Seven Steps to Prepare for the New World of Peak Season Shipping

Jen Maloney
September 22, 2022
Peak Season Tips

First, the good news – holiday retail sales are likely to increase between 4% and 6% in 2022, and e-commerce sales will grow by 12.8% to 14.3%, year-over-year, during the 2022-2023 holiday season, according to Deloitte.

Next, the challenging news – post-Covid, consumer buying habits have changed considerably, requiring retailers to rethink their peak season strategies.

Many shoppers are back to in-store browsing, while a large percentage of buyers continue to order online for home delivery or click-and-collect. Demands for flexible delivery options, such as BOPIS (buy online, pick up in store) continue to grow.

Also, due to high inflation, consumers are planning to shop earlier than usual as a ploy to avoid higher prices. The concept of the single-day Black Friday has morphed into the week of Black Friday (or more).

As a result of these trends, retailers will be shipping higher volumes for both home delivery and store fulfillment. Multiple sales channels or omnichannel refers to a distribution operation that has multiple channels to fulfill, such as direct-to-consumer e-commerce, fulfillment to their own branded stores, and fulfillment to major retail or specialty stores. 

These changing dynamics point to the need for ample preparation and efficient picking, packing, and shipping processes to fulfill orders for multiple sales channels.

Equally important, the notion of a single peak season has given way to many peak seasons, and retailers must adapt fulfillment strategies to meet dynamically changing customer demands.

Seven Steps to Take to Prepare for Your Next Peak Season

To gain maximum efficiency, it’s wise to consider a warehouse automation system.

However, for this year’s holiday season, it’s too late to select and implement  system. 

There are, however, other immediate steps you can take now to ensure your procedures are as efficient as possible, and apply to all warehouse environments.

I. Evaluate Your Slotting Processes

It’s not feasible to redesign your entire warehouse layout just before peak season, but it is feasible to analyze and improve product movement through your warehouse.

Your slotting strategy should make the order picking process more efficient and accurate.

As a first step, evaluate your slotting process for your company’s entire SKU mix. Identify the low, medium, and high moving products and make sure the highest movers are stored in the most optimal locations to speed up order picking – with easy accessibility at the storage location and in their placement on a shelf or rack.

Products should be slotted according to a strategy that reduces workers’ travel time during picking and reduces the number of touches required by workers to fulfill orders.

You may also consider implementing a batch-picking strategy to increase efficiency and productivity. In this scenario, workers pick multiple orders (batches) simultaneously rather than filling one order at a time. Batch picking works well when a few very popular SKUs comprise a large percentage of the orders.

Learn more about Numina’s Batch Picking Solution  

Remember that any changes made to improve throughput must also ensure accuracy. Shipping the wrong item, especially during the peak holiday season, is a sure way to lose a repeat customer. If you implement a new picking strategy, you will need software that manages orders, inventory, and pickers to handle the new process.

Other questions to ask:

  • Do you adjust product stock to accommodate peak season inventory management?
  • Will the item be picked individually or as a full pallet?
II. Lean Up Packing Operations

If you can eliminate the pack operator’s task of manually building cartons, you’re eliminating 20 to 30 seconds from every carton shipment. One way to achieve this is to pre-make and stage the most predominantly used shipping carton sizes at the packing stations or pack lines.

III. Limit Congestion

Higher peak season sales levels result in a higher volume of products being stored on the floor, which can cause congestion and impede workflow areas. To avoid this, implement a plan of more frequent replenishment in smaller quantities to keep the aisles unobstructed.

It’s also essential to have clear signage to direct pickers to different areas, especially if you hire temporary workers who are new to your warehouse layout.

IV. Calculate Your Staffing Needs

If you rely on temporary or seasonal staff to cover increased demand over the holidays, begin recruiting and hiring efforts early enough to allow sufficient time for new employee training before peak season begins.

Doing so ensures that your best workers are available to process orders when they’re needed most and not sidelined with training requirements or directing temporary workers’ tasks.

V. Update Staff Training Requirements and Procedures

It is crucial to have staff training needs and processes defined and finalized and to test new training initiatives before the stress and confusion of peak season hits. 

Hint for the future – today’s newest voice-directed order picking solutions, such as Numina’s Victory Voice™ Picking Suite, remove the challenges of training and onboarding seasonal staff while ensuring fast, accurate picking performance. 

The Victory Voice picking system uses deep learning neural networks with AI recognition to deliver best-in-class speaker-independent natural language recognition.

Voice-directed picking, combined with wearable mobile computers for scanning and validation, enables workers to work hands and eyes free – a much faster approach.

As a result, Victory Voice requires zero voice training and does not capture or record the operator’s voice biometrics. It’s easy and intuitive, so temporary or new operators are trained and productive in as little as 15 minutes!

VI. Conduct Preventive Systems Maintenance and Audit Your Spare Parts Inventory

While unexpected downtime on an essential piece of equipment is never good, it can be a much more costly headache during peak season.

That’s why it’s critical to audit your systems’ readiness ahead of time and ensure that equipment can perform under increased stress from the holidays.

Now is the time to plan for the unexpected. 

  • Practice preventative maintenance for all warehouse automation and material handling systems.
  • Verify that all your support agreements are active and up to date.
  • Make sure you have spare parts on hand for all your equipment and stock up on the spare parts with the greatest potential to break down.

These steps will help ensure that your people and technologies are able to continue to perform with higher throughputs and demand during peak.

VII. Plan for the Future

Once the peak season is over, start planning for next year. Consider the major challenges you faced during the peak season that you need to prevent going forward and make a plan to improve missteps.

The best approach is to audit your current picking, packing and shipping operations to identify the bottlenecks, improve your fulfillment processes and ensure that your workflow is based on an effective warehouse design.

Learn More About Numina’s Warehouse Design Engineering Services

As you begin to explore your options, here are some key data points 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 was the highest number of customer complaints? Accuracy, missed delivery dates, etc.?

If you are considering an automated warehouse system solution, the Numina Group has created a short checklist to help you evaluate your current operation to determine the best solution for your unique operation.

Download the Warehouse Automation Preparation Checklist

Once you’ve completed the operational audit, you’re in an excellent position to identify the right warehouse automation solution to optimize your operations. Integrating automation and process improvements is the best way to eliminate inaccuracies, reduce labor costs, and remove dependence on temporary workers. Not only will it enable your company to create a more efficient distribution process that scales up for peak-season shipping, but it will also pay dividends throughout the year.

Numina Group can help you choose the right blend of automation to increase productivity and scale your business, such as RDS™ warehouse automation software, voice picking technology, mobile warehouse robots, pick-to-light, put-to-light, goods-to-person (G2P) solutions, scan-weigh-dim automation, and print-and-apply labeling.

Our order fulfillment automation solutions are modular and scalable, allowing you to focus on the right blend of automation technology to realize benefits that drive a rapid ROI. 

We have over three decades 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.

Ready to learn more? Contact the Numina Group today. 

We’re excited to invite you to join us at Modex 2022 Booth #B1813 to discover how we blend pick, pack, and ship automation that together drives the greatest gains in DC profitability. 

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