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How to improve holiday supply chain communication with email

For the 2021 holiday season and beyond, supply chain problems are causing headaches for many. Find out how email provides simple solutions.

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This year, shoppers aren’t the only ones worried about orders arriving on time for the holidays.

The 2023 holiday shopping season is packed with global supply chain challenges. Even the big man at the North Pole would be stressed out by all the shipping and logistics issues this year. But don’t worry too much. Email communication presents simple solutions to supply chain complexities.

No matter where your company lands on the supply chain, email is a vital part of the communication strategy. We’ll admit it... email can’t solve all your logistics problems. But it can address many situations and help you avoid communication breakdowns.

Infographic of how a supply chain works

What causes holiday supply chain disruptions?

Let’s hitch a ride with the ghost of holidays past to see where our modern supply chain issues arose. The Grinch himself couldn’t have come up with a more diabolical plan to ruin the holidays!

Supply chain became a buzzword in 2021 when expert predicted a chaotic season for shippers, carriers, retailers, and consumers who were eager to do some holiday shopping. Many of the problems were directly related to the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. Consumers had pent-up demand and were ready to buy, but a host of roadblocks caused delays over the holidays and we’re still not out of the woods.

Here are some of the biggest supply chain issues that impacted the 2021 holiday season:

  • Labor shortages: That includes a scarcity of truck drivers in the U.S. and Europe as well as a lack of warehouse workers and retail employees.

  • Increased shipping and freight rates: The U.S Post Office, FedEx, UPS, and many carriers are raising their rates.

  • Fluctuating fuel prices: Diesel prices recently hit a seven-year high, and there’s also a shortage of diesel fuel, which is commonly used in the transportation of goods.

  • Congested ports: This makes it difficult to move products made overseas to market. Plus a shortage of shipping containers is making them more expensive too.

  • Warehouse capacity: The explosive growth of online shopping is crowding warehouse space at stores and distribution centers, especially as retailers stock up for the holidays.

  • Consumer expectations: Online shoppers expect free shipping and two-day delivery (thanks, Amazon). But that may not be realistic for many shippers in 2021.

Here’s what the CEO of a major toymaker told Bloomberg about the global supply chain situation this holiday season:

“I’ve been doing this for 43 years and never seen it this bad. Everything that can go wrong is going wrong at the same time.”

Isaac Larian, founder and CEO of MGA Entertainment

And we haven’t improved too much in the last two years. 2022’s supply chain issues were mainly attributed to talent/labor shortages, employee illness, and transportation network issues. A study out of Harvard in September 2023 shows that these sustained labor shortages are also impacting the cost of manufacturing goods and services due to increases in labor costs.

In March of 2023, the Global Supply Chain Pressure Index– which takes into account metrics throughout the supply chain – fell to the lowest level since November 2008. And for the 2023 holiday season, supply chain disuptions due to geopoliitcal conflicts and extreme weather events are going to be just as prevalant as continued labor shortages, fluctuating fuel pricies, and some of the same issues we’ve been experiencing since 2021.

The good news is, the cost of email has not increased, and it remains a quick and effective way to improve communications and manage expectations and customer experience throughout the challenges of the holiday buying season.

Let’s take a closer look at opportunities to use email effectively along different legs of the supply chain.

Parts supplier to manufacturer text with logo

Step 1: Getting it made

Because the global supply chain is so complex and interconnected, many products contain parts or materials from various parts of the world. One of the biggest supply chain issues in the post-pandemic economy is the ability for manufacturers to get microchips and semiconductors, many of which are made in Asia.

Those components are used in popular electronics like cellphones as well as other hot-ticket holiday items that are as expensive as new cars and as basic as electric toothbrushes. 

If you’re a parent who needs an excuse not to buy your preteen an iPhone, this might sound like good news. But for many supply chain professionals and consumers, it’s a major headache.

It’s not just tech products facing shortages. Reuters recently reported that all industries are experiencing record-long lead times as they wait for raw materials. 

How email can help

Manufacturers adhere to strict production schedules and missing the mark during the holidays could be very problematic. That’s why suppliers and manufacturers must be in constant communication. And what does every person you do business with have? You guessed it – an email address.

If a manufacturer knows when to expect important parts or materials that are in high demand, it can plan accordingly and notify others further down the supply chain. Email provides an ideal channel for direct as well as bulk communication between suppliers and manufacturers.

When used strategically, email can inform a particular manufacturer about the status of a purchase order, or let a large number know about potential supply disruptions.

Carriers and shippers text with logo

Step 2: Moving products to market

After a product gets made, it needs to make its way from the factory to distribution centers and stores. One of the biggest hurdles regarding moving products to market in 2021 is the truck driver shortage. In the U.S. alone, it’s estimated there is a shortage of 80,000 truckers

Supply chain disruptions are even more complex in the U.K. According to the BBC, while the driver shortage is an issue across Europe, it’s worse in Great Britain. That’s thanks in part to the impact Brexit had on the ability for drivers from other countries to get back into the U.K.

