Many eCommerce businesses operating within the print-on-demand space divide their annual calendar into peak and non-peak seasons, and for a good reason. Peak season, which begins at the end of Q3 and reaches its climax in Q4, is considered the main shopping event of the year for retailers and eCommerce merchants. How brands will take advantage of it may determine their course for the good part, if not the entirety, of next year.
To determine how important this peak season will be, let’s revisit the ghosts of seasons past.
One of the defining years of the print-on-demand industry as a whole (and humanity, while we’re at it) is 2020, the year the COVID-19 pandemic was paramount, ruling over our lives and livelihoods. Having to turn to themselves, people started rethinking their approach to generating earnings and job acquisition. That year alone, the creation of new businesses rose by about 42% in the US. Thanks, in part, to this boost, e-commerce was projected to capture 22% of global retail sales by 2023, with the global print-on-demand market rising from US$1.878 billion in 2020 to US$10.804 billion in revenue by 2026.
From 2020 onwards, there’s been a continual increase year over year in shoppers’ spending during the holiday season. It rose from US$188 billion to US$210 billion last year.
Although the growth rate is falling (32% in 2020, 2.5% in 2022), the revenue is increasing, which signals that 2023 will be an even bigger playing field for retailers and e-merchants. Black Friday online sales hit a record US$9.2 billion in 2022.
In 2022, the eCommerce craze spurred by the pandemic finally began to stabilize. From 2021 to 2022, global online retail sales grew from $5.2T to $5.7T— in comparison to $3.3T to $4.3T from 2019 to 2022. Global e-commerce sales are expected to reach $8.1T in 2026.
Want to ensure you're keeping up with the eCommerce trends in 2023? Grab this free resource for PoD merchants from Gooten.
The numbers look promising for 2023 and indicate a successful peak season in terms of sales. The focus now is not on whether businesses will end the year with a bang but how loud that bang will be.
We’re recapping Gooten’s performance during the holiday season 2022.
- 500,000 items fulfilled over the weekend of Black Friday/Cyber Monday
- Achieving a 99.4% error-free rate, well above the industry standard
- With 98% of all orders shipped on time despite tight schedules and out-of-the-ordinary delivery timeframes
- Helped merchant partners grow their business by 30% on average
The summer is behind us, and the fall is upon us. Now begins the preparation journey for what’s to come in November and December. There’s a lot to consider if you’re running a print-on-demand business. You may wonder whether peak season is too far away for you to start thinking about it. You’ve just removed the remnants of the summer collection from your Shopify store. Your Etsy shop is now tunning to the pumpkin-colored vibes of seasonal change. You’re anticipating Halloween sales for your e-commerce brand.
Why would you be considering any marketing campaigns, product assortment changes, or shipping logistics prep for the upcoming peak season this early? Well, you may be surprised by how early you should start preparing for your calendar’s most significant revenue-catching period.
We Asked Print on Demand Experts: How Early Should You Start Preparing for the Peak Season?
Gooteneers eat, sleep, and breathe Print on Demand. We long realized that businesses that thrive during the tumultuous month and a half of peak season allow themselves enough time to thoroughly prepare for what’s to come. They reap the benefits of their labor thanks to the effort invested in all of the critical aspects of their business – seasonal product assortment, promotional campaigns, customer interaction, staffing… and so on.
To get the insights you need for envisioning the road ahead of the upcoming peak season, we sat down with four Gooten powerhouses who, between them, possess 30+ years of experience within the print-on-demand sector:
- Maddy Alcala, our company’s Madam President
- Jo Kovacevic, our Director of Vendor Management
- Kathleen Weng, VP of Operations Strategy at Gooten
- Lydia Rhyne, our Director of Strategic Operations
We picked their brains on vital questions you’ll need answers to before the holiday season even begins.
Peak Season 2023 Early Prep: Table of Contents
We are on the brink of another peak season. What challenges do you believe this year's peak season carries with it compared to the previous two years?
Rising customer acquisition costs and channel diversification continue to be a concern for many of the brands we support; efficient use of ad dollars, driving repeat purchasers, and getting creative with marketing strategies will be essential for brands this year. A recent Deloitte report noted that the cost of acquiring a new customer can be up to six to seven times more than retaining old customers; brands that prioritize customer loyalty and experience are positioned to win this Q4.
An essential element of customer experience is delivery speed and quality, must-haves for any brand looking to profit from a returning customer base. With almost all brands expecting inflation to continue impacting their bottom line, every additional selling day ahead of shipping carrier cut-offs is crucial, as is prioritizing a satisfied end customer who will return and keep shopping into 2024, making those pricey ad dollars pay off.
