How to stay afloat this peak season: Top tips from a fulfillment expert

4 minute read

One of the biggest challenges associated with online retail is the seasonal surge in orders and the resulting staffing demands. But handling peak holiday shopping is less about merely beefing up your workforce and more about fine-tuning your overall operating systems, says fulfillment expert David Kang.

Having led fulfillment strategies across a variety of major organizations, Kang knows the ins and outs of managing storage capacities and increasing warehouse efficiencies – particularly during peak shopping periods.

Here are some other great tips to help you get those holiday orders out and drive more repeat business in your online store:

Are you equipped to handle heightened customer demand? If orders doubled over one full week, could your business handle the increase without disappointing your shoppers? What about a sustained uptick over the entire holiday period?

Review last season’s performance with a 360-degree perspective, using labour statistics, order data, inventory reports, and customer satisfaction scores to identify areas where you may have come up short, Kang recommends. Then start looking for ways to correct these problems before they happen again.

Make sure everyone in the organization is involved in these discussions, he adds:

“Communication, organization, and planning among departments will mean the difference between operational success and failure.”

It’s important to perform rigorous load testing, well ahead of the holidays, to identify and correct breakpoints and bottlenecks, advises Kang. That means both real user and server monitoring – because you never quite know when that spike of traffic might happen.

“Be sure that you’ve got the bandwidth to handle any extra traffic, and that your site performs well under the extra pressure. If your website is slow or crashes, you’ll lose customers, particularly those who are returning and have established expectations.”

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Develop a thoughtful forecast of which products will sell at which time and how long it typically takes for that minimum stock level to run out. Establish clear reorder points and allow sufficient lead times to get those products in.

Discovering that the item they requested is out of stock can really frustrate busy holiday shoppers, so be sure to maintain clear and constant visibility into product availability. “Not only do stock outs affect the sale that would have taken place, they can quickly damage your brand and reputation,” Kang notes.

Extended holiday promotional periods and spikes require online merchants to step up distribution processes to meet the constant order demand that marketing is expected to produce.

To keep the funnel clear during the rush, consider using shipping solutions that integrate seamlessly with e-commerce platforms, Kang suggests. This way you can pull orders in real-time, automate label printing, update e-stores with tracking numbers, and send shipping notification emails to customers.

Consider modifying work schedules for your employees potentially adding a weekend, second, or split shift. And, if you anticipate needing temporary workers, make sure to hire them early. This will allow you to train them sufficiently and have them ready to go when the actual seasonal rush begins: “The last thing you want is to be teaching people during prime shopping time,” he says.

Whether they’re full or part-time, surprise fulfillment workers – including other staffers answering an ‘all hands on deck’ request – by offering them a modest gift certificate or promotional item every now and then, Kang recommends: “Regular recognition rewards impact morale, increases engagement, and really improves productivity. It doesn’t take much to get people revved up.”

Even if you’re a seasoned vet, there are certain steps that you should take to ensure your fulfillment space could handle an influx of orders. Regular monitoring can help you gauge how well personnel, logistics software and processes are performing, and whether it’s time to introduce a third party logistics (3PL) provider into the mix.

By thinking ahead you can have additional storage space prepared and the necessary staff on hand to make operations run smoother than ever. Make sure to stock up on boxes, bags, tape, packing materials, labels, and printer ink. It is also a good idea to upgrade some tools like scales, tape guns, and packaging dispensers.

“The holiday season can be a little crazy,” he acknowledges. “But pre-planning, tightening up your current processes, and reinforcing your service goals will allow you to provide your customers with the best possible experience during the holiday stretch.”

David Kang has led fulfillment strategies across a variety of organizations and knows the ins and outs of moving warehouses, increasing efficiencies and managing storage capacities. His strength lies in working with retailers who have experienced exponential growth in their e-commerce business. 

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