Other factors can delay the arrival of shipments as well. Many shipping containers are stuck in ports waiting to be moved. Natural disasters such as wildfires, hurricanes, and major snowstorms can also throw things for a loop. In 2021, on-time delivery of truckloads is no guarantee.

How email can help

Carriers can easily use email to notify shippers about potential transportation delays, and these communications can even be automated if systems are integrated. Then, certain events or data points may be used to trigger emails to supply chain partners.

Dynamic content that updates information whenever an email is opened takes those communications to another level. Brands do it for consumers who want to track individual packages, so why not implement a B2B version earlier in the supply chain? B2B email communication doesn’t have to be boring, right?

Of course, email can do much more than that. For example, integrating email solutions into a Transportation Management System (TMS) streamlines communication around everything from bids and invoicing to compliance and rate changes.

Email communication could even be used to help maximize less-than-truckload (LTL) shipments so that a carrier’s semi-trucks are as full as possible along every lane.

Brand to retail text with logo

Step 3: The shopping experience

Despite a steady rise in ecommerce purchases, many people still appreciate the experience of heading to a brick-and-mortar store for holiday shopping. That’s especially true now that consumers feel safer about in-person shopping in 2021 thanks to COVID-19 vaccinations.

Normally, earning space on the shelves of a major retailer is a big deal for brands. But thanks to the myriad of supply chain problems, the 2021 holiday shopping season is a different story. According to Retail Dive, store shelves could look awfully bare this year.

“In the end, even large retailers will struggle to hold on to their margins and keep their shelves fully stocked for the holiday season.”

Retail Dive, October 2021

Of course, beyond store shelves, many online retailers will also experiecne inventory issues during the 2021 holiday shopping and shipping season. While Amazon claims its supply chain is ready for the holiday season, smaller ecommerce operations may struggle.

How email can help

As those holiday gifts get closer to their final destinations in stockings and under trees, email continues to be a crucial communication tool.

Brands can use email to provide retail partners with merchandising guidelines to help maximize in-store display strategies. Brands and manufacturers can also segment their email lists by region to communicate effectively with retailers in certain locations.

Brands may even want to prioritize certain retail partners. Big box retailers such as Walmart and Target are extremely important relationships to maintain. The way you communicate with these organizations might be different from others. Email offers an opportunity to both automate and customize communication across the supply chain.

Retail to consumer text with logo

Step 4: Purchase and final delivery

Whether it’s online retail behemoths like Amazon and Alibaba, or a local specialty shop, the last step in the supply chain happens when holiday shoppers make their purchases. 

As consumers, we all have high expectations. We’re used to getting nearly everything on-demand and delivered to our doorsteps in a matter of days. We’re accustomed to deep discounts from retailers on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but CNN reports that may not happen this year. Thankfully, email marketing offers an opportunity to ease any disappointments and make the process as painless as possible.

How email can help

ShipStation cites research indicating that 78% of consumers anticipate delivery delays over the holidays. So, maybe expectations aren’t as unreasonable as you’d assume. However, that same research found 77% of consumers expect to be informed as to why their deliveries are delayed.

The first move retailers should make is sending an email proactively warning customers and subscribers about the likelihood of shipping delays over the holidays. Use this communication as an opportunity to encourage early ordering so holiday gifts arrive on time. Dynamic, real-time order tracking in emails is quickly becoming another consumer expectation.

Transactional emails are the backbone of ecommerce communication. Order confirmations, shipment tracking, refunds, and even password reset emails are vital for keeping things moving and keeping customers happy over the holiday season.

Improve your supply chain communication with reliable email solutions

Mailgun is a trusted source for delivering both transactional and bulk email. Developers and engineers use Mailgun’s RESTful API to solve a host of communication challenges while boosting email deliverability, managing email lists, and more.

A 2021 study from Coyote (a UPS company) found that the second biggest technology challenge for shippers is “integrating all systems and platforms.” That was eclipsed only by “getting meaningful insights out of data.” And, what kind of data presents the biggest challenge? The survey found it is “operational data,” which includes on-time pickup and delivery, shipment tracking, and carrier performance.

Email is a communication tool that can deliver both data and insights that increase transparency and improve efficiency among supply chain partners.

The Mailgun API easily integrates with any application. That includes Transportation Management Systems, Warehouse Management Systems (WMS), and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) platforms. Adding the API commands to your systems is easy, as you can pick your language of choice and start sending after some simple testing. This means you can use automated trigger emails to improve communications and logistics across the supply chain.

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