How Beauty Brands Are Handling The Holiday Shipping Crunch

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the shipping crunch this holiday shopping season or the dreaded so-called shipageddon. In this edition of Beauty Independent’s ongoing series posing questions to beauty entrepreneurs, we ask 32 founders and executives: How did you prepare for the shipping crunch, and how have you found you can effectively communicate with customers about any delivery delays?

Sarah Moret Founder and CEO, Curie

We decided to have our annual 20% off sale early this year (first week of November) rather than waiting until BFCM in order to avoid shipping delays and saw an 8X increase in daily revenue during the sale. We also made our Christmas shipping cutoff Dec. 8 this year, over a week earlier than our cutoff last year. We communicated this to our customers early in hopes that we can avoid delays and disappointments.

Ada Polla CEO, Alchimie Forever

I can’t decide if “shipageddon” is real or not real. Yet, we have erred on the side of caution and have communicated with our customers about “shop early, expect delays” through our emails, direct marketing and social media. As every consumer brand out there is doing the same in beauty and beyond, I feel confident that consumers are aware of these potential delays. Truthfully, this is in a way more of the same, as many brands have been experiencing delays for the past nine months given COVID-19 supply chain and warehouse service interruptions even with Amazon Prime. This may be less of a “shipageddon” and more of the new normal in processing and shipping turnaround times.

Lisa Richards Co-Founder, RPZL

Transparency is essential in all communications with customers. We set clear expectations and don't overpromise what is possible. As we all group together to make it through this very difficult time, it's important to acknowledge the incredible work that all our essential workers are doing during this holiday season. Behind every shipment are many people that are working outside their homes during this holiday season to make it special for each of us. We simply support their work, and let our customers know how special their orders are. 

If you’ve waited until now to deal with "shipageddon," it’s almost too late to offer much assistance. Parcel companies like UPS and FedEx struggle to handle extra orders this time of year in an ordinary year, and this year is far from ordinary. The best way to help customers with shipping delays was to get the message out wide and early to put their orders in as soon as possible. This is not the year to be waiting until the last minute.

JULISSA PRADO Founder and CEO, Rizos Curls

Transparency is key. In all honesty, it has been a total nightmare. It feels all odds are against the shipping industry and, from speaking to experts in the field who have worked in shipping, fulfillment and retail for over 20 years, it is nothing like they have ever seen before. Ultimately, it is the result of the unfortunate times we are living in now with the effects of COVID.

Trying to cover it up or make excuses will only upset customers. We have found transparency with customers is the best approach, and letting them know we hear you, we understand you, this is out of our hands, but customer service is our top priority, and we are doing everything we can to work with the shipping carriers to get your orders to you as quickly and safely as possible.

We have found shipping carrier transit times have more than doubled, accountability is out the door, packages are being picked up and delivered without ever having been scanned. There is no visibility [on] tracking updates, pickups are being missed due to shipping carriers being over capacity, surcharges are being added to shipments for COVID surge fees, holiday surge fees or fuel charges and USPS, at several times this year, has been on the verge of collapse.

Ultimately, due to stay-at-home orders and general safety concerns about being out in public, there has been a meteoric rise in e-commerce that is unprecedented and which the shipping industry was in no way prepared for. Not only that, but enhanced safety measures, employee restrictions to stay 6 feet apart, limited handling due to virus spread, employees sick at home, and added hiring screenings due to safety precautions have all compounded the shipping situation we are currently in.

What we have found is that, while we as an industry understand this, the general public does not. They do not have full visibility to this, and all they see is delayed shipments and poor communication both from shipping carriers and from brands/retailers. As an industry, I believe the best approach is to shed light on the situation. We do our very best to effectively communicate to customers the importance of safety and our cooperation with shipping carriers to deliver packages as quickly and safely as possible. It is this approach which we have found has made customers most understanding of the current situation.

COURTNEY BABER Co-Founder, The Route

As a brand, we have communicated shipping deadlines through clear, direct messaging in e-mail marketing and on our website. We have stated any free, standard shipping orders needed to be placed by Tuesday, Dec. 15 in order to be delivered in time for the holidays (accounting for delays) and by Monday, Dec. 21 for overnight delivery. We have also added the sale of gift cards to our website, which are immediate and sent via e-mail at time of purchase in order for customers shopping last minute to get a nice gift to their loved ones through and even on Dec. 25.

