Holiday Operations: Building a Team of Specialized Helpers

Bryce Maddock
by Bryce Maddock 04 Nov, 2013

The ecommerce industry is growing at a rapid pace, and the surge of holiday shopping is just around the corner. Ecommerce professionals should be preparing for an influx of shoppers, and taking the necessary steps to convert new visitors to returning customers. According to the National Retail Federation, holiday sales totaled more than $579 billion last year, and have increased 3.5 percent annually for the past 10 years. Additionally, Accenture recently released its annual shopping survey that stated that 50-plus percent of survey respondents said they will shop at online-only retailers, increasing 6 percent from 2012. 

If you implemented the tips I gave last time in 3 Simple Merchant Strategies That Pay Off, business is likely booming; however, you should be taking extra steps to make sure your company is positioned to handle the extra boost of traffic this holiday season will bring. The holidays represent a large percentage of any ecommerce company's annual revenue, but operational mistakes can determine whether you are actually profitable. 

With an expected increase in the already booming ecommerce market this holiday season, it's essential you use the following measures to ensure you are toasting to profitability at the end of 2013:

1. Negotiate Bulk Shipping Rates:

Remember, your business is very important to shipping companies. It doesn't matter whether you're a small ecommerce store or a mega international e-tailor, there is always room for negotiation. Utilize logistics consultants to work out lower shipping rates, and always leverage bulk shipments to get lower pricing. 

2. Hire Promising Holiday Help:

Your holiday team doesn't have to be part-time. Stressful and high-pressure situations often reveal which employees have inherent leadership qualities, and as you know, the holidays are definitely stressful for ecommerce businesses. Hire on a quality seasonal staff, and keep an eye out for potential future full-time employees. Have management complete quick weekly reviews of the part-time teammates. You will need them again next year, and they could become your next A-player full-time employees. 

3. Free Up Your Internal Staff:

The holiday rush requires all hands to be on deck. Unfortunately, with holidays ramping up, your internal employees are being weighed down by increasing responsibilities and order volume. By utilizing remote or outsourced employees - for services like photo retouching, customer support and inventory tagging and categorization - you free up your internal staff to focus on providing the most value to your company, instead of time-consuming and repetitive tasks.

4. Document Processes before Using an External Team:

Many ecommerce companies run lean internal staffs because PPC, site maintenance and development and inventory shipping consume the bulk of their operating costs. Without properly documenting the desired process, it is very difficult to integrate part-time employees into your operations. Make sure your internal staff documents each process with extreme detail before bringing on external teammates.

5. Tackle Increased Inventory With Highly Scalable Workforces:

As your catalog of inventory grows by 300 percent, implementing scalable workforces will allow you to maintain your production and processing speed. Your search engine should be tuned manually to ensure your customers are getting the correct and relevant items returned with every search. Categorizing 1,000 additional items can monopolize your internal team's time and overtime wages will increase your staffing costs exponentially. Leverage external workforces to tackle massive categorization and tagging projects.

6. Segment Your Customer Service Operations:

Due to increasingly affordable technology solutions, most ecommerce companies have integrated chat and email support into their customer care operations; however, during the holidays many companies suffer from long response times and subsequently receive low customer service ratings. This is due in large part to customer support specialists being spread too thin between several different technologies. Take the time to segment your customer support operations, and find the most effective solution for each channel. Email and customer chat support can easily be outsourced, which will free up your customer support specialists to pay attention to incoming calls. Your response time will be increased, and you won't sacrifice quality. 

Small and large operational decisions can make or break a company. Last year's ecommerce darling can quickly become the latest startup casualty. If you leverage part-time and outsourced workforces effectively, you can maintain a positive customer experience, retain high value internal employees and most importantly, protect your profits. 

Bryce Maddock is the CEO of TaskUs, a leading provider of outsourced customer support, photo editing, data entry and product description generation. Named one of the "Top Twenty Entrepreneurs in their Twenties" by the Los Angeles Business Journal, Maddock speaks and writes frequently about the future of work. With his business partner, Jaspar Weir, Maddock is Chairman of the TaskUs Foundation, which raises funds to improve primary education in the Philippines.