8 Quick Things to Do to Improve Fulfillment for the 2016 Holiday Season


Though it may seem like your business preparation for peak season 2016 is over and you’re focused on execution, peak season 2016 is not over yet!

Now is the time to quickly do some important things that will assist in post season assessment of your fulfillment operation that will impact planning for peak season 2017. These steps will not take very much time, but will be invaluable in January and February as you look for ways to improve operations.

During peaks in the direct-to-consumer businesses, volumes throughout all processes -- receiving through shipping – can be 5 to 15 times higher compared to the average weekly volume. For categories like apparel and shoes with up to a 15% to 30% return rate, peak season extends well into January.

If you’re in the peak season, here are 8 quick things you can do to record observations that will help you with post seasonal analysis and planning for 2017.

1. Journalize observations

You’re bound to forget what you don’t write down. Don’t get too busy to write down your thoughts, thinking you can recall them later. After you’ve finished a crushing holiday season, you’re lucky you can remember your name! Get your line managers to do this too. My point is to journalize your observations as you see them – date and day of week – because sometimes this helps put things in perspective. Don’t try to solve the problem, but write it down now so you can remember to address it later.

2. Make a video and take pics

Taking a video or photos using your mobile phone will help document your operation and will be invaluable, especially if you use an outside resource like a consultant or material handling integrator to provide solutions. They’ll get a more realistic picture of your operation. Simple cell phone pictures or video of storage areas at max capacity, aisle congestion, issues with conveyance systems, etc. are good to document through video or photos. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words!

3. Consider labor levels

What could you have done differently in terms of advertising, recruiting and training? How could labor have been used more efficiently? Where were there too many people and not enough for the work load? How could scheduling replenishment in off hours free up congestion? Could a partial or full 2nd shift increase productivity?  

4. Consider where workflow and process can be simplified

With peak season recruitment, you are bringing new temporary and part timers in to help. They may not have worked in your type of facility or for your company before. Make some brief notes about where new workers did not produce to your expectations. Can the process be simplified and workflow be improved? Could process be broken into multiple steps which would make part timers more productive? Can more skilled employees do more complex tasks?

5. Consider storage opportunities

In a couple of warehouses this year, we have made some radical changes which increased storage capacity and throughput. Are there ways to reset pallet rackingsystems and storage and get more capacity?  Can you make better use of narrow aisle widths and outer wall areas?   Would adoption of a slotting system and/or hot pick areas help increase picking productivity?

6. Note exception conditions and errors

Low volume, average day exception conditions and errors become greatly magnified  at peak, and often create slow-downs in processing efficiency. Warehouse back orders - for product that isn’t in the right location or from inventory counts being inaccurate – can bring a picker’s productivity to a temporary stand still. Log these and deal with how to solve them later. One thing we have seen clients do is to have DC Inventory Control personnel aisle check that product is in the right location. Don’t take time to count it but at least have it in the right slot.


7. Investigate shipping systems and loading trucks

Are there things you would do differently with carriers, dropping a trailer, loading trucks, etc.? Could you extend cut off times for carrier pick up times? In less automated facilities, are there ways to use expandable conveyors into trucks? Sometimes the speed of shipping and manifesting systems are bottlenecks. After peak season, you can then determine if the shipping can be increased.

8. Invite a consultant to your facility during peak season

Inviting resources like consultants in now to see your facility at peak will help them assess the facility after the holidays. Yes, you can describe the conditions but there is no substitute to seeing it for a day. It doesn’t mean you have to take time now to get proposals and to hire them.

Take these 8 quick steps now to identify problems and areas of improvement in 2017 planning. Don’t try to solve the problems now, just get everybody to identify and document. May your peak improve every year!

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