Lauren Haynes Founder and CEO, Wooden Spoon Herbs

We were definitely in prep mode this year, from inventory ordering to pre-making hundreds of boxes. And it was still a huge push through BFCM. Our customers have been very understanding, but putting snippets of our holiday ordering deadlines in our emails, all over our social, and then sending dedicated shipping deadline emails has been key. Then, those whose orders are still delayed, as it's bound to always happen, just get our gold star customer service. We're always up for sending our discount codes to keep customers happy.

Johnny Grant Operations Manager, Sunday Scaries

One of our core values is "Let's Get Ready To Rumble!" This sentiment extends to our shipping team and customer support team, who are ready to make sure that we are ready to fulfill an order as soon as it comes in. Even during the busiest time of year, we didn't hire more people or move to a 3PL because we feel comfortable leaning on our dedicated team who continues to make magic happen. 

As a brand, we rely on proven shipping companies to fulfill our orders such as DHL and USPS. They do a great job with tracking and delivery notifications to make the process easier for the customer. We also don’t put the weight of "shipageddon" on their shoulders because we get our orders to them in a timely manner. We appreciate the hard work of all of their employees, whether it is the pickup person who comes to our headquarters to haul (literally) tons of orders or your local friendly mail person who has the task to bring it home. While they are being inundated with shipments from an unparalleled e-commerce season, we're confident in our decisions to work with these partners. 

For our customers, we provide the  option to expedite shipping to have your order delivered in two days. Of course, there are times shipping is out of our control, so we provide extra goodies for our subscriber squad. We’ve noticed, if orders take a couple of days longer than usual, our customers are always excited to receive bonus gifts to make the wait more bearable. 

Erika Kussman CMO, Paula’s Choice

We were anticipating this, and there are three key ways we’ve been able to have a really successful e-commerce business during holiday this year: Two-way communication with our customers, our agile way of working, and deep direct-to-consumer capabilities.

First, we cultivate a two-way dialogue with our customers. Through our digital channels, we have multiple touch points where we can hear from customers about their experiences. We can also communicate with our customers throughout their experience on our site and other digital channels like social and email so that they can know what to expect. 

Second, we have an agile way of working across our departments, which keeps us focused on our customers and working together to give them value. We’re able to pivot as a team quickly to make sure we’re delivering the best experience to our customers at all times.

Third, we are a digitally native brand, so e-commerce is what we do, and we were prepared with pre-planning to ensure we had sufficient capacity, marketing calendars and programming that would optimize volume going through the system and, of course, the data to know how we’re doing.

Jordan Samuel Pacitti Founder, Jordan Samuel Skin

The topic of shipping logistics has been at the forefront of our minds since early this fall when we realized that we would be dealing with holiday sales amidst the pandemic. The largest preventative action that we took at Jordan Samuel Skin to deal with the predicted shipping crunch was to start our holiday sales over a week earlier than we have done in previous years. 

By doing this, we were hoping to incentivize customers to shop earlier and ease the burden on our shipping carriers. We also made the conscious decision to not make any guarantees that items will arrive by Christmas if ordered before a certain date, as we have done in the past. We don't want our fulfillment team or our carriers to feel pressured to take unnecessary risks that sacrifice health and safety for speed. 

In addition to these preventative moves, we have tried to remain hyper aware of the situation as it unfolds in order to respond as needed. As backups and delays have occurred, we have really ramped up communication with our warehouse, customer service team and customers. For the warehouse, we constantly monitor the timeline of when orders are fulfilled and when they are shipped, asking for explanations when we notice a slowdown or a hiccup so that we can relay what is going on to our customer service team. 

We have also been communicating directly with our customers on social media, including YouTube, Instagram and Facebook, with dedicated posts and stories as well as verbal messages in our live video content to stress the importance of planning and patience this holiday season.

Kendy Bourguignon Sencée Founder and CEO, Antonin .B

"Shipageddon" didn't feel like the biggest threat of the season. In France, shipping volumes had been increasing since the first lockdown in March. A few mess-ups did happen then. We went from an average of one shipping issue per year (lost or delayed items) to about one to two per month. However, after the summer, the postal services made adjustments for the special context and prepared for the holidays. Things have been running pretty smoothly.

