'Tis the Season of Retail

Prepare your supply chain for the year’s ultimate shopping craze through careful planning, as well as maximizing visibility and flexibility


One such solution is the use of radio frequency identification (RFID) to track and locate product, which improves product availability (because it’s not getting lost or misplaced) and increases inventory accuracy (because it’s difficult to confuse product using embedded tags or codes), resulting in a higher level of customer satisfaction (because customers are receiving the right product on time in the agreed-upon location). Nuce says, “Electronic product code-enabled, item-level RFID is key to ongoing accuracy. If you’re engaging in an item-level RFID program, you make a commitment to knowing what you have and where it is at all times. It all goes back to enterprise-wide visibility. Inventory also means not only what we have now, but also what we expect, and what’s available through suppliers and partners to support contingencies. Especially if you are on the retailer side, analytics become very important—at the store level and at the supply chain level. All inventory should come with a plan for how to move it.”

Additionally, Chris Arnold, vice president of operations and solutions development, Intelligrated, advises, “Take advantage of fulfillment execution software to optimize inventory, orders, picking, packing, routing and shipping. Light- and voice-directed picking technologies also speed the order fulfillment process and maximize accuracy.” Bruce Stubbs of Intermec echoes his sentiment: “Paper-based methods of fulfillment are inaccurate, less productive and typically very difficult to train temporary workers on. Voice technology is especially effective in getting new workers trained and productive in a matter of hours vs. days or weeks.”

Another critical component to getting product out the door is having an organized and prepared warehouse, distribution center (DC), etc. According to Arnold, “If a critical area of your DC goes down, have a back-up plan, or better yet, plans. Be prepared to divert product around non-functioning areas while the maintenance team resolves the issue, and ensure associates on site are well-versed in appropriate action in the event of an emergency. Facilities should be well-staffed with maintenance personnel, and in the event of an issue that can’t be resolved by on-site resources, be sure to have [equipment] suppliers’ technical support numbers available” to help Santa’s workshop run smoothly at maximum uptime. This means performing preventive maintenance weekly, and conducting general system assessments to notify operators of any repairs, replacements or upgrades necessary to keep systems running at peak efficiency.

A Happy Ending

“This year, more than ever, holiday retail is all about delivering to the consumer with speed, accuracy and flexibility,” according to Saucier. She offers a few more tips for avoiding customer disappointment this holiday season:

  • Know sales trends and be able to respond. Understand customer tastes and buying patterns, and align the back end of the business to ensure products can be delivered according to the needs and wants of the consumer.
  • Don’t make promises you can’t keep. A broken promise is more harmful than a promise not given. Know the limits of your customers, but more importantly, know the limits of your supply chain. Do you have the ability to ship directly to consumers in three days? Is same-day delivery possible given the existing logistics architecture? Do you have inventory visibility across all channels of the business? If retailers can’t answer these questions with certainty, then delivery offers and promises need to be scaled back.
  • Enable full assortment availability to your customer. If you can provide real availability with confidence, the consumer will remember. But again, this requires visibility.

The Holiday Dossier

Earlier this year, UPS worked with comScore to conduct the UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper study, asking online shoppers about their purchasing experiences. Since the holiday peak can account for up to 70 percent of retailers’ annual sales, according to Melanie Alavi of UPS Retail, the following statistics and tips can go far in making the most of the season:

Communicate Delivery Dates

The study’s respondents indicated that the second most important factor for closing a holiday deal—after free shipping—was providing details about shipping costs and delivery timing during checkout. Furthermore, if fulfillment orders are delayed due to the holiday rush, it’s beneficial for retailers to communicate those delays and accommodate consumers with faster shipping options.

Optimize All Channels

As a good practice, retailers should provide the best possible browsing experience for tablets and smartphones to increase conversion rates via those devices. The report also revealed that:

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