How to Ensure a Successful Shipping Season When Selling Wine DTC
10.10.2019  |  by Merilee Anderson

Right now, growers are in peak harvest time for grapes. It’s also peak time for shipping wine DTC. Heat holds put in place during the summer are being released; wineries are ramping up their holiday marketing campaigns and flash sale events; and consumers themselves are driving up the demand for shipping across the board through October, November, and December (the “OND” shipping season).

The start of the OND season is especially important for the wine industry. In fact, it is estimated that a full 60% of all DTC wine shipments are sent out between mid-September and December. It has been my experience that, when the high-volume shipping season comes, any inefficiencies or “cracks” in your systems are going to show themselves during this busy time.

And, as anyone who has had to have a windshield replaced knows, it’s much easier to address cracks early on, when they are small—and before they cause a major accident. Fortunately, there are some fairly simple things you can do to proactively shore up your processes, and these will help make your OND shipping season go much more smoothly.

To make thinking about these tips a little easier, I’ve broken them down into three categories: Setting expectations during the order-taking process, marketing, and coordinating with your fulfillment partner.

Set Expectations During the Order-Taking Process

Even though you are acutely aware of how busy this season is, the average consumer is not. In fact, your customers will still expect the same level of service and delivery as they would have at any other time of the year. The whole system of overloaded carriers and busy-as-a-beehive fulfillment centers is invisible to them.

Which is why you need to set expectations, right at the point of order. Start by adding a couple of days to your carrier’s normal time-in-transit commitments. Between possible inclement weather and the inundation of the system, there will be delays during peak holiday season, so you need to build in a buffer when it comes to order arrival times.

After you do this, be sure to post holiday shipping deadlines right on your website. Work backward from popular “ship by” dates (such as the days before Thanksgiving and Christmas) with your new estimates for time to pick, pack, and ship. This way, customers know that if they want a gift delivered by (say) Christmas Eve, they need to place an order by such-and-so date.

And don’t stop at your website, either. Inform your wine club, telesales, and tasting room staff of these key order deadlines as well. Advertise these order dates to wine club members, either via email or direct mail. Make announcements on social media. It might take seeing the message multiple times for a consumer to remember that they need to place orders early.

While you are informing your team of these deadlines, it is a good opportunity to give them refresher training on order flow and shipping guidelines as well. All of your staff should be up to speed on your POS software (including what it is capable of selling in kits and bundles) and compliance software (like ShipCompliant). A good fulfillment partner can help with this, too—for example, here at Copper Peak, our clients frequently benefit from our account managers’ ShipCompliant expertise, specifically when it comes to clearing exceptions.

Refresh and Schedule Your Marketing

The busy season might seem like the worst time to step up your marketing—after all, you’re already busy, right?

Really, though, this season is the perfect time to renew and update. Doing so can save you many headaches down the road. For example, take a look at your marketing collateral (your brochures, your website, your catalogues, etc.) and pay special attention to any contact information in them. Do you have the right people listed? Is their information correct? Do you have the right phone numbers and emails listed? You would be surprised how much frustration is created simply because a catalogue lists an old customer service number, or a new wine club manager has been hired.

Also make sure you have enough printed material on hand, and that you have supplied this to your fulfillment partner. This can be catalogues, coupons, flyers, tasting notes, or even non-wine merchandise—whatever you are including with shipments. You don’t want to send shipments out without these components, but you also don’t want to delay a shipment waiting for a printer to create more.

The busy season is also a perfectly fine time to review some of your marketing fundamentals so you can plan for the coming season. This is the time to make a marketing schedule and stick to it! Effective market communications you do now will mean more returning customers next season.

Coordinate with Your Fulfillment Partner

If you truly want to be successful this peak season, the time to talk to your fulfillment partner is now. For your part, you’ll want to know what their capabilities and production schedule requirements are. For their part, your fulfillment partner will want to know things like expected order volume, anticipated club/release drop dates, inventory receiving, kitting requirements, and so on. (If you are a winery in the Napa/Sonoma region and you’re still looking for wine fulfillment companies to potentially partner with, come talk to us here at Copper Peak about getting you set up for more success in 2020!)

Once those details have been shared, you can more easily ensure that your partner has all the inventory and printed materials they need. I highly recommend having someone to manage inventory for each location (including tasting rooms and fulfillment centers). Make sure there is enough stock in each to meet expected demand!

One thing you should be sure to coordinate is how to process weather holds. Your fulfillment partner will want to know in advance if and when you make any large releases. You can’t simply call them out of the blue one day asking them to release all weather holds and expect products to go out in a timely or organized manner. Large releases take planning.

In fact, empowering your fulfillment partner to plan appropriately will have a huge pay-off as the season progresses. For example, I recommend to clients that they submit their orders to us as they are received, even if the ship date is in the future. This way, we have the order in our system and can coordinate when it needs to be picked, packed, and shipped. There’s no reason to “hold on” to the order, as we can coordinate exactly when that order is released. 

An OND Checklist for a Smooth Shipping Season

This all might seem like a lot to do. I find it easier to make a short list of action items (after I understand the main ideas and reasoning behind them). So here’s mine that you can print off and use at the start of every busy wine shipping season:

  • Add a couple of days to your carrier’s normal time-in-transit commitments.
  • Post holiday shipping deadlines on…
    • Your website
    • Your social media accounts
    • Emails to club members and other customers
  • Inform tasting room, wine club, and telesales team of holiday shipping schedules
  • Train/refresh all staff on order flow and shipping guidelines
  • Make and keep a marketing schedule
  • Refresh and update marketing collateral
  • Make sure fulfillment partners have enough collateral and non-wine merchandise
  • Coordinate details with your fulfillment partner:
    • Capabilities
    • Production schedules
    • Expected volume
    • Receiving guidelines
  • Work with your fulfillment partner to plan and schedule release of weather holds
  • Plan to submit orders as they come in