We’re fast approaching the time of year that typically accounts for more than 20 percent of annual retail sales. It usually defines whether a company is profitable or not. Communication, organization, and planning between departments will mean the difference between operational success and failure. Execution of your warehouse operations will determine whether you kept your company’s promise to your customers.
Your key decisions should have been made months ago, but it’s not too late for a quick check up. What follows is my checklist for efficient holiday ecommerce operations.
Prepare Sales Forecasts
Forecast your projected volume by week and marketing event. Use previous year’s data and compare to this year’s marketing calendar and spending levels. Add in an additional cushion on top of the forecast for safety — it’s always easier to cut back than to add on. Apply the old adage “measure twice and cut once” when it comes to projecting the volume.
Ensure Adequate Staff
Having the right people in the right position at the right time is fundamental. The key to a successful execution of the holiday season starts and ends with having the seasonal staff on board and trained prior to being needed. Also, remember to project a higher turnover of personnel during this time period.
Alter Staff Schedules
Consider modifying your employee work schedules. Potentially add a weekend shift, second shift, or split shift. Look at how and through what channels your order volume comes in and adjust appropriately to minimize spikes.
What’s the status of your inventory? Ideally you want your entire holiday product line to arrive by the end of September, which will allow for variances and delays. If it hasn’t arrived, now is the time to align what inventory will be here for the holidays to ensure enough time for execution.
Prepare Inventory Arriving Schedule
Does your receiving team have a scheduled calendar? Most mistakes are made when product arrives and the staffing isn’t in place to receive it in a timely manner. Give your receiving team a window of what’s arriving by number of SKUs and quantity of items.
Manage New SKUs
Holidays are usually a time when new SKUs are higher than normal. This additional burden can cause major disruptions. Are the new SKUs in your warehouse management system? Does the product sell with other similar products? What’s the expected velocity of the product? Does the new product require any additional training? Does the new product require different packaging? Does the size of the product affect any steps in the fulfillment? Answering these questions now will help your team be prepared.
Conduct Cycle Counting
Cycle counting is the process of physically counting a portion of inventory on multiple days instead of counting all of the items on a single day. Additional cycle counts on high moving items will help avoid running out of those items, and minimize disappointing your customers. Set up a plan for specific counts to be done on high moving items that are counted when they hit a minimum threshold.
Align Marketing with Product Availability
Is your marketing aligned with your product availability? Too often marketing departments sell product that hasn’t arrived. Backorders typically cost additional money in fulfillment, customer service, and goodwill.
Manage Time Carefully
Time is at a premium during the holidays and the numbers of critical issues always increase. Evaluate your daily plan and add time to each activity or even add open time for the unexpected. Knowing that your regular plan will not account for the added pressure will allow you to be better prepared.
As an operations manager, you cannot be hands-on during the holidays. Envision your role as a traffic cop, constantly directing traffic and training staff.
Seek Input from Your Team
Your success will be dependent on the execution of your team. Get them involved in the planning process. Ask for their suggestions and ideas. They’re more likely to execute for you if you get them involved. Your team has helpful ideas and suggestions – don’t shut them out.
Reduce Stress with Fun Events
Plan fun events to keep your team motivated. Set aside time each day for a team meeting to review the previous day’s performance and set the daily expectations. Single out teams or individuals that performed especially well. Have fun rewards, whether it’s a team lunch or a gift card for individual performance or maybe a bonus tied to desired results. Either way, bring down the stress level by remembering the season — and have fun.