Amidst so much uncertainty this year, one thing is for sure—this holiday season will look like no other that has come before it.
For many, the holiday season is the largest, most important revenue generating time of year, responsible for up to 30% of annual sales for many businesses. With so much at stake, how do you prepare for the unknown?
A successful holiday season this year will require visibility, flexibility and creativity.
Most businesses are gearing up to take more online orders than ever before. With that anticipated demand, warehouses will need to maximize their efficiency to fulfill more orders quickly and efficiently. Here are five ideas for rethinking your fulfillment strategy and delivering on customer expectations this holiday season:
- Temporarily reconfigure your current warehouse space to accommodate more fulfillment stations. Real-estate is at a premium so it’s more important than ever to maximize the use of the space you have. To accommodate the anticipated increase in online orders, warehouses may consider temporarily reconfiguring their current space to include more fulfillment stations. Doing an audit of your warehouse geography will help identify space that’s being underutilized or could be reorganized, such as:
- Using your vertical space to store overstock or slower moving items
- Decrease your aisle widths, especially those in lesser trafficked aisles
- Store shipping boxes flat and assemble them during the fulfillment process.
- Place the quickest moving items nearest fulfillment stations, and place frequently bought together items close to one another. Understanding what items are your top sellers and placing them nearest to fulfillment stations allows for quicker picking and order fulfillment. Likewise, storing items that are frequently purchased together near each other makes order picking easier.
- Rethink the role of your physical store locations. With likely limitations on the number of shoppers allowed in store, physical stores can expect decreased foot traffic and sales this holiday season. But that doesn’t mean the physical store is obsolete. Creative businesses will find a way to use their physical locations this holiday season. Transform your physical location into a showroom, with streamlined traffic flow to keep shoppers moving. This allows shoppers to have the in-person shopping experience while avoiding check-out lines and keeping inventory levels low. To make up for the lack of registers, retailers could have associate fulfill orders from tablets, direct customers to their ecommerce site or, better yet, a mobile optimized site they can order from as they browse in person. Another option is to use a portion of your physical store locations as micro fulfillment centers. Because foot traffic will be minimized, with designated foot paths likely, physical locations will likely have space that could be easily be transformed into temporary fulfillment centers to help ease the load of warehouses fulfilling online orders. Micro fulfillment at the store level also presents the opportunity to spread your inventory geographically – decreasing the miles orders are shipping to reach the end consumer, decreasing shipping costs and delivery times.
- Get creative with delivery options. Increased commerce orders combined with shipping carriers that are already operating at max capacity could result in delayed deliveries and unhappy customers. Businesses that are able to provide alternative delivery options, such as curbside pick up and drive-through options, will differentiate themselves and keep orders moving.
- Consider a 3PL if you aren’t confident you can meet demand. If you’re not equipped to successfully fulfill additional online orders, consider outsourcing them to a third-party logistics (3PL) partner. Customer loyalty is largely dependent on receiving the right product quickly. Especially during the holidays, customers will not wait for an item that is out of stock. A 3PL partner can be assigned to fulfilling all, or some, of your holiday orders, ensuring you meet customer expectations and maximize sales.
To do this, businesses must have visibility into items, inventory, orders and customers and the ability to connect them all together to create a holistic view. That typically comes in the form of a robust ERP system that serves as the central repository for all that data. Inventory visibility gives businesses insight into stock levels, demand and sell through by channel and location and links customer orders to items.
Actively monitoring and managing inventory levels across locations allows businesses to hold less inventory overall, freeing up cash to be used in other parts of the business—such as increased holiday advertising or additional funds for seasonal labor to meet fulfillment needs. With visibility into inventory levels across warehouse locations, as well as physical stores, businesses can:
- Drive online orders to specific locations to be fulfilled based on inventory availability
- Transfer inventory from location to location to ensure inventory sell through across the organization and avoid obsolete inventory
- Deliver on alternative fulfillment options such as drop shipping, curb-side pick-up, returns and exchanges.
Inventory visibility, warehouse flexibility and creative fulfillment strategies will allow businesses to meet shoppers where they are this holiday season, maximize on holiday sales and deliver on customer expectations.
Learn more about how to plan for a successful holiday season in our holiday guide.