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Tech Tips for Surviving the E-Commerce Boom this Holiday Season


Holiday e-commerce sales in the U.S. are estimated to approach $90 billion in 2016, representing a 13% increase from 2015, according to Practical E-Commerce. This can be either a massive opportunity or a massive struggle for retailers depending on whether or not they’re prepared to handle their consumers’ online shopping activity.

Common e-commerce challenges like shopping cart abandonment, increased cost of transportation and stock-outs can make or break a retailer’s success during this busy final quarter of the calendar year. In fact, 44% of online shoppers abandon carts after examining total cost, shipping charges, and delivery timing and determining the retailer’s options are not the most competitive, according to the UPS 2015 report, State of the Online Shopper.

Customers effectively need to know that their product is available, and that it can be delivered — often for free — within an acceptable (and increasingly customized) window. Inventory management is crucial here, as is visibility into your delivery/outbound transportation options.

But armed with the right technology systems and processes, businesses need not worry. Here we’ll discuss a handful of tips you may not have thought of that can make or break your e-commerce success this peak season.

Inventory Optimization

Retailers who can’t seamlessly execute omnichannel strategies will lose this holiday season to those who can. Both Online and in-store stock-outs cost retailers more today than ever. In addition to losing out on immediate purchases, a GT Nexus study reports that 33% of U.S. consumers actually blame the retailer for the issue, eroding your long-term sales and diminishing brand loyalty.

On the other hand, bloated inventory or tightened supplier deadlines and higher fees for late inbound deliveries are also problematic. As the complexities that accompany e-commerce and omnichannel user experiences continue, a perhaps surprising means of better managing inventory to prevent stock-outs, while still maintaining optimal inventory levels, is to better manage your freight transportation network.

The majority of stock-outs are due to faulty in-store ordering and replenishing practices — retailers order too little too late and lack visibility into the location of their inventory shipments. Efficient transportation management is of the utmost importance in managing the timely flow of products and services without errors.

Implementing technology that helps you manage the ebb and flow of demand can be an easier and more effective strategy. It’s only with web-service APIs – Application Program Interfaces – that this is possible. The connectivity layer created by APIs enables different systems to “speak to one another” in real-time, setting the stage modern technology concepts like the Internet of Things. APIs are the fastest, most seamless way to access internal and external data and make informed inventory decisions.

Freight vs. small package delivery

Order and delivery standards are mode-agnostic to the consumer. In other words, your consumers don’t know the difference between freight and small pack items. While these items require very different treatment when it comes to delivery, shoppers expect an identical transportation experience for products shipped Less-than-Truckload (LTL) and Small Package when they shop online. Essentially, to remain competitive, you must provide same delivery options and tracking visibility for both a sweater and a couch.

In reality, that is not the experience for most heavyweight (freight) items that are purchased online. E-commerce businesses that don’t produce delivery options, transparent timelines and tracking visibility on freight items are losing ground to competitors. Customers are flocking to companies like Amazon who are equipped to meet their delivery expectations with total transparency.

For most ecommerce companies, online ordering and fulfillment of heavy weight items is still done manually. There is no live API data feed connecting the supplier, retailer and transportation provider with the consumer during purchase or delivery.

For example, many e-commerce businesses lack the technology to accurately estimate freight transit times and pass that data through to online consumers during the buying process. To avoid additional customer service issues, retailers are therefore hardcoding the most time-consuming option (or worst case scenario) into their e-commerce portal. Research shows that averages about an eight-day delivery timeframe on freight items. This leads to shopping cart abandonment, as well as a vast discrepancy in actual delivery times.

Without API connectivity, it’s increasingly difficult for ecommerce companies to meet their consumers’ on-demand needs. Those selling freight items through an online portal are missing out on innovative fulfillment solutions and losing customers to those (think: Alibaba, able to provide consumers both choice and transparency from the point-of-purchase through delivery.

In closing

The need for real-time visibility into supply chain networks during peak season is a requirement for success. However, the on-premise and legacy technologies many businesses currently have in place cannot support the complex and dynamic demands of today’s global supply chain. APIs enable retailers to compete in the new on-demand reality, facilitating real-time data transfer and communication across the entire supply chain.

E-commerce can, and should, be an opportunity for retailers this peak season, rather than a scramble. For businesses of all sizes, we can predict where the challenges will lie if not prepared. The ability to communicate real-time data across the supply chain, facilitating a deep level visibility and always-on communication will help e-commerce businesses own the holidays.

Jett McCandless is CEO of project44, an enterprise SaaS platform connecting every aspect of the global supply chain through on-demand visibility.

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