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Etsy guide 1: Christmas chaos

Updated: Apr 23, 2023

The postal strikes this year have caused the absolute chaos that they were intended to and the horror stories I have been hearing fill me with pity and sympathy. Small businesses have been decimated by the strikes and considering by mid December I'd had no postal issues, I decided to analyse and share how I achieved a trouble free peak rush whilst all around was going horribly wrong.

Great photo op during heavy frost

No two Christmases are ever the same but lessons are always to be learnt. This year was exceptionally challenging but with constantly amending delivery times, reading ahead the potential for increased freight with extra delays (Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales) and keeping a close track on the actual dates of the strikes, my 25 years knowledge of the courier industry has stood me in good stead.

Inform of postal deadlines

In October as it starts to get busy add a sentence to all Etsy listings, in capital letters, giving the postal deadlines for delivery by Christmas. I always start off with November 20th for international and December 12th for domestic. By choosing November 20th I am ensuring the majority of my international will be posted before the influx of Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales.

I remember deliveries increasing by about 30% after this huge sales weekend which then leads into Christmas peak. By mid December deliveries would have increased by 50%. There is also the bad weather to factor in which could delay the moving of freight around the country. With increased freight and delays from bad weather most couriers by December are leaving the depot anything around 2 hours later, but are expected to deliver 50% extra.

Extend delivery times

When setting delivery times on Etsy, the Royal Mail selections are inaccurate. I choose 'other' and enter my own times of 2-4 days. Choosing 'other' also means that come Christmas time I can increase these times to my own choosing. A few weeks ago my 2nd class was set at 7-12 days, due to the strikes, which isn't an option if the Royal Mail pre-settings are used. Creating this long window ensured everything was delivered before it expired and so although delayed, nothing was late, (with the exception so far of just three items, all of which have since been delivered). During a usual Christmas I set my delivery times for 2nd class to 4-7 days, unless there are added postal issues such as regional bad weather or bottle-necked depots.

As a courier at this time of year I used to get up at 4.30, I'd be sorting parcels into an order by 5am, and on the road by 8.30, about 90 minutes later than usual due to increased bulk and lorry delays, with icy roads adding to a very late start. My usual run used to be done by 2pm, but this time of year I wouldn't be done until about 8-9pm and by the time you have emptied your van, you're not getting home till extra at the weekend. Unexpected delays such as breakdowns, accidents and illness only add to the chaos, as with every hand already on deck working flat out, there is no leeway if a link in the chain is missing. If parcels aren't delivered for any reason, they are added to the following day, and I can assure you, there's not a courier in the land who wants two days worth of freight at this time of year. The industry can be extremely overwhelming for agency replacements who can quickly become disinterested with the enormity of their day, and with the minimal training subs have, you have to feel for them. Could you find 100 addresses, find the parcels in the back of a big van and do as good a job as the usual guy who knows everyone by surname?

Macro view of frost on the window

Offer postal upgrades

This year because of the postal strikes I have added some postal upgrade choices. It was very easy to do and highly recommended. Now they are set up I will be keeping them. I offer the option to upgrade to 1st or 2nd class tracked for domestic addresses, and I will be adding international in the near future. I have had to adjust the delivery times on the upgrade choices as the strikes continued. At one point 1st class tracked was set at 5-7 days, but it should usually be 1-2 days.

Every courier will have timed sensitive consignments which have to be delivered on time without fail. I would roughly have 6 x 9am, 3 x 10.30 and 15 x 12 on a usual day and I never failed any 'timers', never ever! But in mid December when you are leaving the depot at 8.30 (as discussed above), with a 90 minute drive in rush hour traffic (which you normally miss as you're usually earlier), there is no way you can physically deliver those 9am's. This is why all hands are on deck, every man and van is out helping to increase efficiency and reduce some stresses on the system. When everything is at maximum and couriers are working with colds and illness or driving vans that need garage maintenance but cannot be taken off the road as they are needed, you get a huge feeling of achievement at the end of the day if you get home in one piece without incident.

Good packing

Over the years I have learnt that a smart parcel gets special treatment. I have lost track of how many times someone has sent a message before they have even opened the parcel to say the interaction with the postie has been delightful and how special a moment it had been. I have sent out 1,300 parcels and I've never had a damaged one and only ever had 3 not turn up. I'm proud of that, especially when I read the plethora of comments of fellow sellers telling of damages, losses and empty boxes being delivered. A lovingly packed parcel oozing individuality and care will always be looked after with respect and consideration. I will cover packing a good parcel at a later date but everything I use to pack has a purpose; the ribbon, tissue, hand printed address labels all constitute to a business of high standards and attention to detail. The pretty paper is purely to cheer up the postie and the whole experience is designed to bring with it a little sunshine to the recipient.

As a courier I never delivered a pretty, unique parcel, but I would pay special attention to any messages. The most memorable one was a message saying 'please wish my mum happy birthday for me'. I went one further and sang the full birthday song boldly and happily, 'Happy birthday dear Mrs-(can't remember her name),-lots-of-love-from-your-daught-errrr!' Well, let's just say there were tears, it was a sweet, special moment that we will both always remember!

Bespoke wrapping for a gift

Correct addresses

There have been many addresses that I have checked over the years when they have seemed wrong or incomplete. It is always worth checking if the address is right if it doesn't ring true as there is nothing worse than sending something out without a proper address. Addresses can be easily checked online, or message the client.

