Have you walked into a retail store recently and noticed that the Halloween decorations are already in full swing? Some retailers are beginning to display Thanksgiving décor, so Christmas decorations are right around the corner! If you’re thinking hey, it’s only September, you are already behind the curve in preparing for peak shipping season. We see it every year, it’s called Christmas Creep, and it’s making its way into online experiences as well.
Distribution centers need to start ramping up for the cyber holiday shopping season earlier and earlier. If your DC is continually seeing a large percentage of orders moving to e-com shipments and you have not prepared for the increase in this year’s cyber season, you could disappoint customers with delayed shipments.
The cost of a late delivery can result in losing a customer forever. One of the most challenging elements for an Omni channel distribution operation with a growing blend of e-com fulfillment is having an efficient process to manage the ability to ship e-com orders. While it is too late to invest in a blend of automation to streamline e-com pick, pack, and ship for the 2019 Holiday Season, it is the perfect time to schedule a consultation with a knowledgeable expert about warehouse automation process improvement design solutions.
Here are seven steps to take to prepare for peak season.
- Think about Slotting Practices
It is not feasible to redesign the layout of the entire DC before the holiday ecommerce season is in full swing, but there are steps to take to make certain that products travel through the warehouse in the most efficient manner possible. An effective slotting process will result in your highest movers being stored in the most optimal locations in your facility – with easy accessibility, at both the storage location in the DC and placement on a shelf or rack.
Consider how you are adjusting for peak season inventory in your warehouse. Will the item be picked individually or as a full pallet? You want to slot to keep travel time down and the number of touches an item receives as low as possible. Your slotting strategy should make your picking processes more efficient and accurate.
Consider implementing a batch picking strategy. Instead of filling one order at a time, a picker will pick multiple orders (batches) at the same time. This makes sense if there are a few very popular SKU’s that comprise a large percentage of orders. Keep in mind that any changes made to improve throughput must also ensure accuracy. Software that manages orders, inventory, and pickers must be able to handle the new process. Shipping the wrong item, especially at Christmas, is a sure way to lose a repeat customer.
- Lean-up the Packing Operation
Have the most popular shipping carton sizes pre-made and staged at the packing stations or pack lines. If you can eliminate the pack operator’s task of manually building cartons, you’re eliminating 20 to 30 seconds from every carton shipment.
- Limit Congestion
Because the volume of product being shipped will increase, there will be more products on the floor. It is important to limit congestion, which may impede workflow. More frequent replenishment often helps to keep the aisles unobstructed. Also, clear signage directing pickers to different areas is very important, especially if you plan to hire temporary workers who may not be as familiar with your DC as full time staff.
- Calculate Your Staffing Needs
If you are going to rely on temporary or seasonal work to cover increased demand over the holidays, start hiring a few weeks earlier and train them before the season starts. Think about how much time is wasted by having your best workers training or directing temporary workers during peak periods.
- Update Your Maintenance
Make sure you have spare parts on hand. While unexpected downtime on an essential piece of equipment is never a good thing, it can be much more of a headache during peak season. Now is the time to plan for the unexpected. Stock up on spare parts that have the greatest potential to break. Practice preventative maintenance tactics for all systems. Make sure your support agreement is active and up to date. Your people and technologies must be able to continue to perform with higher throughputs and demand. That’s why it’s critical that you take the time now to ensure that your equipment will be able to perform under increased stress from the holidays.
- Update your Training Processes and Procedures
It is important to have best practice processes in place. Finalize and test new training initiatives before the stress and confusion of peak season hits. Hint for the future – Voice Picking using a speaker independent voice engine requires no voice training, so even temporary labor and seasonal employees can be productive in minutes.
- Plan for the Future
Keep a log on where the bottlenecks happen in the pick, pack, and ship operations. The data will help you prepare for where next year’s investment in improving your operation will generate the greatest ROI.
Here are some key data to capture:
- How many cartons/padded bags were shipped during peak season?
- Number of pickers during an average shift compared to peak season?
- Number of shifts on average compared to number of shifts during peak season?
- What is the average order cycle time during peak?
- What were the highest number of customer complaints? Accuracy, missed delivery dates etc.?
Once the season is over, start planning for next year. Consider the major challenges that you faced during the peak season that you need to prevent going forward. Make a plan to improve missteps. Identify the bottlenecks within your facility, and create a budget for larger initiates. Investing in automation that streamlines e-commerce will pay dividends throughout the year by creating a more efficient distribution process.
Numina Group can help you choose the right blend of automation that will scale with your business, such as voice picking, scan-weigh-dim, and print and apply labeling. Integrating automation and process improvements is the best way to iron out inaccuracies, cut labor costs, and remove dependence on temporary workers.
The right Voice Picking technology makes training time practically nonexistent. Voice, especially speaker independent voice technology can make your best workers 25-30% more productive. Voice can also make temporary workers productive in minutes. Investing in Voice Picking is the best way to improve accuracy and reduce your reliance on temporary workers.
Numina Group’s order fulfillment automation solutions are modular, allowing you to focus on the right blend of automation technology to realize benefits that drive a rapid ROI. We have over thirty years of experience as system integrators, designing and implementing automation in new and existing distribution centers. Contact us to schedule an on-site warehouse assessment before peak season responsibilities fill your calendar.