Even if your fulfillment center doesn't have Santa's workload to contend with, they'll still have to work a little holiday magic to keep the upcoming influx of holiday orders. As customers travel and gift-giving timelines become non-negotiable, your supply chain needs to be backed by a strategy that holds up to scrutiny and stress to remain viable. As with most supply chain planning, it's in your best interests to be proactive, not reactive, so here are a few last to-do list items to cross off before ecommerce marches into the busiest weeks of the year.
You Need Alignment with Your Supply Chain Partners
Your warehouse may complete and fulfill the vast majority of components in a customer order, but those abilities still depend on your supply chain and logistics partners. Double-check that the companies producing your raw materials, components, finished products and even packaging are ready to take on the season with you. And don't neglect your overseas vendors. A recent poll in Supply and Demand Chain Executive notes that a staggering 1 in 4 respondents reported struggling to assess the capabilities of suppliers outside of the country. Verify contact numbers and processes for issues that might arise, before they do. Dealing with fundamental issues while you're waist-deep in orders will produce mediocre results at best. If you don't already have a dependable liaison at each of your partners along the supply chain, make sure you get one—you'll need them to answer those "unique" order questions that always seem to crop up at the eleventh hour.
Warehouse Data Must be Accurate
Each item that isn't where it should be in the warehouse represents a potential loss of profit. Before things get too hectic, instruct your team to clear out any "problem piles" and verify the accuracy of your pre-holiday inventory. Not only will this ensure that your on-hand stock counts are correct in your customer-facing website data, it will create a clean, ready workspace for rapid order turnaround. This helps encourage accuracy in sales performance reporting, and once the holidays are over, your team will be able to head into 2018 confident in the inventory data they've already collected.
Support and Communicate with Your Team
During the crush of the holiday season, visibility is your most strategic asset. If you aren't taking advantage of the visibility offered by your partners, there's never been a better time to start. Familiarize yourself with the various dashboards from your warehouse management system, logistics interfaces and other order assisting software, and use these numbers to guide your team. It becomes considerably easier to find and fix issues when you can definitively point to a numerical difference, rather than referencing a one-off observation or feeling that might not translate well to an overworked team. Don't forget to support the human element of your fulfillment center, too. Communication with your employees is interpersonal visibility you can't afford to leave out of the equation if you're after true success.
Brace for 2018, Too
Supply chain professionals earn the right to breathe a sigh of relief when December comes to a close each year, but their work is hardly done. Returns, issues, defects and other reverse logistics will become the new problem as we head into the new year, so have a plan in mind. Keep a ready stock of products with historically high return or defect rates and make sure your team knows company procedure for determining the legitimacy of returns. If you don't have a system in place to monitor return levels against sales for the purposes of marketing planning next holiday season, this would be an excellent time to incorporate that recording into your long-view supply chain strategy.