Preparing for the Ber Months in E-commerce Philippines

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Prepare yourself as the Ber months are almost upon us!

As a business owner, it seems as if right after finding one’s bearings at the end of a huge event, another one is looming just around the corner, waiting to pounce! Fortunately, inspirational quotes abound, and there’s an empowering one, in particular, existing for more than a century, which eventually gained more traction because it was incorporated into a song performed by an iconic rock band.

“Life’s a journey, not a destination,” the lead singer drawls, and even before he reaches the tail end of the line’s final syllable, the quote has already served its purpose. After that line and halfway through, a catchy guitar riff leaves listeners in anticipation of what is yet to come, proving the quote applicable not only to the song containing it but practically any song that is a journey in itself. A song’s lyrics may be a narrative, tracing the passage of time, or it may be a song’s melody tickling an emotion or evoking a mood, but the combination of both creates an unforgettable moment for its listeners. Sometimes, experiencing a song before it’s over is what matters, more than the song’s end.

The same holds for events and milestones. Some people celebrate their birthday for an entire month instead of just one day, starting early in anticipation of their actual date of birth. A string of smaller celebrations serves as a prelude to one grand party. We look forward to vacations and out-of-town trips, the excitement building up as we approach these dates. The days leading to them are sprinkled with related activities such as checking out reviews, buying clothes to be worn, and some even making use of countdown apps. It seems like we want to prolong and hold on to the reason for our celebration for as long as we can.

Perhaps this quote is also the reason why we Filipinos have a long, drawn-out Christmas season, promptly beginning once September hits. Popularly known as the Ber months in the Philippines, this refers to the last 4 months of the year ending in the same suffix. We are so thrilled about the thought of Christmas fast approaching that, even though it’s still many months to go, we eagerly await its arrival as early as September.

Looking Forward to the Ber Months

September is the Ber month everyone is most excited about probably because it is the first one. Business owners and sellers especially are overjoyed because the beginning of September also ends the “ghost month.” The weather starts getting colder, and Filipinos automatically associate cool nights with bed weather. Sleep is, therefore, cozier and people are more well-rested. After an agonizing summer with power shortages and humidity so pervasive, skin sweats and sticks to desks and tables, a refreshing gust of wind entering the room is a welcome change. Malls become even more beautiful since early signs of Christmas begin to subtly make appearances – from the occasional Christmas song from Jose Mari Chan to simple themes and motifs reflecting the colors of Christmas. Warm and delicious dishes like sinigang, chicken soup, arroz caldo, and champorado are once again appreciated and enjoyed. Even the radio and streaming services often sneak in a Christmas reference or two.

The journey to Christmas brings with it an exhilarating feeling shared by many. It’s the joy without the stress, as the madness of the season with people rushing to buy gifts and parties popping up here and there isn’t present yet. Holiday sales (including e-commerce sales) aren’t as crazy just yet, with many store owners opting to hold out, instead reserving their sale stocks for December.

When September ends, attention is quickly diverted to the upcoming Halloween festivities. Both the rush and the high are still there, but there is a shift to both the scary and the supernatural. Consider October a detour still taking you to Christmas, albeit via a winding and creepy road. The thought of Christmas coming is still at the back of everyone’s head, but in the here and now, people are celebrating Halloween.

Overseas, November is mostly known for Thanksgiving and Veterans Day. While Filipinos are now more aware of these two occasions thanks to the proliferation of business process outsourcing, these still aren’t widely celebrated in the country. Instead, the Ber month of November is merely an additional 30 days, whose only purpose is to build up even more excitement. Most shoppers start preparing their Christmas lists at this time, and they also take advantage of the monthly e-commerce sales while stocks are still abundant. By December though, there is a fear of missing out, as some e-commerce shopping carts are forcibly emptied because stocks aren’t enough.

Even store owners and e-commerce sellers look forward to the Ber months, but they must also plan accordingly because they need to adapt to the changing weather. While the very first Ber month opens the door to the long but thrilling wait, it also ushers in some unpleasant and risky conditions.

Thinking One Step Ahead

Indeed, the Ber months in the Philippines are already considered a part of the Christmas season. Before December arrives, however, sellers still have to contend with September. While this month used to mark the start of the rainy season in the Philippines, through the years, severe changes in weather patterns around the world have pushed the rains back to earlier months. Nevertheless, September is still considered the peak of poor weather conditions, with a forecast of rain occurring on an average of 15 to 22 days out of September’s total of 30 days!

