Santa isn’t the only one who needs to make a list and check it twice when the holidays come around.
For people who move goods, November and December are the busiest months of the year. The buildup is already beginning, as seasonal labor markets tighten and the Truck Tonnage Index rose a seasonally-adjusted 7.1% in August according to the American Trucking Association. Preparation is the name of the game, no matter if you run a shipping fulfillment service receiving literal boatloads of imported goods or a small warehouse trying to get the most out of your square footage.
Small changes to how you do things can make a difference in your bottom line. An ecommerce retailer like Nordstrom Rack, who ships five million packages a year, can convert a savings of 50 cents per package into more than $2 million in additional profit annually. What can you do to shave some pennies off your overhead?
Here are some tips to help get your shipping fulfillment services in shape before the holidays:
Take stock of your resources
Before you make any major changes, step back and analyze what you have and what you will need in the coming months. That means everything from getting seasonal staff hired and trained to making sure you have enough forklifts to handle increased demand.
Seems easy, almost disarmingly non-technical in nature, but it can save you a lot of strife down the road. Ask questions like: “is my warehouse laid out in a way that makes it quick and easy to get our most popular inventory out the door?”
Increased automation has shifted the need for manpower in warehousing and fulfillment over the past decade. While this results in faster turnaround times and smoother fulfillment in general, these systems are complex and require frequent maintenance.
Updating fulfillment software is one approach to ironing out potential issues ahead of time. For example, if you’re operating a Warehouse Management System (WMS) or Warehouse Control System (WCS) independently or in tandem, you may want to integrate a Warehouse Execution Service (WES) to fill connectivity gaps in inventory management, storage optimization, workload planning, visibility, and more.
Whichever system meets your needs, look out for software updates that improve functionality for IoT devices, especially any which will allow you to better track goods in transit and feed more precise data into analytics and monitoring. Another important reminder for our changing global business climate: be sure that your security software is up to date to protect your company from cyber attacks.
Work with carriers to expand delivery options
Today, many major companies rely on regional facilities right outside major cities, where smaller amounts of inventory can be quickly processed and delivered.
New distribution hubs, writes Robbie Whelan for the Wall Street Journal, “aren’t the sprawling bases of distribution in, for instance, California’s Inland Empire, Chicago, or Northern New Jersey, where well-established networks of warehouses, rail yards and truck depots serve a constant stream of traffic from active ports.”
An industry-wide focus on regional distribution means more collaboration with Less-Than-Truckload (LTL) services, who are often tasked with transporting goods between warehouses and hubs as quickly as demand shifts. For Logistics professionals, that means taking the time to work through rates and services with those providers to make sure you’re getting the best deal.
Be sure to check if your LTLs (and consumer-facing carriers, if applicable) have changed anything from the year before regarding zone optimization, air vs. ground prioritization, or seasonal carrier seasonal surcharges. Keep in mind how special promotional features, such as free shipping, will affect your handling lead time.
Get a better grip on your supply chain
Increases in imported goods over the past 30 years have put immense strain on the drayage systems at American ports, especially those along the west coast. Slowdowns at the port can result in headaches all along your supply chain.
Finding a third party logistics firm with a strong reputation to help with unloading and transporting goods from port can help you avoid costly mistakes. Most drayage firms today use advanced technology to track goods in transit, but finding one with the experience and track record for consistency is key to getting the job done right. Not every company has the agility and wherewithal to navigate 11th hour SNAFUs effectively.
Another tactic for avoiding kinks in your supply chain: warehousing additional inventory as it arrives in port. Having more inventory on hand can help prevent shortages, but it also takes up valuable space in smaller regional fulfillment centers. For larger importers/BCOs with additional warehousing capacity, storing products at the port can minimize the need for reordering from overseas sources if sales exceed projections.
Above all, adhere to the Scout’s Motto: “be prepared.” The more you can do to be ready for anything when the busy season approaches, the better. Readying your shipping fulfillment system ahead of time is a smart investment toward avoiding costly headaches.
If you need a partner to help you strategically manage and successfully move your products out of the port and onto their final destination, be sure to download our ebook - Speeding Time-to-Shelf and Cutting Costs- a must read for today’s logistics managers.