Preparing Supply Chain and Logistics Teams for an Unpredictable Holiday Shopping Season

Here are some tips for preparing your supply chain for the holiday shopping season.

Vividz Foto Adobe Stock Online Shopping
Vividz Foto - Adobe Stock

The hardest part about preparing for this holiday shopping season is forecasting what will happen this holiday season. Nobody truly knows how the market will behave and with every industry being affected differently, leaders are relying on themselves, more than outside opinions, to make their own predictions. On top of that, this year will likely have the most significant change we’ve seen since 2009, so properly preparing becomes the most critical charge we have. That, and you should’ve started planning already. Whether you have or have not, here are some tips for preparing for the holiday shopping season.

1.     Know the data, especially your data

If you have not familiarized yourself with the volume and flow of your business from past years by day and hour, get on it. It’s fascinating how memories get blurred and large chunks of time turn into vague guesses, and don’t expect your folks to have it down cold unless you do. This is the starting point for so many conversations from inbound volumes, pick and pack, third shift needs and everything in between.

2.      Put together a forecast plan and share it - a lot

Now that you know your data, and assuming you have a handle on your particular market segment, this is a critical next step. Make an effort to get down to a handful of key data points that can be shared with every employee and why it matters. Then listen – a lot. Keep talking about it, listening more, and tweaking the plan every day/week. This is going to be the theme of this holiday season – plan, communicate, listen, and repeat. It can’t be stressed enough. You have to listen more this year than you ever have. There is too much at risk to not pay sufficient attention and have a solid understanding of your plan. Listening will not only earn you points with your people, but you’ll pick up key insights that will make the business run even better. 

3.      People - people - people

Make human resources (HR) a key partner in business decisions. The role of HR in preparing for Q4 volume cannot be stressed enough. Meetings for planning staffing levels and the execution of those plans are critical for distribution centers to operate at high efficiency during peak times. Work backward on the calendar for each key area where additional people are needed and ensure that new hires are coming on board in manageable numbers with plenty of time to train. Push your HR and marketing departments to make aggressive plans to get recruiting messages out. Besides the standard job boards, it might make sense to utilize a hiring press release, radio ads, text to apply, vinyl wall banners, friends and family programs, local college outreach and more. Don’t forget to put some thought and plans in place to make your company’s seasonal jobs attractive and worthwhile. Perhaps you institute a seasonal worker bonus for an extra $1 an hour that’s paid in mid-December, or offer a lump signing and completion bonus. Remember, you are in competition with every other seasonal job out there, so put tactics in place to make your offering stand out amongst the rest.

4.      Test all new equipment and procedures in advance

Testing all new equipment and procedures for as long as possible before the peak season arrives is vital. Maybe you’ve got some additional pick carts, packing tables, receiving technology, racking and forklifts on-site to bolster productivity levels. Have you flow tested any of it? Don’t wait until Nov. 15 or even Nov. 1. Get it set up now and start putting it to the test. There’s nothing worse than small (or big) surprises that interrupt productivity when you need it most. It may be as simple as keeping packing supplies replenished at new tables, or as complex as replacing an inbound carrier that has stopped providing FTL services. Got new servers to install or access points? Don’t wait. It is nearly guaranteed that something (or multiple things) will bite you during peak season if you don’t put them to the test now. When it comes to equipment, technology and standard operating procedures, you can’t be prepared too soon.

5.      Spot check yourself

Yes, you are a higher-level manager and you’ve been around the block, but have you checked a lot of the details yourself? A great mantra to live by as a leader and manager is “inspect what you expect.” That means you getting out there and looking at it, talking to the frontline employees, perhaps doing the job yourself for an hour and making sure that your vision and plan has been executed properly. When you were a kid, did you ever play the “telephone game?” It was probably in third grade and the teacher had all 25 kids sit in a circle. The teacher would tell the first kid something and ask them to whisper it to the next kid and so on until it got all the way back to the teacher. What the first kid was told and what the last kid said back to the teacher were usually vastly different things. Imagine you’re the teacher and even with the great managers you have, you should always make it a point to check the communication and execution down the line. Is the transportation manager executing on timely trailer appointments? Does the equipment trainer understand the personnel needs for material handling by week? Is the corrugated recycling ordering plan being executed for peak? Does the maintenance team understand how peak hours will be stretched and when the best times are to schedule routine work? There’s a popular word being used in the leadership world right now – grit. You must have the grit to get into the details and manage down a few levels. During this very unpredictable season, being highly detailed and in touch at all levels will serve the operation well.