Project Management: The Key to Peak Holiday Season Success

Another peak holiday season is in the books and ecommerce and operations professionals are evaluating how well their fulfillment processes performed during the most challenging and important time of the year.

To better understand how the peak holiday season affected brands’ operations, Dotcom Distribution surveyed 125 ecommerce brand professionals to identify key pain points during the 2017 holiday season. The results indicate that project management plays a vital role in ensuring a company’s success during any peak period.

While many brands hold service-level agreements (SLAs) with third party logistics (3PL) partners that establish performance measures, SLAs normally vary during high-volume periods. The key to peak holiday season success is establishing good project management in advance to mitigate challenges that arise.

More than half of survey respondents noticed significantly more orders than last year, meaning the potential for errors also rose. The key is to identify the workarounds and previous slip points to build a project plan to alleviate those problems.

Order Accuracy Maintains Customer Satisfaction

While SLAs are usually created to ensure that order processing and fulfillment keeps customers satisfied, proper project management is needed in order to keep everything running smoothly. For example, only 30.6% of respondents said that 100% of orders were delivered correctly, meaning that a majority of orders fell under the industry-standard 99.99% SLA. Fulfilling an order incorrectly creates a negative brand experience and can turn away repeat customers. Disgruntled customers may voice frustrations via social media or negative reviews, potentially leading to more lost sales.

The proper order management system (OMS) can track and facilitate each purchase while actively monitoring inventory across all available channels, helping improve order accuracy. Other processes can correct an issue when it occurs.

Brands should plan for these problems to ensure they can quickly follow the necessary protocols to keep customer satisfaction high. The first step is responding to questions and complaints in a timely manner to let customers or clients know their problem is recognized and being solved. Brands should then have a strategy to replace the item that minimizes time and costs. This can involve a combination of innovative fulfillment methods or new shipping partners used only in these cases.

Keep Fulfillment Timely

Shipping management is another component of an SLA. Because shoppers expect on time, in full (OTIF) delivery, logistics professionals are expected to provide efficient, timely order fulfillment. However, 67% of ecommerce brands in the survey said less than 99% of orders were shipped completely. Additionally, many respondents cited fulfillment delays as the biggest seasonal challenge. Minimizing this scenario, which can increase costs and cause brands to lose profits, is a necessity, requiring proper project management.

Improving time management speeds up order fulfillment. Creating warehouse strategies ensures that every team member maximizes efficiency to decrease order processing times.

Another relevant SLA area is inventory management. Monitoring inventory levels in real time helps limit lost sales due to out-of-stock items, but the functionality can be lost among brands and logistics providers that cannot keep up with the changes. First, merchants should have warehouse space reserved for increased SKUs during peak periods. Next, managing the rising order volumes will require additional plans. Merchants will have to specifically alter their daily goals to meet the increases and stay on track with the influx of orders.

Maintaining the SLA of shipping management may also involve utilizing multiple carriers for delivering different products to various locations. It’s vital to know the specific carriers and mediums that can ship each order to every location in the shortest time. While 3PLs aren’t responsible for delivering orders, it is up to them to make sure products are put in the hands of the right carriers as quickly as possible.

Make Customer Service Easier and More Helpful

Increased orders often bring more customer service inquiries, evidenced by that fact that 30% of survey respondents noticed more calls this past peak holiday season. The spike poses challenges but also presents opportunities if merchants handle them correctly.

To effectively answer questions and requests, they need accurate insight into their operations. This is achieved by creating real-time enterprise visibility via the previously mentioned technologies. For example, a web reporting portal can allow clients easy access to the back end of their operations to address fulfillment issues in real time. It’s important to monitor how these systems function during peak periods, when they are used more. Creating this transparency prior to peak periods is crucial for facilitating customer service requests during periods of high stress. Though quality customer service is an SLA, making the necessary information available is a project management objective.

While the peak holiday season can take its toll, the issues are preventable. Quality project management can help forecast and put out the fires before they start, saving valuable time and resources to maintain success throughout periods of rising order volumes.

JD Woods is Chief Experience Officer of Dotcom Distribution

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