More than 18 months after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, things aren’t looking up. In fact, they’re looking more questionable than ever.
With shipping logjams slated to continue throughout the next six months, some are predicting what’s being called “a never-ending peak season” for all of 2022, in which there’s less supply than demand. Essentially, businesses will be chasing their tails for the foreseeable future, with customers less than thrilled with ever-changing timelines and dampened expectations.
How, then, with the holidays right around the corner, are small businesses planning to meet customer demands while also managing future cash flow? Following are a few tips for keep the back-end and books in order ahead of the holidays.
Diversify your supply and distribution channels. It’s similar to the stock market or dating: diversifying your options increases the likelihood of success. With global shipping times questionable at best and abysmal at worst, small businesses need to stay resilient by diversifying how they fulfill orders and get them to their satisfied customers. Utilizing providers with a large network of delivery partners increases the likelihood of a fallback option if one or more links in the chain are disrupted, and creates a roadmap for timely deliveries in the future.
However, for this diversification to work, each supplier must provide equal or similar products, and be competitive in a way that doesn’t hinder the end result. It’s also necessary to educate suppliers on what’s required for ultimate success. This includes specifying delivery locations, times and any unique qualifiers for products (such as perishables that need to be kept cool).
Lean on local manufacturers and service providers. Supply chain woes are worse the further the distributor and recipient are from one another. That means more modes of transportation, more time for mistakes and backlogs, and even more communication barriers. By leaning on local manufacturers and service providers, you’re decreasing the likelihood of delays, but also increasing the likelihood that you’ll have more control over the solution should there be a problem (such as driving to a nearby location to pick up product in time for delivery). Furthermore, you’ll also be contributing to your local economy, which is sure to have taken a hit over the past 18 months. In some cases, this might even prove a tipping point for customers deciding whether to continue using your product, and can be used as a tool to market your brand in a unique way.
Set yourself apart with personalization and sustainable packaging and shipping choices. Large retailers have a competitive advantage when it comes to bulk convenience, such as same-day shipping and free returns. But they pale in comparison to small businesses when it comes to one key element of holiday shopping: personalization. Anyone can click “Add to Cart” on Amazon a few weeks before Christmas, but the people who really care about the gifts they’re buying peruse small businesses in their regions, and take time to personalize them for the recipient. As a small business owner, ideally all elements will be personalized, from the actual gift to the wrapper and card that’s attached (a unique touch often overlooked!).
Further, as businesses large and small seek to become more sustainable, it’s important to take that into consideration. For consumers looking to be more eco-friendly, supporting sustainable options is key — without, of course, sacrificing quality. This can be realized by using compostable packaging or even a carbon-neutral delivery service. Remember: Reliable and thoughtful service is often more important than sophisticated shipping options. In the process, you’ll be creating another marketable facet that sets your company apart from others.
While supply chain woes are expected to last through 2022, it doesn’t mean that retailers and small businesses can’t still prep for the holidays. In any case, this time will be of increased importance for regional, national and global economies in the second COVID-19-affected Christmas season. The good news is that not only will you get a head start on the busy season, but you’ll be diversifying your options and setting yourself apart for the long haul. Slow and steady wins the race!
Ben Richmond is U.S. country manager at Xero.
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