Fourth quarter is here, which means it’s time to strategize for the year-end holiday season. A busy time for shippers, carriers, and logistics providers, the end of each year always brings its own set of challenges and opportunities.
This year is no different. On one hand, getting the right products to the right place and at the right time is more critical than ever during the months that lead up to the holidays. On the other side of the equation, at least one ocean carrier is grappling with its own financial issues, the national economic recovery is in full swing, and issues like cargo theft tend to increase during these months.
“Shipments are one of the most crucial parts of the holiday shopping season,” writes WooCommerce’s Nicole Kohler in How to ensure smooth holiday shipments, “and if handled well, they can help you secure repeat customers and prevent returns or other complaints.”
Stepping Up to the Plate
By combining accurate forecasting and advanced planning with the services of a reputable logistics service provider like DB Schenker, your organization will be able to navigate the demand fluctuations and effectively manage its supply chain. If you’re ready to take a close look at your supply chain and make sure it’s ready to take on the busy November-January season, consider these important areas:
Pay attention to product flow. One of the best ways to keep peak season challenges at bay is by assessing inbound product flow and how it’s handled once it hits the warehouse or DC dock. “Sometimes it’s helpful to develop flow diagrams of the processes to depict what is happening,” advised consultant Curt Barry in Start Planning Now for Fall and Holiday 2015 Peak Season Operations. A few layout and flow issues to be aware of, according to Barry, include floor designs that worked when the business was smaller but that lack scalability for a company experiencing good organic growth or growth through acquisition; dock doors and receiving areas that are too small; and inefficient use of floor and overhead space.
Put a well-structured shipping plan in place. Don’t wait for the customer complaints to start rolling in to create an effective shipping plan for the 2016-17 busy season. If your company delivers packages to individual customers, for example, you’ll need a solid omni-channel distribution approach that can be scaled up for those last few months of the year. That way, employees won’t be scrambling to find trucks, reorder shipping supplies, or reconfigure software programs right in the middle of the rush.
Watch inventory levels closely. “For many merchants, peak periods represent significant opportunities to drive revenue, and poor planning can result in lost sales,” according to SalesWarp’s Managing Fulfillment and Shipping During Peak Periods. Good inventory management, for example, is critical both for daily operations and during peak seasons. “Not having enough stock of popular items can be a critical misstep that can cost retailers thousands of dollars.”
Review your shipping costs. Make sure you’re getting the best possible deal on shipping costs, which can fluctuate from year to year. A simple fee audit could save your company a significant amount of money over time. Review your rates, ask questions, and renegotiate any questionable fees or surcharges.
Invest in the right quantity of packing materials and shipping boxes. Especially for retailers, holiday sales can be somewhat unpredictable and reliant on consumer sentiment and economic conditions. Be sure to have the right number of boxes and the right amount of packing materials on hand to support a possible surge in sales. You don’t want to have to scramble to pull together extra packaging materials on December 20.
Prep employees for the holiday rush. For many companies, the number of orders being processed daily increase during the holiday rush. That means employees will need to move quickly while preserving their accuracy. So orders should be double-checked, but remember that time is of the essence. “Even if your store is small and you only have a handful of employees, mentally preparing your team for the holiday season can keep your shipments in top-notch shape during this important season — and ensure your customers come back again and again,” writes Kohler.
Put inventory where it needs to be. Working with your logistics provider, stage inventory in warehouses or distribution centers (DCs) that are as close to your customers as possible. Then, keep your provider in the loop about marketing and promotion plans, and inform it of possible order volume increases and other issues that could impact the supply chain.
Staying in the Know
Watching industry trends, forecasts, and projections can also help shippers effectively manage peak season changes and fluctuations. The Journal of Commerce, for example, provides frequent updates on potential port congestion and other transportation trends. In Los Angeles, Oakland import volumes bode well for peak season, JOC discussed a surge of imports at the Port of Los Angeles that took place in July and the National Retail Federation’s 1.7 percent growth projection in containerized imports for the upcoming holiday season.
By incorporating these strategies into your shipping plans, and by involving your logistics provider early in the process and working together to create a streamlined plan for the holiday season, you’ll be able to effectively meet (and exceed) the demands of the season while keeping your customers happy…and coming back for more.
Call your DB Schenker customer service representative to talk about your holiday logistics and start planning for a profitable end to 2016.
Phone: +1 (800) 225-5229 (in USA)
Phone: +1 (602) 458-6200 (outside USA)