After the holiday rush, it is important to assess how your order fulfillment operations performed and take stock of any issues that you had along the way. These could be small errors, larger scale problems, or systems that positively impacted your business. If you fell behind this year, or had some hiccups in your supply chain, you can learn from your mistakes and be better prepared for next year. Here are 6 key ways to start preparing for next year’s holiday rush—it’s never too late to get a leg up.
Check Your Systems
When the full onslaught of orders start coming in the last thing you want to have happen is for your system to go down. Your website, API connections, tracking software, EDI connections to retailers, warehouse systems—all of these should all be in tip-top shape for the holiday rush. Whether it’s a network issue or old hardware, any delay in your tracking can be costly, particularly during this time of year. Early December is a good time to monitor these systems and connections—check how they performed during the recent rush. Take the time to check out all components of each system, particularly how they interact with your customers and suppliers. Be diligent about your research, if anything is lagging you’ll want to correct it ASAP. Then make plans to upgrade first thing in the new year, it can be a good time to make changes.
You must avoid any errors on your front end systems that interact with your customers, and also check to ensure that you have dedicated enough resources on the back end as well.
Monitor and Update Your Ecommerce Platforms
With online shopping becoming bigger every year, it’s more crucial than ever to check on your ecommerce platforms, most notably the shopping cart. During the holiday rush customers fill out orders and send them at all hours of the day, so you have to be ready to handle the load while also providing an excellent experience for the customers. If your ecommerce platform had any problems this past year, be sure to check them and make sure they are corrected for the upcoming year. Also, if necessary, upgrade to a newer system so that you can avoid frustrated customers and delays.
You might need to switch to a more robust shopping cart that allows for better customization and an improved user experience, which can make a huge difference in your bottom line. Simply put, the easier it is for the customer to place an order, the more orders you are likely to get.
Train Staff on Handling Procedures
Fulfillment is one of the cornerstones of your business, but you shouldn’t let the holidays affect how well you manage your inventory. Too often, employees are rushed during the busy season, meaning that standards fall and items get damaged or destroyed. While you may think that it’s an inevitable side-effect of the situation, the fact is that you can always make improvements. The best place to start is to see how well you did during the current peak season and then create benchmarks for next year. Not only that, but you should also work on developing new procedures that can mitigate any damage that may happen and ensure that your standards are always met, even when your operations are at full capacity. Overall, your main focus should be to maintain your current performance levels and make sure that you are servicing your customers in the best possible way. This is both on the supply and consumer side, so be sure to pay attention to both.
Talk to Your Partners
One of the biggest side effects of online shopping is that more items than ever are being shipped by smaller carriers. As such, you want to reach out to your partners and work with them to ensure that they are prepared to handle the rush as well. Even if you didn’t experience any performance issues on your end, if a partner carrier is lagging it can affect the whole system.
Now is the time to communicate with them about their performance and what you can do to ensure things run as smooth as possible. Even if it requires slightly more effort on your end, you want to minimize delays and keep your customers happy. As such, you should be willing to step up to the plate and work with all of your partners to make that happen. Think of it as an investment in your potential future holiday profits.
Upgrade Your Warehouse Management System
During this last holiday rush, was your warehouse management system a help or a hinderance? If your order volume doubled tomorrow would you be able to stay on top of it? If not, then you might need to look at your warehouse management system (WMS) and see how it can be improved. Overall, the system should be scalable, seamlessly integrate with all of your hardware, and be flexible. If not, then it could affect your whole supply chain and disrupt the flow of products to your customers. By noting the issues you’ve encountered in this last push you’ll have a good map of what you can correct for next season. The sooner you implement more efficient systems, the better off you will be. Remember, the goal is to be proactive and stay ahead of the curve so you don’t find yourself scrambling for whenever the next rush comes.
Consider Partnering with a 3PL
Working with a 3PL to outsource your order fulfillment is a great way to ensure that you are prepared for a sudden uptick in orders. This is not just limited to the holiday season. Hopefully your order volume is steadily increasing over time, and that means there may be small spikes along the way. A 3PL excels at absorbing this ebb and flow of volume; they work with many customers at once, so it’s easier for a 3PL to have extra personnel on hand to pick and pack your shipments, or to work carriers and include more pallets in a shipment on short notice. Working with a 3PL also frees you up to plan and execute marketing campaigns, and iterate on new products. They very things that will hopefully lead to a spike in your order volume! Many businesses quickly understand just the type of value a 3PL partnership can provide—better rates, services, expertise, industry knowledge, flexibility, and a vast network of partnerships. Choosing the best 3PL, one that is well suited to your needs will take a bit of effort to find, but will bring long-term benefits. A 3PL with core competencies that is the right fit will mean a long-term partner interested in generating growth for your business.
“As a small company founder starts to branch out from the small-company DIY mentality before outsourcing. Looking at how much it would cost to do this and do it well, also factor in all of the headaches and edge cases and how to get through them, in-house versus working with people who have seen it and done it before, the business case becomes very strong to outsource to a 3PL.”
The Bottom Line
Even though you are just coming out of the holiday season, it is never too early to develop a plan of action and get your company ready for success next year. You should go into each season with the idea that you will improve from the year before. Taking these actions will empower you to succeed and make sure that you are prepared for next year’s holiday rush.
If you are looking for help managing your logistics and supply chain we would love to hear from you. Send us a note to connect about how DCL Logistics can help your company. You can read DCL’s list of services to learn more, or check out the many companies we work with.