In the Philippines, the rainy season brings with it torrential downpours which seemingly have no end, dark clouds and smog which obscure the vision of motorists, and nonstop floods which often lead to stalled vehicles and traffic congestion. These heavily impact the ability to fulfill orders in a timely and safe manner. Sellers might ask themselves how to boost sales despite the beginning of the rainy season. One way is to think one step ahead and identify roadblocks hindering the process normally followed by a business owner. Once identified, take the following preventive measures to address potential issues:

Protection for Packages

The packages for either shipping or delivery will be much more prone to water damage due to the rain. As customers, we’ve received books with warped pages drenched then left under the sun to dry. Food deliveries are barely protected by the cardboard containers they arrive in. Sadly, some are even just wrapped in brown paper bags, which is similar to not having any kind of protection at all! We are very familiar with the feeling of disappointment when receiving water-damaged goods, and it’s even more frustrating to know these could have been avoided if the seller took more care in protecting their wares from the rain.

It’s not difficult nor costly to add extra layers of protection during the rainy season. Continue to utilize the packing materials you’ve used in the past such as bubble wraps to cushion your products from pressure and crumpled newspaper or packing peanuts/Styrofoam balls to fill in the gaps, especially if an item is extremely fragile.

Instead of using packing paper, use packaging/packing foam made out of cross-linked polyethylene, which is more water-resistant and used to protect medical devices during transport. If this isn’t available in your area, use normal packaging/packing foam but add more layers. It may make your package bulkier and heavier, but it is worth the slight inconvenience and expense if it means your buyers will be satisfied. Substitute corrugated cartons for cardboard ones since these are sturdier and less likely to be damaged by water. Don’t forget the bottom of your package might be left on wet surfaces, so reinforce the insides, maybe even elevating your product so it is not directly in contact with the bottom.

If time permits, take pictures of your items once they’re securely packed but before they’re sealed and shipped. These will serve as proof in case something goes wrong in transit. Check out this guide for more precautionary measures to take when packing.

Protection for Customers

Deliveries will be delayed during this period. Even if your delivery providers are motorcycle riders who can weave in and out of traffic easily on a normal day, drainage problems in major cities cause floods which will hamper small and large vehicles alike. Impassable roads blocked by rising waters also affect postal services and courier companies. It has been proven time and again in this country – the only workaround is to wait for the water to subside.

The best way to address this is to communicate with your customers constantly. If you send out newsletters and email blasts, manage expectations by announcing bad weather conditions that may cause delays. In your messages, be kind in explaining why you are explicitly discouraging last-minute orders during the rainy season, especially if the items are urgently needed for a specific date. Give a modified realistic time frame, offering massive leeway for these types of delays. Add disclaimers to or remove unrealistic guarantees altogether of customers receiving products in x amount of hours or days when the rainy season kicks in.

Despite your reminders, there will still be customers who will order and expect speedy deliveries, usually out of necessity. Put yourself in their shoes and apologize sincerely. There isn’t any solution to address a delay caused by weather, so go the extra mile and check with the courier (and branches involved) to find out the status of your deliveries. While many courier websites already provide periodic updates, calling up a branch results in an actual, real-time update.

Protection for Delivery Riders

Take care of your delivery riders, especially the ones you contact regularly. Besides not wanting them to get sick because it will affect your business, note too they will be subjected to more hazardous situations such as slippery roads, lightning strikes, and flu-inducing winds and rain.

Prepare a small, warm bowl of soup or place snacks like crackers inside a small bag they can take with them and eat for the times they inevitably have to wait. If they bring a thermos of water on their trips, offer to refill this for them. Hand out some vitamins or over-the-counter cold medicines. Lend them an umbrella or jacket if they come unprepared, and just genuinely check on them and remind them to prioritize their safety when traveling.

Having a Ber Months Sale

Besides planning, it’s also important to remember: based on years past, a surge in sales always happens during the last quarter of the year. More overseas Filipino workers send money to their relatives here, increasing purchasing power and the capacity to spend. Those who are planning to throw lavish parties and Christmas celebrations in December are already scouting around for suppliers and placing deposits for venues. Boost sales by taking advantage of the Ber months.

Present yourself as one of the solutions for the early birds. Holding a Ber month sale linked to the monthly double-double e-commerce sales is worth considering. During your inventory runs, set aside old, unmoving stocks slated for an eventual markdown, and divide them among the Ber months, reserving most of it for December. This can also coincide with stocking up on new products to prepare for the expected high demand, but not go overboard. Look at your past Christmas business reports to see which items to prioritize. Devise plans for promoting different products depending on the Ber month, so your buyers won’t feel oversaturated over the next few months.

The Ber months are bound to be hectic, wild, and maybe even overwhelming at times, but it’s also going to keep you animated and energetic as you match the mood and tone of the season. Besides preparing for possible setbacks, always keep the customer in mind as his interactions with you and your store will most likely be tied to the Christmas season. Bearing that in mind, always practice empathy to ensure both buyer and seller will have a fantastic experience to share post-sale. Be the guide in his journey to reach a certain destination, and allow him to look back at the memories of his sales experience fondly.

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