If you were an online seller during the holidays last year, you probably remember the stress of customs delays, picking errors, lost or damaged shipments, and a whooooole lot of returns. (And if this is your first time, boy, are you in for a treat!)

While a rock-solid shipping and fulfillment strategy is important any time of the year, it takes on new magnitude in November and December as consumers anxiously await the arrival of gifts purchased for their nearest and dearest.

To ensure orders arrive intact and on time—and that no parent has to explain that Santa’s sleigh was delayed due to “bad weather”—you need to hope for the best and plan for the worst.

That’s what this week’s checklist is all about. While there’s no magic pill you can take to ensure your shipping and fulfillment goes off without a hitch this BFCM, there’s plenty you can do to pave the way for a smoother, calmer holiday season for both you and your customers.


Be transparent about shipping costs and timelines.

When it comes to holiday shipping, don’t make promises you can’t keep. A product ordered from Auckland on December 24th isn’t going to make it to Vancouver in time for Christmas morning no matter how you ship it.

Consider creating a dedicated page for holiday shipping information, and, if possible, display cut-off dates at checkout (maybe you want to use a popup or a banner for that?). Most of our Shopify themes also come with a shipping rates calculator baked into the cart page, or you can add one by making a few changes to your store’s code.

Offer free shipping if you can.

Sticker shock is real. If you advertise a product for $25 and then tack on an additional $10 for shipping, you’re going to see a lot of abandoned carts. (According to the Baymard Institute, extra costs at checkout are the #1 reason shoppers ditch their orders during checkout.)

By the same token, if you offer free shipping over a certain threshold, you’re going to see a lot more customers increasing their order amount to qualify—like 58% more.

If you’re interested in free shipping but not sure how to make it work with your margins, have we got a post for you. Or if you’re sold on the idea and just need a hand getting the word out, then definitely check out our Free Shipping and Discount Bar app.

Offer fast shipping if you can.

Every year millions of people vow to get their shopping done early, and every year millions more end up flooding the web December 23rd, hoping to find something—anything!—that can arrive by Christmas morning.

While it’s true that same-day or next-day delivery doesn’t come cheap, marketed and executed well, it could make a big difference to your bottom line during those final days.

Even if you’re not able to promise Amazon-level shipping times, it’s important to act quickly when it comes to fulfilling and shipping orders during the holiday season. You can’t grumble about FedEx’s pace if it takes you three days to pack and ship a ready-made product.

Clarify your return policy.

Returns are an unavoidable part of the holiday season, but they don’t have to be a financial and logistical nightmare. The most important thing to get right is your return policy.

Among other things, you’ll need to consider who pays for shipping, how long the process can reasonably take, if there are any cut-off or black-out dates, and whether you deal in-store credit or cold hard cash. Lay it all out in a clearly-worded and jargon-free document, find a prominent place to display it in your store, and you’re good to go!

Consider offering live chat.

Even the most descriptive product and FAQ pages are bound to leave customers with questions. While Twitter and email are great tools for providing support, for customers they involve navigating away from your site, composing a question, and waiting for a response—during which time they could easily take their business to a competitor.

By offering live chat through a service like Tidio, you can quickly and efficiently resolve any issues while keeping customers focused on their purchase and engaged with your store.

Set up a cart abandonment campaign.

Cart abandonment hit an eye-popping 68% during last year’s BFCM weekend, according to Barilliance. And while it’s certainly worth allocating some time and resources to reduce that number—by being upfront about shipping costs, for instance—you’d also be wise to think about how to recover some of those sales for your store.

The good news is that compelling near-purchasers back to your store can be as simple as a friendly reminder email. Shopify actually includes a built-in cart recovery system that can be configured to automatically email customers a permalink to their abandoned cart. Here are some best practices and ideas for spicing up your abandoned cart notifications.

Develop some contingency plans.

What happens if an item runs out of stock halfway through Black Friday? Or a shipment goes missing? What about if half your support team gets sidelined with the flu? Think up some worst-case scenarios now and make plans for how you’ll handle them.

Like we said earlier: hope for the best, plan for the worst.

What are you doing to prepare your store’s shipping and fulfillment for the onslaught of the holidays? Share your thought in the comments, and don’t forget to check back next week when we’ll be serving up a fresh batch of BFCM to-do’s. (Can you believe there’s less than three weeks to go?! Ahhh!!)

If you’re just joining us, you can find all our previous Black Friday checklists—along with loads of other helpful content—riiiiiiight here.