Peak Season Panic? Getting Your Warehouse Holiday-Ready in a Pinch
Peak season creep is real: the National Retail Foundation found that in 2016, 55.7 percent of consumers who celebrate the holidays began shopping by early November, the second highest percentage on record. As seasonal shopping shifts earlier, warehouse peak season preparation also moves up, giving new meaning to the term “Christmas in July.”
While software such as a warehouse management system (WMS) can help you manage increased inventory and labor as peak season approaches, it may be too late to upgrade your technology before the rush. With only a week left before Black Friday, how can retailers best use their time to alleviate peak season burdens? Start by making sure your warehouse procedures are effective, and that your team fully understands them.
Inventory, Picking Procedures Reign Supreme
Up-to-date inventory validation procedures should be your biggest priority in a crunch. During peak season, inventory vies for space. Warehouses are at capacity (or greater), limiting both normal slotting operations and bulk putaway practices. When deciding how and where to put inventory into a slot, be mindful of that inventory item’s velocity. This should directly relate to its frequency of order, and is a direct influence on how often warehouse labor visits areas such as active pick faces and bulk locations for replenishment.
Before inventory stacks up, make sure your bulk and overflow areas are in shape. Increase the number of audits and cycle counts of your current bulk stock. Managers and supervisors need to have a clear picture of what’s stored and ready for replenishment; knowing where inventory is and maintaining as close to accurate as possible records of stock levels will drive up availability.
Utilize Labor for Optimal Performance
Picking operations should be the next focus. All staff should be trained on how to properly use equipment — whether that be paper, RF or tablet — to pull items and prepare them for shipping. Process adherence stabilizes performance, regardless of the size of the labor pool. If all staff is on the same page concerning picking and packing procedures, process adherence can offer predicative indicators (from history and experience) of bottlenecks and challenges.
How should you best use your seasonal labor? First, consider bringing temporary employees in two days or three days early, giving them time to become familiar with processes, the areas where they occur and the specific tasks involved. Temporary help is often most useful in direct labor tasks — e.g., preparing boxes to take orders or preparing picking carts. General warehouse functions, such as replenishment, cycle counts and consolidation, tend to be less “bang for the (labor) buck.” However, be quick to expand duties as particular employees show affinity for specific tasks, and broaden those folks’ tasks as they attain proficiency.
Start Thinking Ahead
Your 2018 peak season prep doesn’t begin in 2018. Throughout Q4, keep a running log of positive and negative instances for each operation: receiving, putaway, replenishment, picking, packing, shipping. Keep note of the problems that make you pull your hair out, how management responded, and whether that hair pulling was a result of process, people or system.
Once you’ve compiled your holiday data, also consider how your processes might benefit from a best-of-breed WMS. The fundamentals of warehousing are best supported by a WMS that can do some of the “thinking” for people. Manual processes are time consuming and error prone, and while an RF scanner can assist in tracking inventory, it won’t actively improve your warehouse. A WMS analyzes the data it collects, helping you maintain the right inventory levels and developing “product paths” that move your labor more efficiently through the warehouse. And when it’s time for your company to grow, a fit-for-purpose WMS can adjust to your changing needs with minimal reconfiguration.
Successful peak seasons begin with proven processes. Once these are in place and your staff is properly trained, you should be able to handle whatever Q4 throws at you. And if you want to excel during next year’s holiday rush, invest in technology that helps your warehouse achieve maximum efficiency.
Don White is vice president of enterprise solutions at Snapfulfil, a cloud warehouse management system.
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