Analytics Help You Better Manage Ecommerce Fulfillment Demand Spikes

In today’s ever-evolving supply chain, anticipating ecommerce fulfillment demand spikes can be tricky. Traditional peak seasons, such as the weeks leading up to Christmas or back-to-school shopping, aren’t going away, and omnichannel has added a new wrinkle to standard holiday shopping.

However, as Amazon’s multi-billion dollar Prime Day continues to demonstrate, the retail calendar is evolving: What used to be a quiet period is now a mega shopping holiday. The internet’s reach and influence complicate matters as viral trends create instant sensations, with associates rushing to fulfill orders.

Customer experience can suffer if an ecommerce fulfillment center is unable to quickly scale its operations, but not every company has the resources on hand to respond swiftly. One potential solution is predictive analytics. Although only 19% of fulfillment centers employ advanced analytics, 82% will within the next five years, according to an MHI/Deloitte survey. If you’d like to stay one step ahead of demand, consider these 3 analytics strategies to manage planned (and unplanned) peak seasons:

More (Efficient) Feet on the Ground

You’ve read how automation is changing ecommerce fulfillment: Robots move through the aisles picking items, shifting pickers to more complicated roles and eliminating the need for additional staff. For now, that might be an exaggeration. While robots are certainly a more feasible option now than ten yers ago, most fulfillment centers aren’t ready to make a large-scale automation investment yet.

However, technology will cut down on inefficient processes to help both your full time and seasonal staff increase productivity. A modern warehouse management system (WMS) can help you track time spent on core tasks to determine whether picking, packing, replenishment or another area is hindering operations. When it comes time to hire seasonal workers, you can use this data to best allocate the extra help among more rote tasks, freeing up experienced staff to tackle more complex processes.

Once you’ve developed a base of seasonal talent, inquire about their availability throughout the year and keep track of those who quickly acclimate to your processes. By taking a proactive approach to staffing, you’ll create a reliable pool to activate when managing demand spikes,  without wasting time re-training them.

Everything in its (Logical) Place

On its face, picking should be an easy process. The quicker your team picks items and delivers them to a packaging station, the more items per hour you can ship, and the greater the profit. But the smallest inefficiencies in ecommerce fulfillment center layout can cause big headaches. It pays to ensure your team can maneuver through the aisles as logically as possible; otherwise you’re squandering valuable resources.

If your WMS allows tracking of purchase trends over time, these analytics will help you reorganize your ecommerce fulfillment center quickly and adapt to inventory changes. For example, data can help you determine which items are likely to fly off the shelves in November vs. March, and move those items closer to packing stations. You can also relocate items that often sell together in close proximity, so associates don’t have to search the entire facility to fulfill a single order.

You won’t be able to predict all demand spikes. However streamlining your picking processes will help you develop a mindset for efficiency across the DC, and you’ll have more bandwidth to tackle sudden demand as it arises. 

Investing in flexible technology

Data is the foundation for peak effiiciency. A modern WMS can provide deeper insights into big data, but it’s important to research each vendor’s offering before you invest. How will your technology perform under pressure?

When investigating WMS technology, remember to ask about flexible licensing. This allows you to increase the number of employees on the system during demand spikes without locking you into a more expensive, long-term contract.

A New Approach to Peaks Year-Round

It’s no secret that the supply chain is now more volatile than ever. Customers want their orders five minutes ago, no matter how popular the item or how complicated the shipping.

Demand spikes can exaggerate these fulfillment challenges. Don’t let this be a roadblock to delivering a superior customer experience. When you let analytics drive workable solutions, you’ll be empowered to drive greater efficiency and manage whatever challenges today’s buyers throw at you.

Don White is Vice President of Enterprise Solutions at Snapfulfil

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