Hi! I'm Tessa from Krmbal and I'm going to give you my top 3 tips for running pre-orders for merchandise.
While it's great to be able to ship as soon as someone orders an item, there are some benefits to doing a pre-order. First, you can gauge interest in a design. I will usually launch two new designs at time, but am often surprised at which design is the more popular of the two. I think that comes from being so close to the designs that I can't accurately judge since I'll love them all! Seeing that interest can help you adjust your quantity to make sure you're not ordering a ton of a design that isn't as popular or vice versa, not ordering enough for a design that's very popular. For items like t-shirts, it can also help judge which sizes you'll need the most of. You don't want to be stuck with a bunch of smalls if your customers want XLs!
I'm actually doing a pre-order right now for a totally different reason. I modified Krmbal's signature Shop Indie design to say Shop Green for a custom fundraiser tee for Zeleny Fair, which is an eco-festival in the Kansas City area. They're going to sell them to support their festivals and their mission to support Heartland Center (a camp and retreat center) and Graydon Springs (a non-profit who aims to purchase and promote the use of land in Missouri for education, recreation, community, Ozarks Heritage and sustainability). Since Zeleny Fair's eco-festivals are located in the Kansas City area, we're working together on the pre-order to help extend their reach to bring both more awareness to their cause and help raise additional money from people who don't live in the area and can't attend their events. The pre-order is now available in my shop - with a white print on a 100% organic cotton Green Apple colored tee. $5 from each pre-order tee will go back to Zeleny Fair and tees should arrive no later than May 30th, which actually will be the date of Zeleny Fair's next mini festival in Parkville, MO! This tee will only be available via pre-order in the Krmbal Storenvy shop until Friday, May 9th or in-person at Zeleny Fair, so if you aren't local and want to scoop one up do it now!
Now to my tips!
1. Post a ship date and stick to it!
First and most important is to make sure you do what you say you'll do. If you don't, your customers can lose trust in you. So pick a ship date that you know you can achieve and post it, so that customers who are thinking about ordering the pre-order will know when they will get their items. Some people may only want to buy ready-to-ship items, but those that don't mind a pre-order will at the very least want to know when they'll have it by. This is especially important if they're shopping for a gift - so make sure you can post a date and have plenty of time to meet it.
There are some instances that can be outside your control that can affect this date. For me, I once had an incident where my tees were printed and on their way to me, but something happened and UPS shipped my package back and forth between 2 cities for a week and then a big snowstorm hit and it was a holiday weekend. I didn't end up getting my package until after the ship date I'd posted. UPS was actually pretty great about it and totally made up for their error, but while that helped me somewhat, it didn't help me with customers who weren't getting their items that they'd paid for on time. Luckily, as soon as I found out what was going on and when I would actually have the product, I was able to notify my customers with an apology and offered them a discount code and gift in addition. Also luckily, they were all great about it. Explaining the situation and trying to make sure I gave the best customer service I could really saved me.
Timing is everything. Timing matters for your ship date, but it also matters in order to get the information you need for a pre-order to really be useful. There's no point in doing a pre-order if you have to post it without any time to learn from the sales information. Of course, if you're doing a pre-order for a different reason, like my Zeleny Fair fundraiser, the knowledge gained isn't really the point of that pre-order, but timing is still important in order to meet their event date.
When planning your pre-order, take into account the time it'll take to order your supplies, for those supplies to arrive, to produce your items, etc -- and then PAD IT. The padding should give you a bit of leeway in case something goes wrong and honestly, something always happens, even if it's not as big of a deal as losing a week in shipping confusion. It's better to be able to ship early and make your customers super happy than ship late and risk losing them.
3. Check and Double Check
If you've got a business like mine where I have to order a product from a supplier (t-shirts) make sure you do your homework. I mean REALLY do it. I had an incident where I checked the website, chose a color tee made a design for it, put up the pre-order and then went to order it and all of a sudden that color was gone! Disaster. I had to change everything. I had ORDERS that I had to offer refunds on or the option to keep the order with the new color. This actually happened on the same pre-order that came late, so that was really a pretty hot mess of a pre-order for me.
If I'd actually called up the supplier (I hate calling) instead of simply checking the website, I might have known that it was running really low or that I needed to order now to be able to get the very last bit of the color I'd originally chosen. (To that end - if you're a supplier, keep your website up to date, darn it!) If at all possible, try to cultivate a relationship with your supplier, so you have the opportunity to call them up and say 'Hey, I'm thinking about order X amount of this, will there be enough in a few weeks? Could you hold some for me?' If you get an awesome sales rep or customer service person to work with, make sure you send them a thank you if they go above and beyond. This is your business and if you can't make your awesome thing without a supplier, make sure you let that supplier know you appreciate them! In fact, don't tell my print team, but I think the next time I order Krmbal tees I'm gonna send some cookies out to them because they really do go out of their way for me. I wouldn't be able to do this without them, so it's the least I can do to show my appreciation!
So those are my 3 tips for running a successful pre-order. Here's one last bonus tip - don't post your pre-order at full-price. Anyone who orders during a pre-order is doing you a favor by sending you valuable stats for your business. Give them a discount or free shipping to let them know you appreciate their business and their willingness to wait a bit to get their awesome new item!