It’s no secret that warehouse space and labor is at a premium this year due to the spike in small parcel shipments brought on by the pandemic, and warehouses and carriers are preparing for an unprecedented peak shopping season. A consumer survey by Ware2Go shows that in spite of the pandemic, 54% of consumers plan to do even more holiday shopping this year than in the past and 83% plan to do more shopping online.
That means your warehouse partners are gearing up for a long and busy peak season, and this fact hasn’t been lost on consumers. In the same survey, 79% of respondents said they were concerned about getting their holiday orders in time this year, and 71% said that a 2-day shipping guarantee was important for their holiday shopping decisions. This isn’t really a new phenomenon. Data shows that fast shipping not only increases customer satisfaction but can even drive increased conversions and brand preference, not to mention that 2-day shipping is the baseline requirement for many marketplace subscriptions like Amazon Prime.
A good warehouse partner is equally aware of the value of 2-day shipping and on-time fulfillment and ultimately wants to set you up for the most successful holiday season possible. There are few simple things you can do to make their jobs a little easier and make sure all of your shipments go out before the holiday shipping deadlines.
1. Inbound strategically
Every warehouse’s busiest day is Monday. Outbound orders stack up over the weekend, and Monday and Tuesday are inevitably the highest volume fulfillment and shipping days. Delaying your inbound shipments until the second half of the week allows the warehouse to split their week -- using Monday and Tuesday to get your outbound shipments out on time, keeping your customers happy and satisfying those marketplace delivery requirements. Then the balance of the week can be focused on inbounding and keeping up with orders as they come in.
You can also be thinking strategically about the inventory you actually need on the shelves for Q4. If you have slow-moving SKUs that have a low risk of running out of stock, consider pausing those inbounds until Q1. Reserve your warehouse partner’s premium peak season real estate and labor for your high-volume products.
2. Communicate spikes in demand
The best way to help your warehouse partners stay one step ahead of your fulfillment needs is to communicate any anticipated spikes in demand as soon as possible. Running a promotion? Include your fulfillment partner in planning up-front, filling them in on the items on promo, the dates of the sale and any demand forecasts available. Notice a sudden spike in order volume over the weekend? Alert your warehouse partner so they can schedule labor appropriately. Some demand spikes are unplanned, but any amount of lead time you can give will be appreciated by your partners and will help ensure that your orders are fulfilled on time.
3. Consider your warehouse an extension of your team
It’s easy to set your warehouse partners up for success if you include them early in planning your holiday initiatives. So many aspects of sales and product initiatives flow downstream to fulfillment, and giving your warehouse network a complete picture helps them prepare for each of those aspects and to keep things running smoothly.
The first step may simply be setting realistic customer expectations based on your warehouse capacity. Consumers are well aware of the shipping challenges merchants are facing. Actually 57% say they plan to do their shopping earlier this year to make sure their holiday gifts are delivered on time. Displaying shipping options and realistic delivery timelines early in the shopping journey keeps the process transparent and builds trust with your customers.
Some merchants may be planning to launch a new product on Black Friday when site traffic is high. These kinds of releases are a great way to kick off the holiday shopping season and build excitement around your brand. To give your customers the best experience all the way through delivery, strategize with your warehouse partners about packaging and storage before you inbound the new product. Send detailed descriptions of the product and photos to help them plan where to best store it and to communicate SOP’s for picking and packing with their staff beforehand. If you’re willing to make an upfront investment at the manufacturing phase, it’s also a great idea to have the product inbounded in ship-ready format so the warehouse can simply pick the product and stick a label on it (pick-and-stick). This kind of workflow saves a significant amount of time and will ensure that your orders get out quickly.
Many merchants find kitting and bundling is a great way to increase their average cart size and add value for their customers during the holiday season. With warehouse labor at a premium this year, this is another task you might want to consider having your manufacturer take care of. However, if you do decide to have kits assembled at the warehouse, give as much advance notice to your partners as possible. If they can plan ahead, they can treat your kitting as a special project and provide labor at a more reasonable price. And with labor stretched thin this year, you’ll want to carefully consider the value of each item included in the kit. Add-ons like flyers or catalogues might not add enough value to off-set the cost of having the warehouse handle them.
Building lasting partnerships
Taking these steps to prepare your warehouse this peak season will not only ensure a smooth and successful holiday season, but it will build good rapport with your warehouse partners. Opening up the lines of communication with your warehouse will strengthen your long-term partnership and lead to smooth sailing year-round.
Even if your fulfillment operations are fully outsourced, you should consider your warehouse partners an extension of your team. Hold them to the same standards as any of your employees, but also communicate early and often about how you can support them -- especially during peak. A good partner wants you to succeed this holiday season and will be open and honest about what they need to get all of your orders out on time.