Online retailers enjoyed significant growth this holiday season with a 20% year over year increase in ecommerce sales during the period between Black Friday and Christmas. Not only was this growth significant, but it also outpaced earlier estimates by over 6 percentage points.

In the face of significant sales growth, many retailers encounter the so-called “good problem” of how to keep up with demand and deliver a seamless customer experience. Not only must retailers ensure that supply chains can execute online shipments on time and accurately, but they must also be able to ensure fast and convenient returns processing. Fortunately, companies can take advantage of technology to reduce delays and increase efficiency for items leaving the warehouse and for those being returned.

To ensure that orders leave the warehouse on time, companies can implement Voxware’s Cloud VMS product to increase efficiency in the supply chain by 30%, which can help avoid disappointing customers. A Voxware survey found that 69% of consumers are less likely to shop with a retailer if an item is not delivered within two days of the date promised and 86% of shoppers report having even higher expectations during the holiday shopping season. To improve warehouse efficiency even further, companies can also leverage Intellestra™, Voxware’s new predictive analytics platform. With Intellestra™, fulfillment managers can reroute orders to distribution centers closer to a customer’s shipping address to reduce fulfillment time.

Companies must also be prepared to receive and process returned items quickly. Since online shoppers can’t try items on before purchasing them, they’re more likely to return items than in-store shoppers. According to one study, they’re expected to return 30% of merchandise purchased online, a rate that’s nearly double what’s expected for merchandise purchase in stores. Companies that allow outdated fulfillment processes to increase the time from the moment a customer returns an item to when that item can be resold risk losing margin.  CNBC recently reported that out-of-stocks, overstocks, and returns cost retailers as much as $1.75billion annually.

On seasonal items, delays can result in those items not being resold at all. Fortunately, companies that deploy voice can expedite the receiving and restocking processes and companies that leverage predictive analytics like Intellestra™ can also gather real time data on where returned items are in the return process to more quickly notify customers that an item has been restocked.

As companies continue to expand their ecommerce operations, decreasing shipping delays in both directions will be key to long-term success. Companies that modernize fulfillment operations will be able to increase profitability from online shipping and returns while those with outdated processes will see it decline.