Fulfillment houses and businesses know that it is already time to start planning for the holiday season. Although a very agile supply chain may not need six months of preparation, most businesses will benefit from increasing holiday preparedness beginning in the summer months.
If your business relies heavily on holiday sales, you know the importance of being ready for this window. There is plenty of time to plan during the quieter part of the year so that you nail the holiday season and preserve your core sales. To get candy canes to market on time, the ingredients are already in the works by April.
Some eCommerce businesses have their greatest volume for Mother's Day or Back-to-School, for example. These businesses can plan using the same tips and just slide the schedule accordingly.
It is essential to plan inventory requirements well ahead of time. Forecast demand based on the previous year's performance, noticing both the short term sales spikes and the overall volume daily and monthly throughout the season. Once you know what you expect to need, you can work backwards-- look at lead times and pad them out a little to stay in stock throughout the season. Include labels, packaging, promotional inserts and any other supplies in your forecasting.
In turn, high visibility through the suply chain helps promote a successful just-in-time inventory strategy with more accurate forecasting. Companies use this strategy to increase efficiency and decrease waste by receiving goods only as they are needed in the production process, thereby reducing carrying costs.
Obviously some suppliers hit their deadlines and some do not, so err on the side of a little too much too soon if you want to avoid backorders. Some retailers are willing to risk sales to improve the per-sale bottom line, but we think you're better off storing products a little longer than running out of inventory at such a crucial time.
Wholesale companies need to start earlier than B2C companies to allow for the layers of supply chain between themselves and consumers. Businesses selling at the wholesale level must supply their clients, who, in turn, supply the B2C businesses that will see greater volume closer to the holidays.
Start planning holiday promotions and blog posts now to arrange the most successful “big picture” that you can. Make sure you know the key dates such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and establish a variety of sales promotions across all channels.
Don't underestimate the value of timely content. Blog posts on gift ideas or New Year's resolutions should be written with due consideration. Readers don't respond as well to generic or poorly written articles, so give yourself plenty of time to write great content that will be viewed and shared. This is one time of the year when consumers are more engaged with marketing messages. Some are waiting for sales, but others are looking for ideas and reviews. Be ready!
Depending on your current logistics profile, address the fulfillment needs of the upcoming holidays with a fresh perspective. If you manage orders in-house, your business may consider hiring a 3PL to handle order processing and shipping. If the 2017 peak season tapped out your order filling capabilities, it may be time to hire a fulfillment partner. You will benefit from more time all year to grow your business.
If you currently outsource your fulfillment, prepare with your provider to forecast the order volume and inventory receiving and storage needs prior to September. Remember that your fulfillment partner will need to plan resources accordingly to handle the volume increase across multiple clients.
If you are planning any website changes, new features, new products or layouts, have them implemented by the end of September, or we would recommend waiting until after the peak season. This will allow time to work out any bugs and avoid last minute site crashes, broken links and other sale-stoppers.
This applies to fulfillment technology as well. Upgrades and integrations should be completed on a similar schedule. You might be using a new packaging system, custom labels, or security software and any changes will trickle down to the warehouse facility. At the busiest time of year, a small problem may be magnified simply by the stress level and time crunch for all parties.
If your business has not started planning for the 2018 holiday season, now is the time. Along the way, take the opportunity to identify areas that logistics can be improved for greater future efficiency.