It’s mid-August and summer is coming to an end. In a normal year, big box retailers would be setting out their fall and winter clothing displays, and ramping up for the cyber sales and holiday shopping season.  But this year has been far from a normal year – the cold weather holidays, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas are filled with uncertainty.  One thing that is certain, consumers will be spending significantly less time in crowded retail shops, and more money online shopping. Already this year online orders have seen over a 200% increase 1

Marketing Technology News cited a recent study surveying consumers sentiment regarding the 2020 holiday season. 

“Despite the impact of Covid-19, shoppers do not plan to significantly change their holiday spend compared to 2019.  However, the data did reveal a stronger preference for online shopping, with 66% of shoppers anticipating they will increase their online purchases during the 2020 holiday season.” 

Managing significant spikes in online orders will require a strong omnichannel fulfillment strategy.  This means that ramping up for peak season will be even more important to a successful and profitable 4th quarter.  If your DC has seen 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. Missing deliveries due to the inability to process order surges can lead to losing a customer forever.

One of the most challenging elements for an Omnichannel or a B2B distribution operation is the growth in shipping a larger percentage of parcel orders. To accommodate parcel orders, focus on lean, low touch, efficient processes to manage pick, pack and ship e-com orders. Take steps to prepare your distribution centers for today’s higher volume parcel shipment demands and the upcoming cyber holiday spike.  This year, consider the spike in demand for direct to consumer parcels, and plan to shift more resources towards the e-com fulfillment aspect of your DC.

Re-working omni-channel fulfillment to prepare for a significantly larger percentage of e-com orders seems like an insurmountable challenge; we’re here to help.  It is the perfect time to schedule a “Brainstorming Zoom Meeting” with one of our application experts to discuss ideas on how to optimize your warehouse processes and incorporate automation in the future to streamline the order fulfillment process.

To learn more about how to implement automation to optimize distribution efficiency, view this infographic, or read this how-to guide for implementing well designed automated processes in your operation. 

Here are eight steps to take to prepare for peak season right now:

  • Improve Slotting Practices 

You don’t have to redesign the entire DC for ecommerce and B2B parcel shipments, but there are steps to take to make certain that travel and order picking in your warehouse is optimized. An effective slotting process will result in getting your highest movers stored in the most optimal locations in your facility with easy accessibility – placement in carton flow, shelving or pallet positions based on the SKU movement velocity.

Consider how you are adjusting for peak season inventory in your warehouse.  Slot to keep travel time down and the number of touches as low as possible.  Slotting is key to making the picking processes more efficient and accurate.

Consider incorporating a batch order picking strategy – where the picker picks multiple orders (batches) at the same time, instead of discrete picking – where the operator picks only a single order at a time.

  • 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 Need

Calculate your labor cost per order, and if you are going to rely on temporary or seasonal work, factor in the inefficiencies of new hires and the training costs to cover increased demand. 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.

  • Increase E-com Packaging Material Supply

Consider the spike in demand for direct to consumer goods when it comes to packaging materials.  Create a stocking plan with your packaging supplier for cartons, void fill, tape, and padded bags so you don’t run short of packing and shipping materials when direct to consumer orders spike. 

  • 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. You want your people and technologies to continue to perform at peak performance levels when experiencing higher order throughput 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, identify the bottlenecks and issues at your facilities that better processes and automation could resolve! The changes to consumer’s and B2B businesses parcel order behavior is a permanent shift.   Investing in automation that streamlines e-commerce and B2B rapidly pays for itself 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 thirty five 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.

 

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