Did you spend the 2016 peak holiday season struggling with inaccurate orders, delayed shipments and dissatisfied customers? If so, improving fulfillment operations is likely to be at the top of your priority list this year.
It can be challenging to handle a tremendous surge in volume while delivering the right products on time at a reasonable cost to ensure customer satisfaction. Successful fulfillment begins with strategic and tactical planning well in advance of the holiday. Take time now to identify objectives and the steps needed to improve holiday fulfillment for the coming year.
Below is a blueprint for achieving optimal holiday fulfillment performance:
Assemble the Necessary Resources
Take stock of facilities and equipment. Confirm that there is enough space available to handle increased holiday volume and that it is configured for optimal order processing. Verify that there is enough equipment on hand to accommodate the additional volume and source extra forklifts, handhelds, etc. Identifying and addressing these needs ahead of time can prevent major headaches at the height of the holiday season.
Third-party partners often have the flexibility to accommodate the ebb and flow of peak holiday season volume, helping to meet customers’ peak requirements without adding overhead costs.
Strengthen Your Systems
Systems-based planning plays a critical role in successful holiday fulfillment. Check that your software is capable of handling the increased volume. Data-tracking metrics are also essential for identifying issues and addressing them quickly. If a third-party partner is used, ensure that their systems are effectively integrated.
Information is key. Sophisticated systems ensure real-time visibility, accurate reporting and the ability to optimize inventory across multiple fulfillment sources.
Take time to evaluate fulfillment processes and operations. Fine-tune receiving to ensure that incoming products are compliant (i.e. correctly bar coded and packaged) so they can be put into stock quickly for an efficient turnaround.
Evaluate picking and packing processes to ensure optimal efficiencies. Be prepared for backorders and returns. An experienced fulfillment partner can share best practices and offer solutions to specific challenges.
Get All Hands on Deck
Staffing can be one of the biggest challenges during the peak holiday season. Arrange for extra support well in advance and provide sufficient training and cross-training, so associates in all areas can hit the ground running and offer excellent service. Have key people on call throughout the season.
Be sure to research holiday delivery options well in advance. Understanding these details is essential in order to set and meet customer expectations. If an expansion of shipping and delivery options is in the cards for holiday 2017 (i.e. in-store pickup, same-day delivery, free returns), planning must begin even earlier.
Transit time is often critical for holiday shipments. For companies using multiple distribution centers, analyze shipment patterns to ensure that inventory is in the right place in order to minimize shipping costs and delivery times.
A third-party fulfillment partner can be a valuable ally for peak holiday season fulfillment. Effective outsourcing can actually increase efficiency, improve customer service and reduce costs. It allows everyone to play to their strengths.
Jeff Jones is Vice President, Business Development for Saddle Creek Logistics