While Spring may have just sprung in the U.S., many retail and eCommerce organizations have already set their sites on the 2021 holiday season, and with good reason. With online sales expected to continue to grow and more items being shipped from more places thanks to a more common retail omnichannel shipping strategy, being prepared early for the holiday shipping season can mean the difference between a happy holiday or not.

Between November and December 2020, overall retail saw an 8.3% growth compared to the same period in 2019 to 789.4 billion, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF). Driving these numbers were 209 billion in online and other non-store sales, a 23.9% jump from the previous year.

Perhaps most significant for retailers looking ahead to the next holiday season was that the NRF said the 8.3 percent holiday season increase was more than double the 3.5% average holiday increase over the previous five years, including 2019’s 4% gain.

Online shopping keeps growing

And despite the seeming end of the COVID-19 pandemic looming as vaccines make their way to Americans, there isn’t expected to be any slowdown in online shopping.

According to the NRF’s March Monthly Economic Review this year, retail sales — excluding automobile dealers, gasoline stations, and restaurants — are expected to total between $4.33 trillion and $4.4 trillion, which is between 6.5% and 8.2% over 2020. The 2021 spending forecast includes online and other non-store sales, which are expected to jump between 18% and 23% to between $1.14 trillion and $1.19 trillion.

And shoppers are expected to start their holiday shopping even earlier than last year, which is putting pressure on retailers and e-tailers to get their holiday season strategies in line before summer officially starts.

Approximately 44% of respondents to a  survey reported in FreightWaves said they would start their holiday shopping even earlier for the 2021 holidays. Last year the season kicked-off earlier than the typical Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, when Amazon shifted its Prime Day from July to mid-October.

While the 2021 holiday shopping season may not see many of the issues faced in 2020 when carrier capacity was strained, there are still high volumes seen to coincide with the growth in sales expected.

Retailers prime supply chain for 2021

To keep up with this growing demand and shifting holiday shopping season, retailers and eCommerce pure-play companies will have to concentrate on beefing up their logistics and supply chain.

In an article on DigitalCommerce 360, Katie Evans, chief technology editor, says retailers will work hard in 2021 to improve their supply chains.

“After being burned by the pandemic, retailers will seriously invest in diversifying their supply chains, having multiple backup options for sourcing products. The same goes for fulfillment and warehousing,” she says in the article. “They will invest more and think long and hard about contingency plans for these areas of their businesses.”

Here are three things to look for in shipping technology to help you manage the 2021 holiday shopping and shipping season:

Cartonization: Order entry, purchasing, and shopping carts need to know how many cartons or pallets an order will require to estimate parcel shipping costs accurately. Even more importantly, with the carriers facing capacity struggles and charging higher seasonal fees, it is crucial to know how to pack an item in a carton efficiently. Right now, retailers often estimate based on guesswork. Guess too high, lose customers. Guess too low, goodbye margins. Pack poorly and incur waste plus unexpected dimensional weight fees (DIM).

Routing:  You need to implement a routing process that selects carrier services based on an analysis of historical delivery performance to destination zip codes. A multi-carrier management system with analytics capabilities can provide those kinds of actionable insights and then enforce smart routing decisions by automatically “downgrading” service selections without impacting customer delivery expectations.

Rate shopping: Optimizing your rates starts with the data you capture both at the point of shipping and from carrier invoices and shopping carriers for the best price and service. Using analytics and outside expertise from consultants who can benchmark your rates and find ways to optimize your transportation spend is fundamental to improving delivery while reducing costs.

Having the right technology in place, such as Transtream multi-carrier management solution, can help your organization manage shipping costs now and during the holiday rush.