Once I had a parcel that had the guy's name on it, the village and postcode, no road or house name/number with no phone number. It was lucky that I actually knew which house the surname might have been at and after a security check the chap had his parcel. This level of knowledge is only achievable when you work in one area for a long time. At Christmas when agency staff are employed, incorrect addresses will not get delivered. When a system is flat out you want your parcel delivered as soon as possible, limiting the time it is exposed to potential damage or loss while waiting in a busy warehouse.

Prompt informative transparency

One of the subjects that crops up a lot on social media is the disbelief that something has been posted. We have to remember there are some rouges out there and some people are understandably cautious in the belief a parcel has been posted. So why not alleviate any distrust by proving the thing has been sent. I used to just photograph the postal receipt but one day the postal lady wrote the wrong address, it should have been 37B but the receipt read 378. I knew I had addressed it correctly and it was delivered successfully, but from this I learnt to also photograph the parcel with its address label. This is a great idea because if my parcel were to go astray, they'll know what it looks like. Besides with a creatively composed photograph you can instil a little excitement of anticipation. Etsy should be about an experience, not a retail transaction.

A dear friend makes my Yule Log every year

Responding to a delivery query should be handled with extreme tact and compassion. My immediate response primarily is to apologise and to precisely answer the enquiry. To help with explaining the postal strikes I screenshot a calendar and marked the posted date and strike days. Because I take photographs of the parcel label there is never a question as to where the parcel is addressed to and the photo of the receipt confirms it is in the system. This complete transparency leaves nothing to wonder about, except perhaps how nice the parcel is going to look and so how nice will the thing inside be?

It may be that the things I sell attract the most beautiful souls, but the people I get messages from are so kind with unbelievable understanding and patience. In reference to the current strikes, where a few things seemed to take longer to deliver than they actually did, the messages I got were so considerate, polite and sometimes quite beautiful. Domestic post on the 28th November not only had a four day strike right up to Black Friday but there was then the added bulk of the online sales. I had queries about a few things as ten days had passed but they hadn't arrived. It was actually only four working days and everything but one was successfully delivered. Maybe my approach where I clearly state 'we will proceed as you wish' meaning after the right amount of time I will refund or replace depending on what the client wants to do, shows I'm not trying to avoid a bad situation, but instead approach it head on. I also think it is important to send a courtesy message within 24 hours of an inquiry and every few days after to show you haven't forgotten about the problem.

Lady of Shalott rose still blushed with colour

Cost of the lost

Last Christmas at the end of November my local post office lost a sack of parcels and I had 3 large orders in it. This was an absolute nightmare. The items totalled £80 in all so to refund or replace was a real blow. As two weeks passed and the parcels still hadn't arrived I started to contact the clients to see whether they wanted a refund or replacement. I had calculated what was the latest date I could send a replacement to ensure it arrived by Christmas, but not to be too eager so the original order could still turn up. With informative messaging, keeping in contact and offering solutions to problems that may occur before they did occur showed I was willing to do whatever it took to resolve the missing parcels. In the end those that had replacements did end up with both parcels and they all offered to pay for everything they had received. I came through this disaster totally unscathed but reading the horror stories on social media there is rarely a happy ending with missing or late parcels. I have read so many posts about abusive, extremely offensive and rude messages from angry customers and I have to wonder 'why so angry?' At this time of year with so many parcels being moved about the country it should be factored in that it's possible some things will get lost or delayed.

As with every mid December as it calms down, I sit and plan the following year and reflect on the success of each highly stressful Christmas chaos. It is a good time to design new Stuff for the following Christmas whilst it is still all around. This year has been great as there have been some very heavy frosts and proper wintery skies, so I have been out taking photographs for colour reference and studies. Planning the following year is such a good idea as it means I don't forget or leave to the last minute any preparation for a seasonal event. For example:

  • January- knit hare squares, make Drafties as they sell

  • February-strip lavender and make bird/hare bodies, make Drafties as they sell

  • March- make hares ready for Easter, stock up on birdies

  • April- make hares to top up stock after Easter, make wands to top up stock

  • May-make Drafties to top up after Winter and to stock for southern hemispheres winter

  • June-make robins, check everything is fully stocked for Christmas

  • July- Off in the garden

  • August- Off in the garden

  • September- A full print run of tags, notelets, address labels and compliment slips some adjusted for Christmas, print Christmas wrap, stock up on festive cards as they sell

  • October- Pom pom making for Lapland UK orders, write on all listings postal deadlines

  • November- wrapping, packing and posting,

  • December- donate to the rabbit rescue, continue to send out none festive related things plan the next year, check on stock levels.

Warmy toasty toes!

This Christmas has been a smooth journey and I have really enjoyed it. I have sent out 8% more Stuff than last years peak season, but the amount of orders is down by 11%. This analysis makes sense when you consider about 60% of orders went out to folks who had purchased before and the orders were mostly big. I guess with the postal strikes people wanted to be waiting for as few parcels as possible, so if you're ordering one item, why not get four? Anyway, the chaos is nearly over, though my 'chaos' was more like a walk down a garden path on a Summers day chatting with lovely souls along the way! I really feel sorry for all the sellers in tears on social media because they have had a terrible time of it with angry customers, hurtful messages and 1* reviews for items not yet delivered. Their plight touched me so that I wrote this blog.

Solstice Blessings and festive best wishes to everyone everywhere, stay warm, stay safe but most of all, stay happy

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1 comentario

Wow. Loved your beautiful post and all the care and love that goes into mailing an order. It took me a while to open the one I received which was wrapped in beautiful stenciled paper, ribbon, hand written address and Fragile Handle With Love message. Thank you for your care and sensitivity In making this so special. ❤️❤️

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