Best Fulfillment Practices For the Peak Holiday Season

The historic events of 2020 made for record-breaking ecommerce sales all over the globe. And big retailers like Amazon weren’t the only ones seeing online sales explode compared to 2019. Small and mid-size brands and retailers also experienced double-digit growth last year.

During last year’s holiday season alone, 3 billion packages were delivered across the United States. And even though consumers started a slow return to in-person shopping earlier this year, eMarketer says that U.S. holiday ecommerce sales are forecasted to increase more than 11% this year – with all U.S. holiday retail sales expected to surpass $1 trillion for the first time ever.

With the market poised for another record-breaking holiday season, what should brands be doing to ensure their ecommerce fulfillment processes are optimized, fully aligned, and ready to handle the surge of online orders in the coming months?

gifts on top of a laptop

1. Know the Trends

Here are a few industry predictions for the 2021 holiday ecommerce season, which will impact the entire fulfillment process – from inventory management and order processing to shipping and returns management:

Extended eCommerce Season

The holiday season will kick off earlier than ever. Brands expect to launch online promotions starting as early as October, and omnichannel offerings will be in full effect – digital shopping with home delivery, online ordering with curbside pickup, and buy online pick-up in store (BOPIS).

Discovery Commerce

Another ecommerce trend is the growing presence of “Discovery Commerce” – where consumers come across a product or service of interest to them on a social platform like Facebook or Instagram and are compelled, often spontaneously, to make a purchase on a product they didn’t know existed before that moment.

More Free Shipping

One of the biggest motivators for buying more online is free shipping with no minimum order amount. Expect to see more offers like this, especially around the holiday season. Another big motivator in addition to free shipping is a special promotion discount.

packages at the front door

2. Do Accurate Forecasting

Forecasting accuracy is key to having a successful holiday fulfillment season. Knowing the trends that are predicted for this year, looking at the data from your prior holiday seasons, and looking at your historical data from throughout this year will help you develop more accurate order forecasts.

As holiday sales activity starts to ramp up, also ramp up the frequency of your forecasting efforts.

3. Check Your Tech

Moving away from manual, paper-trail systems and integrating as many fulfillment operations as possible into an ecommerce enabled warehouse management system (WMS) is practically a must-have in this age of omnichannel fulfillment.

But your operations are only as good as the WMS and technology supporting it. Test all your systems now before peak season hits and have a backup plan in case of equipment or technology meltdowns.

barcode scanner

Now is also the time to consider how automation technology might benefit your fulfillment operations, especially if you’re facing staffing shortages on the fulfillment floor. Automation not only reduces labor overhead and reliance on manpower, but also allows for greater speed and scalability based on sales forecasts. It can also help with fulfillment accuracy.

4. Maximize Your Shipping Options

With the extended holiday shopping season comes an extended holiday shipping season. And as rates continue to increase year over year, retailers need to do everything possible to get not only the fastest shipping but also the most economical shipping.

Below is a sampling of the advertised peak season rate adjustments by carrier. Retailers and brands can maximize their savings by partnering with a 3PL like PFC, as they have leveraging power with the major carriers and some shipping fees may be waived  based on their established contracts.

UPS (effective October 31, 2021 through January 15, 2022)

  • Additional Handling – $6 per package
  • Large Package – $60 per package
  • Ground Residential – $1.15 to $5.15 per package
  • Air Residential – $2.15 to $6.15 per package
  • Over Max Limit – $250 per package
  • Get additional updates here

FedEx (effective October 4, 2021 through January 16, 2022)

  • Peak Additional Handling Surcharge of $5.95 per package for U.S. Express Package Services, U.S. Ground Services, and International Ground Service
  • Peak Oversize Charge of $62.50 per package for U.S. Express Package Services, U.S. Ground Services, and International Ground Service
  • Peak Ground Unauthorized Package Charge of $350 per package for U.S. Ground Services and International Ground Service
  • Get additional updates here for Peak Surcharges that go into effect starting in November and December


Peak season pricing for the U.S. Postal Service impacts prices on commercial and retail domestic competitive parcels for Priority Mail, Priority Mail Express, Parcel Select Ground, and USPS Retail Ground.

The seasonal adjustments are in effect  from October 3, 2021 through December 26, 2021 and range from increases of $0.75 to $5.00 per package depending on zone and weight.

Get additional updates here.

5. Focus on Brand Experience

Many consumers are no longer basing their loyalty on merely price or product. These days, it’s all about the customer experience. If a brand can’t keep a customer happy, that customer will quickly go elsewhere.

person opening a gift box

In a report published by Adobe, research showed that companies with the strongest customer engagement across all their channels can stand to gain 10% year over year growth, a 10% increase in average order value, and a 25% increase in close rates.

While personalized marketing content and offers can create a better brand experience and drive sales, the order fulfillment process can also contribute to an enhanced brand experience – think of it as the icing on the cake.

Kitting and assembly options such as gift wrapping, personalized or handwritten notes, and unique custom packaging are just a few examples of how the brand experience can be enhanced during the fulfillment process. The more personal touches added throughout the entire customer journey – especially the unboxing experience – the more likely the brand is to have a loyal, repeat customer.

Contact PFC Fulfillment

Connect with the experts at PFC Fulfillment to see how we can help you optimize your holiday ecommerce shipping for this year or next!

Category: Fulfillment Insights