It's coming. The flood of sales. The frantic pace on the fulfillment center floor. The fever pitch of customer demands as the holidays draw closer. Are you staring down the storm with an assured grin or biting your nails with worry over possible problems? The difference between hitting the zone and striking out is slim, but if you keep a reference checklist, you'll be considerably closer to hitting that home run this holiday season.
Take a look at this list and weed out any "No" answers, moving them immediately to your "to do" list.
Make a Shot-Caller List
Get your contact numbers, emails and addresses in a centralized book or list and place it someplace relatively easy to find in a hurry. If you're sick, absent or otherwise detained, your team should know exactly how to contact important supply chain partners, such as your 3PL rep or the in-a-pinch supplier of your most popular components and products. Backup employees, temp hires and temp agency contacts should also be included, in case last-minute manpower is needed.
Take a Packing Material Assessment
Ideally, you should know approximately how many orders a roll of bubble wrap can handle, and use last year's sales as a gauge for what to expect, volume-wise. Load up on the boxes, cushioning, tape and void-filler you'll need so you won't have to take time out of pick/pack/ship processes to order and receive more. Mark off a designated storage area in your fulfillment center, if you haven't already, so that your team knows exactly where to go when it's time to refill a roller, printer cartridge or hopper.
Huddle up with Your Carrier
If you anticipate a particularly large increase in order volume over the holidays, talk with your carrier(s) about scheduling optimal pickup time windows or even additional pickups if necessary. They are the vital link between your warehouse and your customer, so you'll need to be tuned in to their workflow in order to maximize efficiency in your own. Ask if there is any methodologies your team could adopt in order to make package receipt and shipment go more smoothly. If so, determine which are feasible, effort and cost-wise, to implement before the holiday rush. If you "play ball" by making their job easier, they'll be a lot more inclined to return the favor if you end up in a bind come late December.
Scope out the Competition
No matter how confident you are in your center's workflow and team, it never hurts to take a peek at what your competitors are doing. Even a small unique-to-them "trick" could shave minutes off of order preparation time inside your own warehouse, and exponentially, that could be a huge check in the win column for holiday efficiency. Trade magazines such as Inbound Logistics, interviews on sites like MultiChannel Merchant and other industry publications are also a great resource for last-minute fulfillment optimization. Tim Aldred of The Guardian explains, for example, how your warehouse floorplan and "traffic flow" might actually be an obstacle, if it's outdated and facing new levels of volume. Don't hesitate to ask your employees for guidance, either—their daily interaction with your warehouse could inspire a number of important suggestions that will avoid holiday snarls.
Your fulfillment center may not be Santa's magical warehouse, but that doesn't mean it can't be just as awe-inspiring with the right prep. Use this short checklist to get your game plan in place and soon you'll be thinking of the holiday rush not as a cause for concern, but an opportunity to experience the exhilarating speed of optimized commerce at work.