13 Considerations for Peak Holiday Season Readiness Now

By now you have your peak holiday season planning for 2018 well underway. If you’re behind schedule, there’s still time to implement improvements but you need to be prudent and not over-commit.

To help you get there, here are 13 critical considerations for improving your peak holiday season operations and fulfillment processes:

Demand Plan

By now merchandise planning should be completed for peak season. We expect your marketing department can give fulfillment the topline order plan by week and day. All your detail planning should cross-foot to this plan so marketing and fulfillment are aligned. The number of returns can also be estimated as a percent of order demand by week.

Simplifying Workflow and Processes

Based on your 2017 post-season analysis, how can you process inbound receipts, customer orders and returns more efficiently? Temps and part-time workers may not have ever worked in your type of facility. Can the process be broken into multiple steps to make them more productive? Can your skilled employees handle the complex tasks?

Product Storage and Movement

There is still some time left to make changes to racking and material handling equipment. For example, lead time on racking is four to six weeks at the fastest. To get delivery in a shorter time frame you may pay as much as a 30% premium. Get approval, get it ordered and on someone’s installation schedule.

3PL Alternative

Time may be running out to get a commitment to implement a 3PL in time for peak holiday season. One of our clients that started the evaluation process in January has just signed with a very large 3PL. As a wholesaler, they must start shipping in July. The 3PL has to install its site with new racking and faces the same lead constraints.

Labor, Recruitment, Training

Based on your 2017 peak holiday season review, what can you do differently in terms of advertising, recruiting and training? How can labor be used more efficiently? Where were there too many people and not enough people based on workload? How could scheduling replenishment in off hours free up congestion? Could a partial or a full second shift increase productivity? Can temporary agency labor alleviate problems? What improvements in training and procedures still need to be completed?

Update Telephone Tree, Transportation

In case of a disaster or bad weather, updating the employee telephone tree and transportation plan is absolutely essential. Many companies offer employees rides to work during the worst weather to keep production up.

Testing System Changes

Set a drop-dead date beyond which new system changes will not be implemented. Lobby for systems testing by Aug. 15 to Sept. 1, in advance of the order ramp up.

Outbound Shipping

Are there things you need to do differently with carriers such as dropping a trailer and loading trucks? Can you extend pickup cutoff times? In conventional facilities with minimal automation, can you use expandable conveyors to load trucks? What bottlenecks can be eliminated?

Packing Materials, Other Supplies

Can vendors manage the supply inventory to benefit your operation? Can they store it offsite and reliably make resupply shipments to free up space? 

Merchandise Availability

A key failure is not having merchandise available for fall/holiday promotions once the selling season starts. If there’s a problem, what can senior merchandise management do differently to improve this situation? Re-emphasize this issue with all vendors, detailing your objective of improving customer service. Can they follow up well in advance to be sure delivery dates can be met, including drop ship vendors?

Cross-Channel Processes

Are all your processes cross-channel? The two culprits are often gift cards and returns. Are there restrictions in these processes which don’t provide a good customer experience? You still have time to eliminate these problems.

Develop a Plan

Time is short. Detail the tasks, get senior management and cross-departmental buy-in; assign responsibilities and establish start and end dates. Issue a status report weekly to all stakeholders.

Call a Consultant

Consider using a consultant to validate your plans, add senior experience and get tasks done that are behind.

Peak season can represent 60% or more of the annual sales and a higher percent of profit. Not being ready can be career shortening. Your main objective is planning and preparation that sets you up to deliver high service levels within budget.

Brian Barry is President of F. Curtis Barry & Company

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