The end of the year tends to be busy for anyone selling wine DTC. Between the release of heat holds, holiday gifts, and the usual wine club subscription orders, there is a lot of activity happening in fulfillment centers and carrier companies, as well as at in-house facilities.
Even so, this is precisely the time to take stock of what worked and what didn’t, and revise your strategy going into 2020.
To help, here is our list of some of the top obstacles, both large and small, that wineries and wine clubs can look over and discuss, to form their strategy going forward. These include not only challenges from the previous years, but ways to relieve future burdens through careful planning and decision making.
Note: This post from 2019 has been updated to include new information for 2020. Post-mortems are important any year, and we are constantly reviewing and revising best practices as the industry changes.
- Take a hard look at your inventory. What clean-up is needed? If you have products that are not turning over, now is the time to find out which ones those are. Ask yourself, are these items that can be moved to a bulk storage facility or should you run a promotion? Not only does this make things easier on your shipping partner (or internal shipping team), but it’s more cost effective, too.
- Gather your data now. By now, you should have all the club data you need for Q1 and Q2 of 2020. If not, that needs to be collected ASAP. In our industry there really isn’t a “downtime” period between the end of the busy holiday season and the first club shipments of the new year, which means that gathering that data sooner rather than later, is extremely important to ensure a smooth club release.
- Was there enough approved packaging on hand to meet demand? If you fulfill inhouse you need to have the right packaging. Were your shipments kept safe from unnecessary damage? Was packaging the right size to keep shipping costs within reason? Were there ever delays because you ran out of packaging? Use your answers to these questions to guide your purchase of wine packaging through 2020. If you use an outside fulfillment house, were their solutions acceptable?
- Find and address order accuracy problems. A cost-effective DTC channel gets the right wine, in the right box, to the right customers in a timely manner. How many shipping mistakes were made over the course of the year? (Hopefully the error rate percentage is extremely low when compared to the total orders shipped) How costly were those mistakes in terms of returns, re-ships, and refunds? Once you have a handle on those answers, dig deeper: What was the root cause of those errors?
- Are you meeting SLAs? Or is your fulfillment speed too slow? Are your customers getting their shipments when expected? Can your team get an order out the door in less than 48 hours? Customers expect their shipments much quicker in this day and age, and your team cannot afford delays.
- Set explicit fulfillment expectations. On the other hand, the problem might not be fulfillment speed, but rather customer expectations. Even if your team is running efficiently, customers can become upset if they have unrealistic expectations of their shipping experience. Is your DTC team setting expectations with your customers appropriately? Do they understand things like required adult signatures, holding locations, and so on? Training goes a long way to improving the customer experience at the tasting room.
- Overall brand experience missing. Setting expectations and delivering in a timely manner are just two ways in which you help create an overall brand experience during delivery. (For more on this, we recommend reading “Wine Shipping Challenges in the Age of Amazon”). Ask yourself: What could you have done better, in the tasting room and on your website, to help support the best brand delivery experience possible?
- Challenging holiday gifting programs. Holiday gifting, specifically corporate gifting, can be a nice boost to your bottom line, not to mention a good way to showcase your wine. Did you try a gifting program this year? If not, put this on the table for next year. If so, how did it go? What challenges were there, and what needs to be solved?
- Not the right partner(s). If you used a fulfillment center or 3PL, did they deliver on their promises? What went wrong? What was disappointing? Were these issues enough to have you shop around to other 3PLs in the coming year? Or, if it was running smoothly, could it perhaps be better by collaborating on a year-end audit like this?
While you are thinking about your wine shipping strategy, you might also want to consider the shipping deals and incentives you offer. We suggest downloading these free white papers to help with those aspects of your DTC strategy:
“Discounted, Flat Rate, or Free Shipping: What’s the Right Strategy?”
“Winery Merchandise: Strategy and Ideas From Industry Experts and Successful Cases”
If you’re struggling with any aspect of your fulfillment, please reach out—our team is ready and eager to answer your questions!