Lan Belinky Co-Creator, Boscia

We have been planning ahead in logistics to be ready for the ship crunch, packing out holiday kits in advance, building shipping boxes and whatever we could prepare beforehand. Communication is also key both internally and to our customers. With our customers, we are transparent and upfront with our shipping window. If anything, we under promise and over deliver on our shipping time. We communicate most effectively with our customers by e-mail and/or text. 

Jonathan Shapiro CEO and Founder, Mindset Wellness CBD

Be smart and be agile. Check with carriers daily and see how things are doing, any outages, delays? Move from USPS to UPS to FedEx depending on the need of the customer. People do business with people. So, if you spent time developing a relationship with your local driver or the local mail person down at the post office, you will find holiday shipping much easier.

THAI-ANH HOANG Co-Founder and CEO, EmBeba

We are not considered a holiday gifting brand, so we don't have a shipping crunch like other brands. I do think consumers are more patient this year due to how COVID has made it acceptable for shipment to be delayed a few days. However, it's an exception this year and not the norm.

Kristi Hubbard CEO, Younique

With the pandemic, we anticipated the holiday season shipping crunch and planned ahead by working strategically with our suppliers. Not only did we forecast demand for seasonal products and top sellers alike, including the award-winning Moodstruck Epic twisted mascara, but we also led the industry by kicking off our seven-week holiday promotional calendar on Nov. 1. Our suppliers rose to the challenge to ensure that our distribution centers across North America, Europe, Mexico and Australia had plenty of inventory to support customer demand and then some.

We’ve reminded customers in emails, FAQs and other points of communication that peak shipping times as well as the global pandemic may affect delivery timelines. Don’t delay! Keeping that urgency top of mind has helped us and our customers beat the holiday rush.

Dara Levy Founder and CEO, Dermaflash

We were very proactive in getting the word out about shipping delays by inspiring our shopper to shop early and buy no later than Dec. 11 to ensure delivery by Christmas. We pulled the following levers: 1). Added a rotating banner to our website speaking to shipping cut-off dates. 2). Created IG Stories speaking to shipping cut-off dates. 3), Added copy to the caption of some of our IG feed posts that speak to shipping cut-off dates. 4). Created an email focused only on shipping cut-off dates.

THEODORA NTOVAS Founder, Yasou

When I first launched, I offered international shipping with the help of an organization called Industrial Council of Nearwest Chicago, ICNC. They work with a lot of manufacturing businesses and introduced me to International Checkout.    

International Checkout was a third-party checkout that works on Woo Commerce sites and bridges the shipping gap between U.S. retailers and international consumers. It was great.After the customer fills out everything in the cart area, it then goes to a checkout that is in the language of where the customer is from. They finish filling out the check out process, which incorporates the duties and taxes that are needed for that country. 

The next step is they place the order on my site. I then ship the order to their California location. I was responsible for that shipping rate, not the customer, and then they ship it internationally to the designated area taking care of duties, taxes, regulations, etc.  

The catch: They up the price by 30%, but you decide how much you are willing to pay them and how much should be charged to the customer. So, I decided to pay them 10% and have the customer be charged the other 20%.  I made a code for them that when they ordered product they would receive 10% off.

The problem: It became super expensive to the customer, so sales were slim. So, I decided after a couple of years to change courses. I now work with InXpress right off my Woo Commerce site, and they act as my responsible person, so I got rid of that 30% increase in price! If anyone is interested you can call InXpress to get more info. They even set everything up on your Woo Commerce site.

MK MENIKHEIM Founder, The Well Organics

We communicated shipping deadlines to customers beginning in early November on our website as well as on Instagram. We are committed to getting deliveries out the same or next day. Thankfully, we have had great success with USPS priority shipping.

SELMIN KARATAS Co-Founder and CEO, Kazani

This holiday season, it is estimated that 3 billion packages will be shipped in the United States. That makes about 800 million more packages delivered than last year. When you divided it into days, it means that 7.2 million more packages need to be shipped each day. This is an issue as the system might not have the capacity to handle.

With shipping, I let customers know beforehand of a possible delay. As an incentive we offer samples and free shipping in the U.S. It's imperative to be transparent with customers and e-commerce businesses can write a notice on their website.

