As Black Friday and Cyber Monday become increasingly global, merchants need to become increasingly detailed and deliberate in their planning – especially when it comes to setting and implementing shipping and returns policies and practices.

A new customer survey conducted by DHL finds that some retailers are now planning as much as 12 months in advance for the holiday season, while 35 percent are planning at least three to four months ahead.

Still, many are allowing themselves to fall behind their rivals in the preparation department, with 65 percent of respondents saying they plan only one to two months in advance.

The need for thorough planning is directly related to the rise of e-commerce, growing global competitiveness, and the complex logistics and border clearance and Customs issues involved in reaching customers abroad. Of course, the potential benefit is worth the effort, given the size of the online holiday marketplace. In 2016, Cyber Monday was the largest e-commerce event in history, with consumers spending $3.45 billion in 24 hours in the U.S., according to Adobe Digital Insights.

For 2017, holiday e-commerce, including mobile commerce, is set to continue its international expansion. Deloitte predicts that overall e-commerce sales will increase 18 to 21 percent this holiday season. The DHL survey finds that almost half of respondents believe that online sales will grow this holiday season, with a majority of those believing that a slight increase of 1 to 10 percent is likely, and a small number predicting a 31 to 40 percent increase.

A vast majority of respondents also indicated that, since the beginning of the year, global trade has helped to improve sales: more than 58 percent agreed or strongly agreed that international trade has provided a boost.

The DHL survey revealed another key issue: when asked about their biggest business challenge during the holiday season, respondents were in heavy agreement that fulfilling shipment orders in a timely manner was at the top of the list. More than 46 percent chose this area as their biggest challenge.

With this in mind, here are some tips to relieve shipment stress around the holidays:

Know When Peak Shipping Season Starts

While it may seem obvious, some businesses neglect to plan for the increased shipment activity that occurs during peak season, which is the Monday after Thanksgiving until Christmas Day. This year, the 2017 peak season pickup and delivery volumes are forecasted to be 26 percent higher than in 2016.

Make Your Shipping Policy Clear and Competitive

Online customers expect free shipping offers during the holidays, so set your policies accordingly, and clearly broadcast them to your customers and potential customers. A free returns-and-exchanges policy will also help boost sales, according to research from the University of Texas at Dallas.

Get Your Global Plan in Place

In addition to creating a website that works for international shoppers, you need a shipping policy that is clear and understandable for any visitor. The rules and requirements of shipping outside the United States are unique, and you need to understand them and ensure that your customers do as well.

DHL’s Trade Automation Service provides important guidance surrounding international transactions. Your website should include information about the possible duties that will be charged for international customers at the time of import.

There are also several HTS (Harmonized Tariff Schedule) code apps in the iTunes store and for Android users that can help you understand the duty rate and VAT (Value Added Tax) that your international customers may be charged.

What is your business doing to prepare for the holiday season? Let us know on Twitter @DHLUS.