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Ina Steiner EcommerceBytes Blog
News and insight focusing on ecommerce.
by Ina Steiner, Editor of EcommerceBytes.com
Mon Dec 10 2012 21:09:04

Online Sellers Overwhelmed During Holiday Shopping Rush

By: Ina Steiner
Sponsored Link
BusinessWeek wrote about an Etsy seller who was running ragged making items to keep up with her online orders. "No Sleep Till Christmas: Etsy Sellers' Haggard Holidays" said the seller, Kelly Engel of "Growing Up Wild," was getting eight to 10 orders a day, which translates into about 16 hours of sewing.

That's triple her normal sales volume. Did I mention she has two young children?!

Most retailers, online or offline, experience a surge around the holidays. But for any seller who customizes or personalizes products and can't build up inventory - or just can't predict which products will be the best-sellers - it's particularly difficult.

Engel told BusinessWeek she sells 130 different individual items and gift sets. "The variety of styles and sizes makes it difficult for her to anticipate what will sell and to stock up."

I'm curious if readers have any advice for sellers in that situation. Should she pull some of her listings and leave up only the easiest-to-make or most profitable items only? Are there any ways she could sell smarter, not harder? (With the exposure she's getting in BusinessWeek, she may really need some advice!)

Things can be easier for sellers of commodity items, especially those sellers who use a fulfillment service such as Amazon.com's FBA (or use drop-shippers). But even then unforeseen challenges can hit merchants hard, such as the merchant who sends inventory to a fulfillment center, but finds it taking weeks to get checked in, meaning the inventory is tied up and not even "in stock."

Most sellers I talk to enjoy the holiday rush despite the overwhelming nature of getting packages into the hands of customers by Christmas deadlines. For many, it beats the alternative - having no orders coming in at all.

Holiday fulfillment stories are welcome, as are tips on how to stay sane this time of year!

Reading EcommerceBytes Blog: Online Sellers Overwhelmed During Holiday Shopping Rush
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Readers Comments

Perminate Link for Online Sellers Overwhelmed During Holiday Shopping Rush   Online Sellers Overwhelmed During Holiday Shopping Rush
by: happyharry This user has validated their user name.
       
Mon Dec 10 22:37:49 2012
This is idiotic, it’s called forward planning.

If the seller can’t keep up then STOP LISTING ITEMS FOR SALE

We start getting ready for the Christmas season in August as We know its busy and need the extra stock processed and ready to ship well before the season starts
Perminate Link for Online Sellers Overwhelmed During Holiday Shopping Rush   Online Sellers Overwhelmed During Holiday Shopping Rush
by: KarensJewelry This user has validated their user name.
       Web Site
Mon Dec 10 23:23:29 2012
I have the same trouble this time of year as my jewelry is made to order also.  I did add options to my listings to help out with less emails.  When the buyer has the option to choose what size they need then they don't have to email me and that saves me a lot of time. Having family members help with some tasks is a start.  I just take it one day at a time and do what I can.

I am noticing a little more sales this year than last year.  You can't plan for what will be popular.
Perminate Link for Online Sellers Overwhelmed During Holiday Shopping Rush   Online Sellers Overwhelmed During Holiday Shopping Rush
This user has validated their user name. by: TheUglySweaterShop
       Web Site
Mon Dec 10 23:50:19 2012
I ''get ready'' for Christmas year-round. That doesn't make shipping up to 100 unique items a day any easier.

Perhaps sellers of simple things find the process simple. But I spend hours every day shipping packages, answering questions about where packages are, etc.

Good customer service takes time. I can't make the post office move any quicker than it does (we ship same day for orders that come in before 4pm local time) but customers don't know that. They want you to be able to see more than they can see via online tracking. They want a more personal service than an automated USPS menu.

Each inquiry gets a personal response. Sometimes it is answering phone calls, sometimes it is pulling back a shipment and switching it to Express at the last minute to make sure it arrives in time for an event, sometimes it is buying a similar item and mailing it out to someone on your own dime when you are 800 miles away trapped in a blizzard just so someone can make their ugly Christmas sweater light up. These are all things I've done this past 3 days. Customers don't care HOW difficult it is to do something. They just want you to do it.

