The Holidays Might Be Behind Us, But Peak Season Logistics Challenges Are Far From Over
As 2019 continues, many retailers are preparing for a post-season pause and an off-peak lull. However, others must plan for peak periods that go beyond the traditional holiday season.
Different types of companies experience seasonal peaks at different times of the year, and even “micro-peaks” throughout the year. Whether, for example, it’s New Year’s galvanizing sales for retailers in health and well-being, spring for the home building and supply industry, or special occasions like Mother’s Day for many markets, when customer demand surges, both B-to-B and B-to-C organizations alike need to be prepared operationally to ensure expectations are met.
While some spikes are predictable, others are unforeseen. Regardless, greater-than-usual order volumes can tax many processes and systems, from order management through to fulfillment and delivery. To capitalize on peak opportunities, forward-thinking retailers are looking to logistics and supply chain technologies to help ramp up operational efficiencies, increase agility, and enhance the customer experience.
Warehouse Management Systems: The Gift That Keeps on Giving
To help meet customer expectations, omnichannel retailers are adopting cloud-based warehouse management systems (WMS) to increase the speed and agility of fulfillment processes. Seasonal peaks underscore the need to automate operational processes in the warehouse in order to scale easily to handle spikes in volume.
A robust WMS manages key fulfillment tasks (e.g., inventory or purchase order receipt, picking, packing and shipping) while ensuring seamless integration with enterprise resource planning (ERP) and financial systems. By automating the fulfillment process and eliminating manual and paper-based practices in the warehouse, order processing errors are virtually eliminated, efficiency improves, costs are reduced and, most importantly, customer satisfaction soars. In addition, vendors can bring seasonal employees up to speed quickly without the common risk of higher fulfillment errors to help manage increased order volumes.
The Magic of Low-Cost Shipping
An important extension of a company’s brand, low-cost and speedy shipping is a central tenant of the customer experience. Shipping is very much top of mind as consumers consider their purchase, execute the transaction, and wait for the item to arrive. This is where an automated, cloud-based shipping platform can help retailers ship efficiently and cost effectively by integrating with online marketplaces, back-end financial systems and parcel shipping providers.
These types of solutions also allow retailers to quickly and easily leverage discounted postage, print shipping labels, send customer confirmations, track shipments and streamline returns — which collectively translate into a superior customer experience. Leading solutions also let retailers compare carrier rates in real time and choose the best option. Rate shopping capabilities help combat the unpredictability of shipping rates and surcharges.
Delivery Presents a Differentiator
No longer an afterthought, delivery has become a strategic differentiator in the bid for customers' purchases and loyalty. How well a retailer handles last-mile delivery helps define the customer experience, especially during peak periods that can challenge delivery capabilities.
Automated delivery scheduling and routing technologies can drive up on-time performance and drive down transportation costs. With dynamic booking, customers have greater delivery choices (e.g., two-hour time window, four-hour time window, same-day, etc.) at the point of sale, and will even pay a premium for the most convenient service. For some types of retailers, dynamic booking also provides the ability to sell incremental value-added services.
Dispatch and tracking technologies help to ensure successful delivery as well as manage customer exceptions. Mobile applications enable drivers to be more productive and offer the customer greater service, while automated notifications leverage supply chain information and processes to better engage the customer for delivery success and a better overall experience.
Whenever they occur, seasonal peaks can buoy the bottom line — if companies manage them effectively. To capitalize on opportunities when they do hit, an e-commerce-friendly WMS, automated parcel shipping system and last-mile delivery technology can help retailers in many diverse industries drive success.
Troy Graham is the vice president of business development at Descartes, the global leader in uniting logistics-intensive businesses in commerce.
Related story: 5 Tips to Manage the Rush of Post-Holiday Product Returns