Zain Pirani Co-Founder, No, Thank You

It has been all about planning and running an efficient fulfillment process. We communicate often with our warehouse team to make sure workflow is as stable as possible. We keep an open line of communication with our customers and track packages to make sure they are on their way. Fortunately, our customers have been quite understanding of delays with carriers. We have supplemented any delays with free products and discounts to keep our customer happy with us. An open line with the carriers—some are better than others—doesn’t hurt either.

David Bronkie Co-Founder, Siblings

As a small brand, we've tried to grapple with the additional logistics of carrier surcharges, limited capacity, and slower processing through additional communication on our website—banners, emails, checkout notes, all to inform the customer of what's coming down the pipeline. At the end of the day, the small brand still has to answer to the customers for the lost packages, wrong drop-offs and slower deliveries. 

The best communication has been honesty, transparency and straight-up kindness to our customers. Upgrading shipping or throwing in a little extra for customers that have waited longer than usual goes a long way. If you're thinking about long-term brand loyalty, you want your customers happy, even if it digs into the bottom line a bit.

Bruno Lima Co-Founder and CEO, Pura

We are working really hard to get ahead of orders and prepare months in advance for big sale days and heavy buying times. It's always important to think ahead, but also not to over promise anything to customers. Even if we've been planning something for months, if we are behind on orders, we will change things and adjust so we can try not to upset customers or promise anything that we can't commit to. 

In dealing with out of stock issues and order delays, we try to be really transparent on the website and with all emails. Pura makes sure that customers know in a few different places very clearly that devices are delayed and when they can expect them to ship. Along with constant website updates, we send out a lot of email updates for orders that were placed on different days, so we can more clearly help those customers know where they're at. Customer support always responds within one to three days, and they stay transparent and positive with all questions and order concerns.  

For the Christmas season, we were behind more than anticipated, so we created a downloadable card to replace a Pura order while people are waiting for their shipment. Customers are able to download a card to give to people to hold the place of an order they are getting soon. We try our best to give customers who have been waiting on their orders some sort of reward or something that will help them feel a little bit better about things. Overall, transparency is always the best policy!

KE JUN QIN Founder, Baseblue Cosmetics

Prior to this holiday season, our internal team discussed how we can best handle the holiday shopping rush as shipping was predicted to pose significant challenges, specifically as we are headquartered on the East Coast and shipping to the West Coast was proving to be unpredictable. To try to mitigate this issue, I proposed that we create a temporary holiday inventory houseas we predicted that most of our orders during the holiday shopping season would be of our limited-edition, seasonal items the Snowman Sponge. In my mind, I felt it would be much easier to set aside inventory for that particular SKU in a fulfillment center based in the West Coast for the last-minute shoppers, leading to the optimal result that all orders were shipped and arrived before Christmas. 

We also sent out alerts to our customer database providing them with real-time tracking info. Of course, even with all of our contingency plans, there were unexpected hiccups. That's why it is critical to provide the absolute best in customer service, making sure we communicate with customers individually and be fully transparent if there does happen to be an issue with shipping. Luckily, we have really understanding and supportive consumers. They are the backbone of our business. We can’t thank them enough for their support.

Kelsey Bucci Founder, Paris Laundry

I think this year as a whole has continually prepared us for the holiday season. Since March, we’ve seen a huge increase in orders, so we have had to really stay on top of shipping and logistics, making sure processing times are as fast as possible and upgrading shipping services when we can to ensure customers receive their orders quickly.

We have always been very transparent with our customers. [We are] just being honest on social media about the importance of shopping early this year, allowing for longer delivery times, and the response has been very supportive. We have already run into our fair share of delayed shipments and lost packages this holiday season, and we are incredibly grateful for the patience and understanding our customers have shown us.

Dimitra Davidson President and COO, Indeed Laboratories

Our team started planning for this months ago. I am a huge planner, so I always try to predict trends.  We offered our holiday gift packs even prior to Thanksgiving and also we decided to have our big annual promotion one week before Black Friday.  That allowed for our consumers to stock up on their gifts and favorite products early. It was a huge hit!

CHARLOTTE KNIGHT Founder, Ciaté London

We always want to ensure that our customer has a great experience when shopping with us, but, understandably, due to more people shopping from home this year, the shipping companies are overwhelmed. We are working with our partners to ensure customers know what to expect. On our website, we are letting customers know our final shipping dates through multiple channels: web banner, reminder emails, reminders on our social channels and a shipping information web page. Our customer service team [members] are absolute heroes, too, helping our customers with any queries that they may have.