I suppose I could forego good customer service and get 2-3 more widgets out the door. But what good is 103 sales in a day to unhappy customers? I'll take 100 happy customers instead.

Yes, I've had to hire help. No, I never wanted to get that big, this isn't even my main store. But as the commenter before me said, you never really know what is going to take off and become popular.  
Perminate Link for Online Sellers Overwhelmed During Holiday Shopping Rush   Online Sellers Overwhelmed During Holiday Shopping Rush
by: comet This user has validated their user name.
       
Tue Dec 11 00:45:32 2012
For the really personalized items--the seller might consider only taking orders up til a certain number of days or weeks prior to the holiday to avoid the craziness.  

Sort of like--Order before Midnight on the 15th of November for December delivery!

Of course that is EASY for ME to say!

And with the rise of bloggers who seem to have nothing BETTER to do with their time than to post clever and cute things to BUY BUY BUY on etsy and every place ELSE--well--this is only going to get harder for crafters to keep up with!  I guess it is a good sort of bad!!!!

I couldn't do it and I give a lot of credit to those who do.  It's somedays all I can do to keep track of the things I have listed and sold and have to get out the door.  So far have never lost anything but a few times--well---I have wondered WHERE some things have crawled off to!!!!!  

Perminate Link for Online Sellers Overwhelmed During Holiday Shopping Rush   Online Sellers Overwhelmed During Holiday Shopping Rush
by: cayenna This user has validated their user name.
       
Tue Dec 11 00:59:58 2012
Being well organized helps. And also perhaps hire a temp student with your shipping; perhaps barter for the help? You want the sales, after all that's what you work for. Of course being prepared with extra inventory if you know it will sell, but if each item is custom that's a different story. I was getting so many custom orders that it interfered with my keeping up with the rest of my sales. I usually take a break from custom orders when I know I will be extremely busy; such as holidays, and then start again during slower times. I have one other family member help me in prep for monotonousness chores which saves me a LOT of time. Another option is to offer pre paid orders that will be shipped at a specific later date since they are custom and unique, and on demand. If they want it bad enough they will wait a little bit longer for it verses one day. If it stays this way and you never get a break then it is time to hire someone, unless you do not want your business to grow. If you are happy and content with your income now and do not want to grow, then you could take prepaid orders to be delivered at a later date, or just stop taking 'more' orders, that you are booked up; to come back or sign up for your newsletter to keep up with availability. Or you could just say the item's out of stock so they want to keep coming back. I would never say you have too many orders and can't keep up with them to the customer. Offer to put them on a waiting list with pre payment/deposit as their commitment so you don't end up wasting your time making them the item and then they chg their mind.
Another opt you could list as Limited availability; saying something like :stock up ahead of time by putting your order in to assure delivery by such and such a date. This would give you a little leeway. Hope this helps some.
Perminate Link for Online Sellers Overwhelmed During Holiday Shopping Rush   Online Sellers Overwhelmed During Holiday Shopping Rush
by: Digmen1 This user has validated their user name.
       Web Site
Tue Dec 11 04:57:09 2012
I suppose it depends on weather she is working or is she full time on online selling.

And as others have said its pays to be organised.
Perminate Link for Online Sellers Overwhelmed During Holiday Shopping Rush   Online Sellers Overwhelmed During Holiday Shopping Rush
This user has validated their user name. by: Nolle
       
Tue Dec 11 06:35:28 2012
When you sell ''made to order'' you have to take the bad with the good.  Only having to inventory raw materials is a big advantage over commodity sellers - but the downside is always ''time''.

Time is always the enemy of made-to -order goods, so your listings must reflect that.  Make sure you don't over-promise timeframes, and expand those timeframes on the holidays.  

Yes, telling buyers it might take a week to make their widget during the holiday rush will kill some sales - mostly the buyers in a last-minute hurry, so that's just fine.

It's all about expectations.  Promise what you can actually do.  If you are running out of time to make your items, then you are over-promising.  
Perminate Link for Online Sellers Overwhelmed During Holiday Shopping Rush   Online Sellers Overwhelmed During Holiday Shopping Rush
by: Susan Averello This user has validated their user name.
       
