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Mastering efficient order fulfilment during the Peak Season

It’s that time again, the golden quarter. Are you preparing for the surge in demand in the end-of-year peak selling season? Pressure will be felt on inventory management, shipping logistics and importantly, handling processes. By having a clear understanding of customer demand and inventory needs, you can optimise operations to minimise the risk of stockouts and delayed shipments. Shifting consumer preferences and a challenging economy mean that we may not accurately predict consumer behaviour, but we must have a plan. Whether your business is B2B or B2C, seasonal demand throws up many challenges: suppliers not meeting delivery dates, pressure on storage space, and staffing challenges.  Many companies struggle to cope with peak demand due to aged software or outdated processes.

Efficient order fulfilment is the key.

The sale is not completed until the customer is satisfied. Efficient multi-channel order fulfilment covers a whole range of systems and tasks from receiving inventory through to delivering items to customers.  Running out of stock on promised items leads to customer dissatisfaction, and failures in the overall customer experience and harms brand reputation and profitability.  Logistics planning and execution must be agile enough to cope with the unexpected.

Current trends in order fulfilment

E-commerce growth has accelerated the take up of cloud-based warehouse management systems (WMS) and inventory management systems (IMS) which speed up order fulfilment operations.  An IMS can significantly reduce the potential for errors, failures, and bottlenecks. It will provide a tracking system for each item and streamline the picking, packing, and returns processes. This means fewer supplier problems and delivery issues and provides a way to address unforeseen market disruptions. More about WMS here. Automated guided vehicles AGVs, drones and robotics are part of the trend toward more warehouse automation leading to less reliance on humans to perform repetitive tasks. IoT is a network of equipment and tools used to communicate and collect data using physical devices linked to the internet. These include mobile phones, headphones, wearable gadgets, and lighting. Decision-making is becoming increasingly data driven. Reviewing previous processes and experiences throughout peak season sales is a way to learn from past mistakes. Previous sales figures for this quarter provide the best guide you have. Data analytics plays an important role in demand forecasting and inventory management despite not being able to accurately predict market sentiment.

We have identified four areas that are key to a successful peak season:

  1. Ensure your warehouse is optimised to handle increased volumes.
Review your current processes, equipment, and resources to eliminate obvious inefficiencies.  Adjust processes as required and have the right equipment in place. Remove obsolete and slow-moving stock to make more usable space.  Streamline repetitive tasks in order processing and inventory management, use predictive analytics to forecast demand, and leverage technology solutions to improve order accuracy and reduce fulfilment time. 
  1. Provide the customer with delivery options.
By offering a range of delivery options such as same-day delivery or click-and-collect, you will meet every customer preference.  A smoothly run and efficient picking and packing process is vital to achieving this. Optimising packaging reduces shipping costs.
  1. Manage warehouse staffing levels.
Extra staff is essential for order fulfilment at peak times. Setting up extra shifts and overtime is a good strategy, but you will need more help. Build in a training period for casual warehouse and sales staff.
  1. Returns and exchanges.
Managing returns can be complex but handling them smoothly promotes customer loyalty. The volume of returns is likely to increase in the peak season. This may be because of damaged or defective items but also may be due to unmet expectations or external events that you have no control over. Your returns service should match the delivery services offered in choice and ease. Provide a user-friendly online portal that allows customers to initiate and track their returns easily.

10 actionable tips

  1. Understand your customers based on past sales.
  2. Review your warehouse layout and workflow to cater for the increased volumes.
  3. Forecast your inventory requirements to ensure that you will not run out of stock.
  4. Source or manufacture items in line with supplier lead times
  5. Reduce human error and minimise labour costs by automating essential processes.
  6. Optimise your storage by having easy-to-find or reach high-volume items most accessible. Clearly label all aisles and storage areas.
  7. Plan and act on sourcing and training extra labour.
  8. Select and negotiate with reliable delivery partners and couriers to provide a wide range of options for the customer.
  9. Streamline your returns process.
  10. Consult with experts in inventory management and order fulfilment.
The peak season can assist you to increase customer loyalty and achieve long-term profitability. To do this you must provide efficient order fulfilment and a superior customer experience. SCCG’s warehouse management consulting team is highly skilled in inventory management and automated solutions. We have considerable knowledge and experience in defining policies and ensuring that your inventory levels are fully optimised for the peak season.  We can help you to find the right solution and implement it. Learn from our logistics consultants how to navigate the steps to success. Contact us

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