I expect the holiday season 2023 to be less tumultuous than its predecessors. In the last couple of years, everything that could have gone wrong (the pandemic, product stock challenges, staffing issues, carrier problems) went wrong. This year has been much more stable in all of those regards – the most significant challenge I foresee happening is appropriate staffing, which can be mitigated by proper planning.
Lots of macroeconomics will influence buying decisions for consumers. Retailers are just being more prudent with inventory management, so seeing how this holiday season shakes out will be interesting.
From a more extensive landscape perspective, POD is still the wild, wild west of retail. Sales trends or operational hiccups seem to hard to anticipate fully each year. Luckily, we aren’t expecting any major supply chain or shipping obstacles as we have the past 3 years. Overall, we’re expecting a smooth holiday season!
Regarding seasonal challenges in Q4, how does Gooten solve for our merchant partners?
The Gooten fulfillment network is built for speed, quality, and efficiency – delivering the right product at the right time. We have a growing list of products you won’t find at any print-on-demand provider. We boast industry-leading production times for the more commodity products we support (for example, we’re shipping apparel orders in less than a day right now). Every extra day of sales adds up for the businesses who use Gooten, so we prioritize more extended sales periods into Q4 and best-in-class return rates.
A business that recently switched to Gooten will make over $1mm in incremental profit this year through product expansion supported by our network and save six figures in customer support costs. They were throwing money down the drain with their old provider who couldn’t keep up with production and repelled customers due to poor quality products. Gooten works with brands to ensure every ad dollar they spend returns efficiently by providing a supply chain to back up their customer experience promises.
Gooten has been working on peak season planning the entire year. We’re in constant communication with the whole manufacturing network, providing them with forecasting and marketing plans that would allow them to obtain satisfactory stock levels and scale the staffing and machines appropriately for peak season.
We are super excited about all the new products we’ve added and the manufacturers we are integrated with. This gives our partners a chance to offer some fantastic exclusive products that will go viral and protect their business on their bread-and-butter basics. And partners get all this without worrying about product development (and compliance), spending money on inventory, or navigating complex shipping options.
With Gooten, merchants can sell any/all of the new products we’ve added this year to stay on top of trends. Having good catalog breadth will help capture sales, some of which may come as a surprise. Additionally, Gooten handles product substitutions and OOS situations for our merchants. We can easily swap like-for-like products to ensure the end customer still gets their order on time with the exact high-quality expectations.
It’s only September. The fall has just begun. Is there a need to start talking about the peak season this early?
Always – peak season prep begins in January every year for us.
Absolutely! We start prepping for the end-of-the-year peak in Q1. Our manufacturing partners get most of their material and stock in late Q1/early Q2, so we’re working to get them the appropriate forecasts. Apart from that, providing them with the marketing calendars helps, as it makes predicting potential spikes in volumes easier. We are also working with the carriers on the pickup schedules so that the produced items are not sitting at the print facility instead of getting out to the customers ASAP.
I’ve been in retail for 20+ years. Most retailers start to plan for the holiday season on December 26th, so September already feels late!
Absolutely! Now is the time to add new products, test them, and prepare marketing materials for your customers. Learn about shipping cutoff dates to clearly communicate shopping guidelines early to your customers and ensure they get their orders on time. While we don’t expect shipping companies to exceed capacity this year as in previous years, it’s better to be safe.
For eCommerce merchants looking to add products to their stores in the next couple of months, what is your advice on choosing the most optimal product assortment that’ll resonate with the upcoming season’s shopping trends?
Know your customer and test, test, test! The significant part of print-on-demand is the meager cost of adding a new product offering to your business. Experiment with customer feedback ahead of the busy season so you can dial in your marketing once consumers are doing their holiday shopping.
There are two things I would focus on – 1) unique offerings that are difficult or impossible to find elsewhere, and 2) product categories that are close to your best sellers (since you know what products work well for your target audience).
Retailers have been trying to find the “optimal product assortment” since the onset of commerce, and there is no foolproof formula. But it starts with understanding your customers – are they trend-focused, brand loyal, value deal seekers, etc. Merchants possessing a nuanced understanding of their customers and adapting their assortment accordingly will have the advantage. The print-on-demand space is exciting and adds a level of complexity. Ultimately, you’re not selling a black t-shirt; you’re selling the content on that black t-shirt; you’re not selling a plain white throw pillow, but the design that matches perfectly with the room’s décor.
Mistakes are inevitable in retail and services industries, especially during periods of high demand. How important is it for businesses relying on the print-on-demand fulfillment model to learn from past mistakes?
