Even in the middle of the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, the holiday shopping season is a critical time for retailers—the highlight of the year for most brands and businesses. And, with the 2020 holiday season in full swing, products are flying out of warehouses faster than they can come in.
With COVID-19 an ever-present reminder of the unique current circumstances and the all-important holiday sales numbers top of mind for most retailers, optimizing delivery and cleaning processes might be the last thing retailers are thinking about right now. But, taking some time to make sure everything is flowing smoothly and warehouse and logistics operations are running as efficiently and effectively as possible will ultimately result in fewer potential costly errors—and larger numbers of satisfied customers. These cleanliness and efficiency measures are arguably more important this year than ever before with pandemic-leery consumers driving a sharp uptick in online and mobile orders.
With that in mind, here are a few simple delivery and cleaning processes and best practices that retailers can and should be implementing during this busy time of year. Along with some operational and logistical tips and priorities, what follows is a great start for any retailer looking to minimize headaches and maximize profits this holiday season.
Score with goals. One of the best ways to maintain clean and orderly workspaces and warehouse facilities throughout the holiday season is to not trust anything to chance. Have a system in place with clearly defined nightly cleaning goals and assignments. If needed, divide more complex tasks up by day. For example, perhaps Monday can be the day to reorganize wire shelving and pallet racks, Tuesday can be the day to dispose of any extra trash, Wednesday for mopping low-traffic areas, etc. Decide what goals work for your operation, set a schedule and stick to it.
Clean-as-you-go. Time and circumstances permitting, instill a clean-as-you-go mindset—backed by a formal list or schedule—to help keep modest messes from growing into big problems. Pay special attention to problem areas: spaces where excess packing material is often left out, or areas that are prone to mud and snow being tracked in.
Supplies party. Your team can’t clean effectively and consistently without the proper tools. Keep basic cleaning supplies well stocked and readily available in a clearly defined area. The availability of simple items like extra paper towels, degreasers, mops and cleaning products can go a long way toward facilitating and reinforcing a culture of cleanliness.
Take your turns. The holidays are the last time of year you want to have cluttered shelves or storage areas made inefficient with older stock. Make sure to constantly move outdated inventory out of the way to reduce clutter and optimize accessibility for the busy seasonal bustle.
Stocking stuffers. Taking care to make sure your stocking and shelving system is logical and accessible is one of the surest ways to maintain efficiency when the chaos of the holiday season descends. It might seem like simple common sense to structure your shelving and stocking such that workers know where everything is kept and can get to it quickly and easily, but it’s surprising how often this foundational step is overlooked.
Trust the process. Refine your shipping/packing strategy, making sure that it can stand up to the stresses and higher volumes of holiday sales and strained logistics. It’s not uncommon for workers to cut corners and get into bad habits when shipping volumes are higher than usual. But, throwing boxes in wherever they’ll fit or consistently creating messy loadouts will ultimately hurt more than it will help. Make sure you review (and reinforce) current packing protocols and shipping standards. Double check periodically to ensure your team is working and loading in alignment with codes and guidelines.
Technology, please. Technology solutions can introduce extraordinary new efficiencies and time-saving solutions. The trick is to leverage the power of smart tech while avoiding the sometimes-steep training curve. With training time at a premium and higher-than-usual numbers of temporary and seasonal workers, avoid this potential hiccup by sticking with off-the-shelf technologies and platforms that are easy to use and will flatten the training curve.
Keep the training on the tracks. Training can be a challenge during this busy time of year. But, making sure every member of your team is fully informed and equipped to operate your equipment and implement your system is an investment that is likely to pay off handsomely— reducing confusion and limiting avoidable bottlenecks and slowdowns. New workers should know how to utilize pallet racks and set up wire shelving on their own, and tasks should be formalized and standardized as much as possible. Inconsistency is the bane of productivity.
Hands off the merchandise. Even with an exceptionally well-trained staff, it makes sense to limit the number of touches for every product and process. To the extent possible, automate picking and packing processes and routes to minimize human interaction (reducing potential human error) and increase efficiency.
No matter what link they occupy in the retail supply chain, retailers and their teams are no doubt already feeling the squeeze of longer hours, demanding customers, priority shipping demands and other heightened holiday pressures. But, with so much at stake during this critical time of an already stressful year, retailers and their logistics partners quite literally cannot afford to get it wrong. Heeding these basic warehouse and delivery cleanliness and optimization measures is a great first step in making sure you make the most of this—and any other—holiday sales season.