avoid missing out on sales when FBA gets behind in receiving stock at their fulfillment centers as everyone is trying to get their items to them during the year’s peak time.
In addition, demand for third-party supply is also at a premium during the holidays, so make sure you stay on top of your sources to avoid disappointing customers when quantity dries up on popular products.
An additional suggestion to keep buyers happy is to process expedited or international orders first, as often those customers will be the first to complain if delivery expectations aren’t met. It’s also worth the extra cost to pay for tracking and delivery confirmation on your packages to keep buyers satisfied and reduce your customer service burden. (Editors Note: Additional Shipping Costs Tips article.)
Monitor Metrics and Buyer Communication
Many sellers are great at sourcing, listing, and shipping product, but if you don’t keep a close eye on your marketplace performance metrics and respond to buyers in a timely manner, you can sabotage your own success.
The key to communication with buyers is responding quickly and accurately with the information they seek, such as tracking information or honoring refund requests.
Sometimes refunds may not be warranted, but it’s better to err on the side of caution and issue them than risk negative feedback that could lead to a decrease in your seller metrics and potential restriction or suspension of selling privileges.
If you’re checking your marketplace accounts daily and keeping tabs on your metrics, notifications, and buyer communications, you can easily avoid trouble. However, slacking off on this practice is your best bet for getting a lump of coal in your proverbial stocking.
As the season gets set to kick off, take this relative downtime as back to school season winds down to gear up for the holidays by getting your online selling operation in order.