Tue Dec 11 11:19:08 2012
I do custom and made to order. When you get too many items, either don't take more orders or make it very clear in each item that there is a time lag and when they can expect an item.
Last winter I ordered a knitted hat for my new born nephew. Seller's store said to order by Dec 17 to have it by christmas. It was Dec 15. When I didn't have on the 22nd, I emailed and she said she made all items to order and it would be late!!! There was no customization but if you do made to order, plan and realize when to stop taking orders when you are overwhelmed
Perminate Link for Online Sellers Overwhelmed During Holiday Shopping Rush   Online Sellers Overwhelmed During Holiday Shopping Rush
by: gutspiller This user has validated their user name.
       
Tue Dec 11 11:40:37 2012
No holiday sales for me this year. Sales completely dried up just after the summer holidays. Normally this time of the year I stockpile stock. Now for an entire month I haven't bought any new stock because nothing would sell. And to make a sale I had to cut so hard in profit marging that their was hardly anything left.

With the run up to Christmas sales have increased but nothing compared with previous years.

Normally this time of the year I'm burried with work, now I'm turning my thumbs. When I read the Ebay discussion boards, it seems I'm not the only seller in this position.  
Perminate Link for Online Sellers Overwhelmed During Holiday Shopping Rush   Online Sellers Overwhelmed During Holiday Shopping Rush
by: Terry in Texas This user has validated their user name.
       
Tue Dec 11 13:07:46 2012
@ gutspiller: i too am without the holiday rush sales. granted i sell new/pre-owned clothing so i've never had a huge huge crushing holiday sales but never have i had such low, paltry sales. especially this close to xmas.

lots of good advice here on how/when to prepare. my inventory is highly organized and in previous years it was just a matter of devoting 3 to 4 hours a day to pull, pack, and ship sold items. on a DAILY basis. the idea of temp help is a very smart one too.....

while i'm glad to see i'm not the only one without sales, i'm also sad to see that. i guess i have more time to work on my own web site now.....
Perminate Link for Online Sellers Overwhelmed During Holiday Shopping Rush   Online Sellers Overwhelmed During Holiday Shopping Rush
by: gutspiller This user has validated their user name.
       
Tue Dec 11 18:11:53 2012
"i guess i have more time to work on my own web site now..... "

Exactly the what I'm doing
Perminate Link for Online Sellers Overwhelmed During Holiday Shopping Rush   Online Sellers Overwhelmed During Holiday Shopping Rush
by: Eagle This user has validated their user name.
       
Wed Dec 12 00:55:00 2012
Our (or my) biggest problem during the week is call in orders towards the end of the day when I'm trying to print shipping labels. My employee (daughter) leaves at 3pm to pick up the kids from school and I usually start printing labels around 3:30pm or 3:45pm so I can make it to post office before they close at 5pm. It never fails that just as soon as she leaves the phone starts ringing off the hook. Then, most of the time I try to go ahead and complete the call-ins (especially during the holidays) so I can ship them with the standard daily orders. Most of the time I make it 10-15 minutes before the PO closes, but then again, sometimes I don't? I should hire a part-timer, but after reminiscing over a business I had in the past that demanded multiple employees, I think the added stress I put on myself is still less than the stress more employees would create.
Perminate Link for Online Sellers Overwhelmed During Holiday Shopping Rush   Online Sellers Overwhelmed During Holiday Shopping Rush
by: Massachusets Howler This user has validated their user name.
       
Thu Dec 13 18:28:04 2012
The only thing I am overwhelmed with is FEAR of WHERE my sales are.
Nothing going on here except waiting on 7 non-payers, packed and ready to go.
Mass Howler
(Wish I had something else to pack).
Perminate Link for Online Sellers Overwhelmed During Holiday Shopping Rush   Online Sellers Overwhelmed During Holiday Shopping Rush
by: Massachusets Howler This user has validated their user name.
       
Thu Dec 13 18:32:36 2012
It should read ''Online sellers are UNDERwhelmed during the shopping rush''. Or more specifically and correctly: Amazon sellers are Overwhelmed and ebay sellers are STARVING is what it should say- LOL!
Mass Howler (I am starving w/ you)


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