The eCommerce fulfillment peak season seems to be creeping up earlier and earlier each year. Even with the uncertainty caused by economic upheavals in the past few years, customer demand and traffic around the holidays hasn't plummeted one bit. For context, the number of packages being shipped throughout the US has increased by 20% year-over-year. This simply means eCommerce businesses across the board are facing tougher and tougher tests every year of their ability to satisfy customer expectations without blowing their budget.
So, how do you prep for high order volume during peak season? The first step is following the right supply chain management best practices to a tee:
1. Be Sure to Maximize Your Warehousing Capacity
During high-demand periods like Black Friday or Christmas, the initial hurdle you'll face is the sheer volume of incoming orders. You need to align your fulfillment capacity with the projected order volumes—but to do so, you first need a clear understanding of what your warehousing capacity actually is. This can be trickier than it sounds without the right 3PL partner.
More often than not, when businesses feel like they can't meet order demand no matter how much warehousing space they add, the issue actually comes down to location convenience. While you may have a rough idea of how many orders your team should be able to fulfill in a day, disparate and distant warehouses can hinder completing all scheduled orders. This ambiguity makes it difficult to determine how much you theoretically should be able to ship.
This is where outsourcing order fulfillment proves to be a game-changer. By harnessing a 3PL's strategically located warehouses, you ensure that drivers cover the shortest distances between stops and arrive on time. This helps you get the most out of your existing fulfillment capacity. What's more, it simplifies the process of gauging your true capacity, allowing you to decide whether additional warehouses, partners, or fleet is necessary.
2. Amplify Your Order Accuracy
A high-percentage order accuracy means that your customers are getting exactly what they ordered, and their products arrived in good condition (read: not damaged). But when it comes to high-traffic times of the year, you can amplify your order accuracy rate even further by making sure your fulfillment process has extremely few errors.
For instance, if you've noticed from past holiday seasons that orders tend to be spread out or clustered in specific areas, you can liaise with a 3PL fulfillment partner to ship your inventory to warehouses that are closest to those areas. That way, you get to minimize shipping costs and time.
Automating tasks like picking, packing, and sorting can further cut down on manual errors and expedite your operations. That was Nike's move in 2021, and it paid off brilliantly.
3. Front Load Inventory
Another best practice is confirming that your inventory levels are well-stocked and that you have the necessary replenishment capabilities in place just ahead of the peak season rush. Today's consumer expectations are that if a product isn't available in one place, they're just a click away from finding it elsewhere. If feasible, having your inventory strategically positioned across multiple regional fulfillment centers is highly advantageous.
Yet again, a reliable 3PL fulfillment partner can help you weave together and execute this strategy to perfection. The outcome? Speedier delivery times, low chances of damage, and more satisfied customers.
4. Identify Your Vulnerable Spots
Every operation can be improved somewhere, even if just marginally. Make a short list of the weak links in yours, be it an error-prone packing process or a sluggish shipping pipeline, put them in order of importance, and start checking them off. Your fulfillment processes, tools, and equipment should all be tested, tuned up, and working before peak fulfillment season kicks in.
If, for example, you've pinpointed reverse logistics as the Achilles' heel of your operations, consider scaling it up. Much like with other supply chain issues, digitization and automation (think: driver apps, automatic dispatch route planning, and so on) are necessary to scale reverse logistics operations. These two make the returns process—including requesting and scheduling returns, receiving printable bar codes, and accessing the return status—much easier for the customer.
5. Speed, Speed, Speed
There's a lot you can do in advance to prepare for peak fulfillment season deliveries—some of it technology-related, some of it relating to process. However, once the orders have been dispatched to customers, the game changes completely. All of a sudden, it's not about how effectively you can plan, but how quickly you can execute those plans and deliver orders with minimal (or zero) delays. On average, online shoppers now deem 3 days an acceptable amount of time to wait for an online order. Go slower than that, and you might as well bid goodbye to their business.
That's why, to successfully ramp up your delivery efforts during periods of spiking demand and order volumes, you need to build in a lot of speed and reliability throughout your entire fulfillment process. The key to making achieving this feat? 1-2 day ground shipping. Forget any misconceptions you've ever heard about ground shipping and its purportedly slow speeds. If you ship to an area within the same zone as your warehouse, then those packages can be shipped faster and cost-effectively via ground.
With a 3PL like ShipNetwork, you can offer faster and more affordable shipping via ground by splitting inventory across multiple fulfillment centers in different regions of the US, which enables affordable 2-day shipping for US-based customers in those regions. This is all done without having to manage your own warehouse(s) but by leveraging ShipNetwork's economies of scale.
We can't stress enough how important this is to keeping customers happy and satisfied in the long haul. When you can get orders to your customer's front porch quickly and with zero hiccups, you can avoid the all-too-common challenge of high churn and earn more referrals while at it. A true win-win situation.
ShipNetwork: We Are Always Prepared for Fulfillment Peak Season Chaos
Chaos might not make it to the list of classic shipping terminology, but it sure is a constant across all peak fulfillment seasons. Fortunately for you, that's nothing a reliable 3PL like ShipNetwork can't handle. Whether it's in the form of surging order volumes or notorious wildcard-like weather, we have the tools, processes, and facilities to help you beat any chaos thrown your way by the whirlwinds of peak season.
Our 100% Order Accuracy Guarantee is an affirmation that nothing—absolutely nothing—can go wrong in your fulfillment process with us at the steering wheel. Our 100% Shipping Next Day mantra is exactly what it sounds like: a confirmation that we won't keep your customers' orders in the pipeline longer than what's the norm. What about our 1-2 Day U.S. Ground Network? This is the finest and most reliable shipping method you'll find anywhere—reaching 98% of the U.S. by utilizing strategic fulfillment center locations.
That's not all. Depending on the needs of your business, our team can put together a plan for kitting that works for you. Learn more about our 3PL fulfillment services and how they can help your business with a successful peak season.