The summer months are upon us in the northern hemisphere, and shoppers aren't the only people going on vacation—online sellers need a break sometimes, too!
If you own and operate your own online selling business, however, this does raise questions about what to do with your business operations while you're out.
Here are some things to think about as you plan for your own summer vacation away from e-commerce.
What Not to Do
The one big no-no about going on vacation is this: don't do nothing.
That is to say, don't simply check out without warning, letting your orders pile up and e-mail go unanswered. This is a surefire way to end up with angry customers, refund requests, and bad feedback. Instead, adopt one of the following common approaches:
Approach 1: Get Someone to Mind the Store
If you have an employee or two or a close friend or family member who's competent and organized, this can often be the best option.
Getting someone to fill in for you while you're away means that you can still take orders, handle customer needs, and ship products even though you're away. Of course, the person who's doing this for you won't be as instantly familiar with the ins and outs of your business—so provide them with a message like this one, which they can send to customers in case anything goes wrong:
"Hello and thanks for your order/contacting us! We've received your query but are currently short-staffed, so we'll get back to you within the next several days to follow up. In the meantime, thank you for your patience and please feel confident that we will address your issue shortly."
Give your fill-in number to reach you in case of emergencies, but encourage them not to use it unless they do encounter a bona-fide emergency. Be sure to train them as needed on:
Receiving or acquiring new inventory
Most of the time, the fill-in arrangement works quite well and vacation time is enjoyed without a hitch—and without a pause in business operations.
Approach 2: Post the Equivalent of a "Gone Fishin'" Sign
If you're wary about letting someone else mind the store, or simply don't have anyone qualified to turn to, consider continuing to take orders while you're away while making clear to shoppers that there will be a delay in orders. Craft an appropriate message like:
"There will be a delay in fulfillment and customer service requests from July 1st through July 10th. Orders placed during this time will be fulfilled on July 11th. Responses to customer service requests will also resume on July 11th. We will continue to accept orders during this time."
If you have an eBay store, use the vacation settings to place this message and an away flag on your store and listings. If you don't have an eBay store, consider subscribing for a month and considering the cost a part of your vacation expenses.
Otherwise, add the text (or similar text) to the top of your item descriptions, in bold text, set apart in its own paragraph—so that buyers are sure to notice it and set up an email auto-response with a similar message.
Avoid posting auction format listings that will end while you're away, since:
eBay Store vacation settings don't affect auction-format listings
Shoppers can bid early on auction-format listings and may not get the chance to see your message
Many sellers worry about taking this approach, but in practice many continue to receive orders without much in the way of interruption; the effects that you'll see depend largely on the products that you sell and how rapidly buyers typically need to receive them. Do plan on a heavy, backlogged first couple of days when you return.
Approach 3: Run Your Business from the Road
This approach doesn't work for every seller, but for some sellers, continuing to operate the business while on vacation can make sense. This is primarily an option for:
Sellers that sell just a few small products
Sellers that use a fulfillment service
Sellers that drop-ship
If you have a laptop computer and will have network access while you travel (these days, this is most everyone), continuing to run the business while on vacation can be a viable—if somewhat tiring—option.
If you use a fulfillment service or rely on drop-shippers, this approach means just a few hours of laptop-time a day while you're away. If you fulfill your own orders, it's a little more involved, as it means:
Bringing along enough product inventory to ship out while you're on the road
Bringing along packaging and shipping supplies or being prepared to purchase them on location
Finding and using facilities to print labels
Finding and dropping shipments at local carrier(s) on your route
Be careful when taking this approach; many sellers try to adopt it, but it really works best for sellers that are very disciplined and very resourceful. After all, you're on vacation, in unfamiliar environs. It's going to be tempting to spend as much time as possible relaxing, and you're likely to run into frustrating complications, particularly of you're fulfilling orders on the go.
Still, some sellers are able to make it work—and to continue to hum along without any interruption.
Keep Your Customers in Mind
Whichever approach you take, remember to keep your customers in mind at all times. They are, after all, your biggest need and asset. Your goal should be to ensure that whatever happens while you vacation, your customers are not surprised (in a bad way) by the experience that they have buying from you, and that when you return, you can resume operation successfully.
Most of all, whichever approach you take, remember to be on vacation when you're on vacation and to avoid turning your vacation into just another form of worry or daily hurry—because if you return more tired and exhausted than when you left, it will all have been for naught.
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