Preparing Your Warehouse for the Holiday Season

Black Friday shopping holiday season
Black Friday might be frantic for shoppers, but it’s even worse for store owners. Photo credit: Powhusku (Flickr)

Small business owners don’t get vacations. While the rest of the office is thinking about visiting family, going skiing, or just unwinding at home for a week, you’re still stressing about how you’re going to survive the holiday season rush. The increase in orders is certainly welcome, but the headache that comes with meeting that demand could probably be done without. Read on as we discuss some simple ways to make sure your holiday fulfillment operations run smoothly.

Ensure your supply line is solid

The holiday shopping surge affects more than just retail sales. Your products’ manufacturers, distributors, and wholesalers all have to keep up with increased demand through the season. While most of them will be prepared for the spike in orders, some catalog items can still go out of stock unexpectedly, while others might face delays in distribution for other reasons. Even worse, some suppliers may cut hours or close down entirely during the holiday season. This is especially true in the case of manufacturers with a unionized workforce.

Order higher quantities of your staple items in advance

To ensure that you can fulfill your holiday orders on time, it’s a good idea to order higher quantities of your staple items in advance. That way, you can avoid any interruptions that may occur on your suppliers’ end. Keep open lines of communication with your suppliers through the holiday season – check in with them frequently to see what the stock and distribution situation is looking like for your catalog.

Strengthen your distribution network

If you use third-party fulfillment centers, such as Amazon’s FBA service, you’ll need to make sure that they have ample supply of your top sellers. With shipping delays at their highest for the year, now is the time where those distribution centers will be the most important pieces in your fulfillment puzzle. You should try and get your shipments to these centers earlier than usual, as they may experience delays in processing inventory for fulfillment due to the increased incoming volume.

Shipping from third-party fulfillment centers can reduce delivery time

If you haven’t taken advantage of third-party fulfillment opportunities, it might be time to look into them. Your repeat customers have come to expect a certain delivery window from you, and shipping delays can cause that to be extended. Shipping from third-party fulfillment centers closer to your customers can reduce delivery time to what they had expected. This can also help to ensure that you get orders to your customers in time for the holiday events they were purchasing the items for.

Optimize your warehouse layout

Hopefully you have a good idea of which catalog items will be hot sellers this holiday season. Maybe you have a selection of products that will be going on sale for periods like Black Friday, Cyber Monday, or beyond. You could also have some items that sold well as gifts last year, and are expecting demand to carry over to this year.

Move your seasonal sellers to a shared zone

Making your picking and shipping process more efficient will help reduce the costs and stress of fulfilling these holiday orders. One of the simplest and most effective steps you can take to optimize your workflow is to move your seasonal sellers to a shared zone. By grouping these hot sellers together, you can reduce the time it takes your pickers to reach them in your warehouse.

Secure the workforce you need

Winter is tough on employers. Workers get sick, want time off for the holidays, and take annual vacations to visit family or get away from harsh weather. Even simple weather changes can be disruptive enough to affect your fulfillment needs, as employees get snowed in and can’t make the commute.

Hire seasonal workers to help tackle the increased order volume

You have a lot of opportunities to profit this holiday season. Don’t let any opportunities for workforce disruption get in the way of that. Instead, schedule vacation time in advance to minimize the chances of surprise time off. Hire seasonal workers to help tackle the increased order volume, and keep a staffing agency on call to fill in any blanks that come up due to weather or illness.

Keep shipping holidays in mind

Every day is crucial when it comes to getting your orders to customers in time. Orders that arrive late for a gift event are likely to be returned, costing your business time and money beyond the loss of the sale. Make every day count by planning around the days your shipping carriers won’t be operating.

Shipping downtime may affect your delivery promises

FedEx, UPS, and the US Postal Service will all be closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day. In addition, UPS will not be moving ground packages on New Year’s Eve, and will only be picking up air and international shipments on Christmas Eve.

FedEx’s freight services will be unavailable November 27th and 28th, December 24th and 26th, and January 2nd. FedEx’s ground and express services will be operating November 27th, 28th, and Christmas Eve, but early station, on-call pickups, and drop boxes may be closed in some areas.

If this shipping downtime may affect your delivery promises, make an effort to ship those orders out earlier to compensate, or use a different carrier that can work around those interruptions. If there’s nothing you can do to avoid delays, be sure to notify your customers so that they aren’t caught by surprise.