As you’re soaking up the last bit of summer, hopefully you’ve already started thinking ahead to the chillier holiday season and the rush of customers it brings. August only seems too early if you haven’t suffered through a holiday season for which you didn’t prepare enough!
So this year, we present this Holiday Fulfillment Challenge. Challenge yourself to complete each of these items with time to spare before Halloween, and you’ll be all set when Black Friday rolls around. Let’s get started.
Use history to your advantage
Customers can be a little unpredictable, but it’s not entirely a mystery. Before the holiday season hits in full swing, take an in-depth look at your customer buying histories to see which products have been popular. Try to determine the following:
- Did any of your popular products experience major surges, particularly above what you budgeted for?
- Did you run out, or almost run out, of any products?
- Were your standard products the most popular, or was it a new release that grabbed everyone’s attention?
With this information, you should be able to make an educated guess about which products will be popular this year, whether it’s your reliable best sellers or a new release you have planned. Make sure to schedule ordering extra inventory far in advance, if you can, so that you can have a buffer in stock already for those anticipated surges.
Once you have the legwork done on that, you can use this information in a couple of different ways. If you do fulfillment in-house, this can help you prepare for how much space you’ll need to stock all your inventory and even reveal that you need to change up the layout of your warehouse to make things more efficient. If you use a third-party fulfillment center, share this information with them so you can both get on the same page.
Hire a team
If you do your fulfillment in-house, now is the time to start looking for extra warehouse labor. With the time it takes to get the word out, go through the hiring process, and onboard and train your new employees, you should not be waiting until October to start.
A great warehouse staff can be your best asset when demand is high, so it’s important to start hiring early. A delay in hiring and training can mean catastrophic delays in shipping your products, and by the time you realize you could use some extra labor, it’s already too late.
Holiday promotions have a lot going on beyond “20% off!” It’s best to plan out every aspect of the promotion now, especially with respect to how it’s going to affect your logistics. Start by going through this checklist:
- What types of promotions are you going to offer? It seems obvious, but you have to start somewhere. Holiday promotions can run the gamut from a percentage discount, to a bundle of items, to free shipping, to a discount on sale items. Decide that first, and that will guide the rest of the questions.
- What warranty are you going to offer? Warranties tend to differ with promotional or sale items. If you’re going to offer a different warranty than you usually do, you’ll need to communicate that to your customers.
- What returns policy are you going to offer? Similar to the warranty scenario above, customers are fairly used to sale items that aren’t returnable. However, if you’re running a different type of promotion, make sure you decide what kind of returns policy you’ll offer, whether it’s within a shorter time frame or not at all. Considering that 30% of holiday gifts are returned, you’ll need to prepare for an influx of returned items.
- What is the order deadline date? It’s important to give customers an order deadline for a guaranteed delivery by their desired date (like the day before Christmas). However, with things often running behind and fulfillment centers doing their best to keep up, you may want to move up your order deadline date by a few days to give yourself some wiggle room.
This is all going to affect how you handle your order fulfillment, if you do it all in-house. Any promotion that has a different process than your typical products will require preparation for how to handle it in the fulfillment center, whether it’s giving certain items shipping priority, preparing for that order deadline date, or handling the increase in returns.
Shrinkage and errors happen, as much as we don’t want them to, and now is the time to reset and start with a clean slate. As you’re stocking up on your products, make sure you have an exact count of how many you have. The more accurate you can be going into the holiday season, the better, and there’s no better time to check than now, when the warehouse isn’t overrun by extra workers, extra orders, and extra stress.
This is vital in the days of omnichannel selling. Customers can probably buy from you at least two different ways, in some combination of brick-and-mortar, online ecommerce store, and social selling. The worst thing you can do is not have your inventory management system accurately updating! A well-run omnichannel inventory management system will translate to a seamless experience for the customer and a stress-free experience for you.
Have an Easy Breezy Holiday Season
With all the work it takes behind the scenes to have a successful holiday fulfillment experience, it can feel like it’s never too early to start preparing. By starting to work out the kinks in the summer, you can count on having a smooth fall and winter holiday season. What have you been glad you did to prepare in the past?