Peak season can fall at different periods for every industry. For example, many retailers of lifestyle goods may experience theirs before summer or Christmas, whereas many sporting vendors might get volume spikes just as their specific sports season begins. The rise of eCommerce and more frequent promotions, enabling you to order online at your convenience is also creating more peak periods than ever.
Regardless of whenever your peak season comes around, there’s one common denominator for all business owners – you want your business to be ready for it. Here are seven key order fulfilment tips businesses use to handle peak season sales better.
Look at historical data
Effective planning for any business begins by looking at historical data. Data about past sales, such as which inventory stock were best sellers, average order size, origin/channel of maximum orders (e.g. online or in-store) and other important variables will help inform the right order fulfilment strategy.
Importantly, measuring sales trends as they change will show spikes and curves in your sales data. By identifying what happened historically, you will be able to forecast for better future planning. In addition, answering the following questions will help direct your attention to important parts of the order fulfilment process for peak season:
- How did the order fulfilment perform against set targets?
- Were there any bottlenecks in inventory management and logistics?
- What were the most common customer complaints?
- Are your suppliers reliable or do you need to look into new options and solutions?
Make sure necessary resources are ready to go
Thinking about your business’ facilities and equipment, check that there is enough space available to handle increased peak season volume and that it is organised for optimal order processing. Note that additional storage may be needed. During peak season sales, typically there will be large inbound shipments which will surge warehouse spacing levels. Consider drop shipping and third-party partners or leasing additional storage space for storage of peak time shipments. Respectively, verify that there is enough equipment readily available to accommodate the volumes of inventory stock, for example, source extra forklifts, handhelds, and so forth. Identifying and addressing these needs ahead of time can smooth out the order fulfilment process in peak season.
Plan your staffing needs
Staffing can often be the biggest challenge during peak seasons, so plan out your staffing strategy well in advance by arranging and securing extra support early.
Providing sufficient training and cross-training allows associates in all areas to be effective staff quickly. Although it may not be feasible to train temporary staff as thoroughly as full-time team members, it is important that they fully understand the process they are being asked to do.
Not investing the time to do proper training now may cause you costly problems later impacting negatively on order fulfilment. Many businesses cross-train full-time associates across all departments, especially those jobs that require training on equipment such as forklifts. This is generally coupled with a strategic division of labour that delegates more complex tasks to the long-term and most highly skilled team members while reserving more basic tasks for temporary staff.
Strengthen current systems
Systems-based planning also plays an essential role in successful peak season order fulfilment. Ensure your software is capable of handling the increased volume. Data-tracking metrics are also vital for identifying issues and addressing them quickly. If a third-party partner is used, ensure that their systems are integrated. Information of this type is so important, where more beneficial software systems will provide real-time visibility, accurate reporting and the ability to optimise inventory stock across multiple order fulfilment sources, informing decision making efficiently and effectively.
Take time to evaluate order fulfilment processes and operations. Fine-tune receiving to ensure that incoming products are compliant for example, correctly barcoded and packaged, so they can be put into stock quickly for faster turnaround. At the other end, also evaluate picking and packing processes to ensure optimal efficiencies. Be prepared for backorders and returns, by having systems in place to deal with these situations.
Pay attention to delivery times
Delivery time is a major factor that can affect customer satisfaction. Keeping an eye on delivery times is a must in peak seasons. Be sure to research special holiday delivery options well in advance too. For businesses using multiple distribution centres, analyse shipment patterns to ensure that inventory stock is in the right place as to minimise shipping costs and delivery times.
Review and revise
It is difficult to address every issue when orders are rushing in. However, once order volumes diminish, review and revise with other associates to identify any weaknesses so strategies can be revised to address any problem areas to better handle the next peak period.
Peak season surges can be amazing for your business, but they can also represent major challenges for your order fulfilment process. Follow these tips for order fulfilment to enhance your chances to capitalise from these sales and handle peak seasons more successfully.
Article by Melanie Chan in collaboration with our team of Unleashed Software inventory and business specialists. Melanie has been writing about inventory management for the past three years. When not writing about inventory management, you can find her eating her way through Auckland.