Kayla Juan Founder and Creative Director, J Beverly Hills

With this year being a big year for online orders and overall shipping volume, we began notifying customers to order their holiday gifts early in November. We frequently send out reminders to order holiday gifts on an ongoing basis throughout November and December primarily using our social media and email channels. 

At J Beverly Hills, we're staffed and working up through Christmas Eve to ship orders out. Our in-house fulfillment process is faster than industry standard, and we always send shipments out within 24 hours of receiving the order. Our typical delivery timeframe varies, but standard shipping deliveries are frequently received in as few as three days.

This year we recommend getting holiday gift orders in by Dec. 17 for standard ground shipping and by Dec. 19 for expedited shipping, although the earlier you can get your order in the better to be proactive against delayed delivery times.

DANIEL ALEXANDER ROESCHEISEN Founder, PAPR

It was important to us that we have enough branded shipping mailers, so we ordered them in October already. We usually process all orders the next day and, then, we need to trust that the carrier does its job. We let our customers know very early when the last day is for orders to arrive on time for Christmas. Communication is key. With helpful and fast customer service, we can turn mistakes or delays into a good experience, so we are very much focusing on our customers and communication.

Lynnsee van Gordon Founder, Anese

We’ve been in touch with our representatives at UPS about ordering deadlines, and they do a great job of keeping us informed so we can plan accordingly. Our website offers multiple touch points for shipping timelines. We update those site-wide to give the customer as much transparency as possible into when they can expect to receive their order. It also helped to take the deadline we were given by our provider and add padding to it. Any unexpected delays are then built in to our expectations.

Cindy Kang Founder, Hey Dewy

I can see how lots of struggling retailers have been forced by the pandemic to try to go online real quick (facing lots of challenges with logistics, warehouse, packaging, shipping, technical issues, etc.), but, since we've been e-commerce from the start, we already have a solid workflow/system in place and work hard at making improvements all the time.  

That being said, yes, "shipageddon" has hit every business, and shipping delays are happening everywhere, so we just do our best to stay calm, help one customer at a time, and make sure they are satisfied. We've ramped up our customer service team to try to help with the increase in inquiries and to help customers track down orders if something seems delayed. Holiday season is always crazy busy, but, since online shopping this year started so much earlier, hopefully, most packages have been delivered and people can spend more time relaxing and focusing on their loved ones.

ROMAIN GAILLARD Founder, The Detox Market

When it comes to busy seasons like the holidays, communication is key. Based on our September and October sales, we knew the rush was coming and shifted our editorial and social media calendar along with our promotions in order to encourage consumers to place their orders earlier rather than later. This gave our shipping team more time to pack and plan.

Dwayne D'Souza Founder, Dermatica

We are committed to providing our patients with the highest quality of customer service and strive to advise consumers of any holiday season shipping delays or delivery issues as soon as we are made aware. We work quickly to help provide solutions that will effectively address our patients concerns and exceed their expectations.

 We have found that we can efficiently communicate with our patients in regards to shipping delays, as well as addressing any additional questions or concerns they may have, via our email service or our toll-free telephone number (561) 770-7012. Our email service is secure, HIPAA compliant, and our customer support team is dedicated to respond to all of our patient queries within 24 hours during our operating hours of Monday to Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. We have communicated potential delays due to shipping with our customers.

Dr. Anna Persaud CEO, This Works and VP Skincare and Topicals, Canopy Growth

There is always an element of seasonality to our business, and we’d expect in the run-up to Christmas for sales to be buoyed through gifting, as in any year.  Having an e-commerce dominant distribution, we are relatively well placed to manage that demand through our direct to consumer and third party stores. 

That said, a universal issue facing brands at the moment is the impact of COVID on supply chains -- in our case, limited ingredient availability -- that continues to impact stock availability as we go into the holiday season.  In addition, we began to plan early for a gravitation towards online shopping by our customers much sooner in the year than we may otherwise have seen, given the continuing tightened restrictions on the high street. This includes not just ensuring we have enough stock available, but that the teams working in our warehouse are able to do so safely and complying with all health and safety requirements.

In terms of customer communication, we utilised all marketing channels to keep our customers up-to-date, ensuring that our shipping timings are clear on our website and shared via our social media channels, that delays are communicated quickly and that our customer service team is staffed appropriately.

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