Last year more than 75% of UK customers said they’d buy half their Christmas presents online and 2016 this percentage will be even higher. Increasingly small e-commerce businesses are getting a slice of this Christmas pie and business owners are seeing their festive sales become more substantial.
This is great news for small businesses who sell online however it sometimes seems like a double edged sword. Many of us are secretly wondering how we will find the time to fulfil our online orders whilst juggling our own seasonal parties, nativity plays and Christmas preparations. Memories of a painful pre-christmas period last year may be resurfacing and a dread of the weeks to come may be truly settling in.
Don’t despair. These four tips will help you keep your head above water this seasonal period.
We all know we need to be more organised but achieving this often seems a long way off. As seasonal orders build up, it tends to get worse not better but it is possible to develop a routine that helps you become more efficient and it is worth trying.
The more tight your routine, the quicker you will become at fulfilling your orders, the greater the chance you will keep on top of stock levels across your sales channels and the less chance you will make mistakes that will cost you in terms of time and reputation.
What do you need to do? What don’t you need to do but is a nice to have? What can you cut out?
Once you have worked out what activities you need to do and have cut out any unnecessary ones, think about the order you are going to do them in. Are you going to log in to one channel, process all the orders in there, then move on to the second channel and do the same? Are you going to process all the orders for one type of goods across all channels then move on to the next type of goods. Make a decision and try it out.
Once you’ve established your routine, don’t get distracted. Mistakes are most often made by leaving things half finished and moving on, thinking you will come back later.
Tidy up and stay tidy. It sounds simple but it really works. It is very hard to work efficiently in a space that isn’t well organised and tidy. Organise your workspace following these five steps:
Look through everything in your workspace. Keep only the things you need to do the job. Throw everything else away or put it somewhere else, well away from your workspace. That include stationary, tools, letters, post and anything else that is not directly relevant to your activities. If all you need to pack your orders is brown paper, bubble wrap and packing tape, then that is all that should be in your workspace.
Arrange everything you do need so it is easy to hand when you need it. Put the things you need most closest to hand. Think about your workflow and put things in the right order. If you are printing labels, then packing goods then putting them on a pile for each of your shipping carriers, lay your workspace out like that left to right. Put your printer on the left, your packing materials in the middle section of your workspace and your piles for the shipping carriers on the right. Get used to working this way and keep making yourself do it.
Tidy your workspace regularly as you work and always leave it tidy when you finish. This way when you do need to do things in a hurry everything you need will be easy to hand and you will be able to work efficiently.
Work the same way each time, and get anyone else working in your space to do the same too. Actions that are cemented into your brain are much more efficient than those that are not. You are also far less likely to make mistakes as you work. Try also to work on one order at a time or small batches where possible. This means you are again less likely to make mistakes but also means that at the moment your courier rings the doorbell you will have as many orders as possible ready to go.
Keep it going. Develop good habits and make them part of your daily routine whether you are busy or not. These habits make you efficient and more resilient as a business.
You will actually work much more efficiently in a tidy environment so any time invested in tidying up now will pay off well as the month progresses.
One of your biggest headaches will undoubtedly be maintaining your cross-channel inventory levels. Not only does poor inventory management have the potential to lose you valuable sales, it will take you a lot of time to sort out problems when they arise and will almost certainly affect your seller ratings going forward. So what can you do to improve your management of your inventory levels?
You may need to check each of your channels much more frequently during busy periods to be sure not to sell the same item twice on two channels. You will need to be able to log in to all your channels and manually make updates to keep your stock levels consistent across all channels.
You may need to consider increasing the inventory you hold on your fast moving lines in order to make sure you don’t oversell. It is possible to manage your inventory levels using Excel or other spreadsheet software. You need to list each of your SKUs then use previous sales data as a starting point for this season’s sales. You will need also to take any promotions, fashions and trends into account when building your spreadsheet.
Set minimum reorder points for each of your SKUs based on the inventory calculations you made above. When you reach your minimum stockholding this will then trigger you to order replacement items. You will need to make sure that your minimum stock holding allows for the shipping time for new items. I.e. You should keep a minimum of 4 days’ stock when reordering if it takes 4 days to ship new stock to you.
As we’ve seen above, holding inventory is crucial to making sure you don’t oversell and make your customers unhappy, however overbuying can put your online retail business at significant risk in other ways. It is very easy to buy too much, to cover yourself from risk of overselling and then find you are struggling to sell all the excess off in January.
Inventory management is always a tradeoff between inventory costs (how much money you have tied up in inventory) and stock-out costs (the costs in terms of loss of income, reputation etc of a stock-out). So how can you avoid over-buying?
Understand which stock gives you good profits, which stock sells well and which stock does both. Cut out lines that constantly sit in the bottom 20% in terms of sales volumes and profit. This may mean losing some of your favourites but it will also mean you have more money to invest in stock that will move more quickly and give you a good return.
The closer you get to Christmas the keener distributors and manufacturers will be to make sure they shift their own stock, after all, they don’t want to be sitting on stacks of old christmas stock in February any more than you do. One way they try to get around this is to offer bulk discount deals. Don’t fall prey to bulk deals unless you know you can sell the stock on and get your money back without inadvertently tying your capital up. Perhaps your supplier offers you 10 widgets for £1 each or 100 for £.90 each but you are only selling 5 a month. On this basis it would take you 20 months to sell this stock and almost as long to get your £90 back.
Organisation, planning and having a good process flow are going to help you manage the vast increase in workload that the seasonal period brings but there are additional tools out there that can help you truly take the next step.
If you have found these e-retailer tips useful you may want to look further at what Expandly can offer you.
Expandly helps small retail businesses manage their online products, listings, orders and inventory. Expandly enables you to centrally manage your online orders from all your channels in a single location. This helps you to work more quickly and process online orders efficiently, no matter which channel they arrive on.
Expandly are a provider of multichannel management software for small ecommerce businesses. The Expandly platform was built with the small business in mind, right from the start. It is simple, easy to use and focussed on helping small ecommerce businesses go from home-office or unit to warehouse and beyond.