Don't Let Santa Mess Up Your Supply Chain: Prepare Your Operations Team for Holiday Madness!
by Carly Lutz
Your operations team has worked tirelessly to ensure that your supply chain runs smoothly throughout 2018. As the holidays draw near, it is almost crunch time. What matters now is not to try to tackle every problem you experienced throughout the year, but rather assess and identify potential gaps that need immediate attention before peak season. Here's a quick checklist to help you prioritize and set your operations team up for success!
1. Forecast Demand
Sync with Marketing/Sales teams to ensure Operations can meet demand
Make sure every team is on the same page going into the holiday season. It is crucial that your marketing and sales team understand the limitations and goals of your operations team and vise-versa. If marketing is running a large campaign to generate demand for Cyber Monday, or Sales is promoting a big holiday discount, will your operations team be able to handle the resulting high influx of orders? Communicate and set realistic expectations to ensure that everyone understands the capabilities of your operations team going into the busiest time of year.
2. Check Inventory
Use data to inform inventory planning.
Ensure that your operations team has clearly projected order volume for the coming months. If you are an omnichannel retailer, it is essential to forecast the order volume that your business expects to receive through each of your different shopping carts (site, Amazon, Etsy, etc). Whether you are using advanced forecasting/optimization software or have a specific team working to optimize inventory planning, make sure that your business uses inventory and sales data to accurately assess how much inventory you need to fulfill orders from every channel. Check out MultiChannel Merchant's article for tips on inventory planning.
Make sure your 3PL has enough inventory to meet demand.
Now is the time to clearly communicate with your 3PL or fulfillment partner. After you have determined your projected order volume for the end of the year, ensure that your 3PL has enough inventory to make it happen.
3. Prepare to Ship
Check your label-printing capabilities.
Whether you are fulfilling in-house or with a 3PL, ensure that your fulfillment team can print labels accurately and efficiently to ensure that orders get to the right place in the right time frame via the right carrier. The last thing you need during the holidays is a stall on label printing to prevent orders from going out, so ensure that you have the technology and systems in place to make this a streamlined process.
Use Carrier Holiday Cutoffs as a deadline.
Carriers release deadlines every year for holiday cutoffs as to when their last days to ship in time for Christmas will be. See our list of 2018 Holiday Carrier Cutoffs and Deadlines for reference. This will help you set realistic expectations for your internal teams and for customers. Give your teams and customers an accurate timeline of when orders need to be received by in order to ship before big holidays.
4. Track Orders & Communicate with Customers
Hold carriers accountable to their projected shipping dates.
Before the holiday rush, ensure that you have established a clear service-level agreement with each of your carriers. By aggregating carrier data and tracking your orders on a single dashboard, shipping APIs give you visibility into how your carriers are performing and if they are holding to the negotiated SLA. This way, if you are concerned that your orders are not reaching customers by the estimated delivery times that your carriers have agreed to in your SLA, you can notify them and receive credit and better communicate to your customers.
Communicate Status Updates to Customers.
Order tracking is the first transfer of information between your supply chain and your customer. Integrate tracking technology and work with a fulfillment partner that passes tracking updates in real-time to ensure that you and your customers have full visibility as to where and when orders will be delivered. Gain insights for your business into transit time and the accuracy of delivery so that you can make better-informed business decisions on which carriers to use for specific routes in the future. Pass tracking updates to your customers to provide a personalized touchpoint and reduce the number of "where is my order" requests that bog down your support and operations teams. This holiday season, make sure your team is armed with resources and tracking technology that provide full transparency into your supply chain so that you can communicate with your customers seamlessly.
Take these steps to proactively prepare and deliver your best during the holiday season. Your customers and operations team will thank you!