Learning from previous experience is crucial because a one-off mistake is a much smaller problem than repeated mistakes. We’re constantly working on streamlining processes with our merchants and manufacturing partners, which allows us to minimize errors throughout the network.
Unpopular opinion – You don’t want a smooth and predictable peak season as a merchant. You want a massively successful peak season where demand is higher than expected and you are scrambling. And that’s what ends up separating the average from the exceptional. You want to work with people and companies that can problem solve, think on their feet, focus on impact, and fix and turn a bad situation into an opportunity. And so the question I would ask merchants is less about learning from past mistakes (most folks are smart enough to do that) but if they have selected the right partners to weather, face, and fix the inevitable new mistakes.
This is crucial for businesses to stay afloat in this competitive landscape. As a new industry, POD constantly evolves and shifts with the market. It’s essential to stay on top of what is working and what is not to remain in business. We’ve also learned a lot of lessons during the e-comm boom of the last few years. Prepare your customers early for shipping cutoffs, delays, or OOS situations. Know your backup options to keep your sales and avoid canceling any orders.
What would be your singular message for a client looking to partner with our company to clear their doubts about why Gooten is the right choice for their business?
Look for the hidden costs! Everyone compares product and shipping pricing when looking at print-on-demand providers. Those are essential costs, but they don’t tell the whole story. I’ve worked with many businesses proud of their low product pricing, who still need to calculate how many customers they’re losing due to poor product experiences or sales they’ve missed out on due to slow production times. Every order counts, especially when customer acquisition costs are as high as they are, as does every hour of fulfillment gained during a busy sales period.
Gooten is the right choice for businesses who want to run their print-on-demand supply chain like the pros; we’ve built a solution fit for the world’s largest retailers and give smaller companies the unique ability to access that. The brands who work with Gooten stay on our platform for an average of 5+ years, and there’s a reason for that – we’re built to help businesses scale, especially during tough times, and we treat our customers’ customers like they are our own.
If you’re not successful, Gooten’s not either, so we’ll do whatever’s in our power to help you run your business efficiently and successfully.
I think it’s a conversation and a discussion. I’d explain Gooten’s values, what we are good at, and what value we bring and see if those align with what is most important to the client.
We are only successful if you are, so ensuring your orders go smoothly is our singular focus during the holiday season. Quality and performance are central to our business. Our team closely manages vendor performance throughout the busy season to ensure orders arrive correctly and on time. Our manufacturing network can quickly shift volumes if a vendor struggles to keep up. Often, our merchants won’t even notice an issue because we’re already two steps ahead.
Peak Season 2023: Strive for Success, not Perfection
There are many invaluable takeaways here, depending on your business’s particular needs. Let’s pull up some of them:
Customer Acquisition Costs:
The rising costs of acquiring new customers are a significant concern. To address this, businesses should optimize their advertising spending, drive repeat purchases, and implement creative marketing strategies. According to a Deloitte report, retaining existing customers can be up to six to seven times more cost-effective than acquiring new ones.
Delivery Speed and Quality:
Ensuring fast and reliable delivery is essential for retaining customers. Businesses should prioritize efficient shipping to meet customer expectations and maximize sales. With most brands expecting inflation to impact their bottom line, every additional selling day before shipping carrier cut-offs becomes crucial.
Peak Season Planning:
Preparing for the holiday season should start early in the year. Peak season planning involves collaborating with manufacturing partners, forecasting demand, and aligning marketing calendars to anticipate volume spikes. Efficient coordination with shipping carriers is also essential to ensure timely deliveries. Luckily for our merchant partners, Gooten takes care of these backend operations and logistics for you!
Product Assortment Planning:
Businesses should carefully choose their product assortment to resonate with seasonal shopping trends. This includes offering unique products that are difficult to find elsewhere and aligning product categories with customer preferences. Testing and gathering customer feedback can help refine the product assortment.
Learning from Mistakes:
Learning from past mistakes is crucial for improving processes. Successful businesses focus on problem-solving, thinking on their feet, and turning challenges into opportunities. Selecting partners who can adapt and help address new mistakes effectively is essential.
Why Choose Gooten:
Gooten’s fulfillment network is built for speed, quality, and efficiency. We offer a wide range of products, industry-leading production times, and support for product expansion. Gooten helps businesses run their print-on-demand supply chain efficiently, making it a preferred choice for brands looking to scale their operations.
The holiday season prep requires businesses in the print-on-demand industry to prioritize customer experience, streamline operations, and make strategic decisions regarding product assortment and partnerships.
Planning well in advance and learning from past experiences are vital strategies for success during this critical period.