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Preparing for Holiday Fulfillment Challenges
This begins with putting measures in place to make sure you always keep your consumers in the loop.
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The holidays have traditionally been a source of tension for business leaders. On one hand, the additional attention and demand from consumers can mean a healthy addition to the company balance sheet. On the other hand, there’s the pressure to meet the exacting needs of customers. The last couple of years has also presented additional challenges to this time. There has been reduced potential for in-person working practices and high demand for delivery services.
This holiday season looks set to be no less challenging for manufacturers, retailers, and shipping companies. Alongside the difficulties of the pandemic, many companies are still navigating staff shortages. There is also the potential for other supply chain disruptions. Unless your company can wrangle fulfillment effectively, there is potential for lost income and a damaged reputation.
We’re going to take a moment to review how you can prepare for these holiday fulfillment challenges. What tools, practices, and strategies should you focus on?
Make Use of Data
There’s no reason to feel like you’re wading into the unknown when it comes to fulfillment challenges. If you attempt to just respond to issues as and when they occur, you’re certainly likely to fall at the first hurdle. Not to mention this approach makes it extra stressful for you and your staff. Going in blind is unnecessary in this data-rich age.
If this isn’t your first holiday season, you can start with your company’s historical activity. Review the product demand for previous holiday periods and the types of products that saw the most attention. Last year’s activity can be particularly useful in terms of relevant issues resulting from the pandemic. Some of these will be in place this year. Indeed, it’s important to make note of where you have fallen down on inventory stocking, organization, and delivery protocols in the past so you can plan for better approaches.
That said, it’s wise to recognize these issues are subject to change and you can’t rely on your history alone. You should also capture and analyze data across your industry and the markets as a whole. One of the key ways technology has disrupted the commercial landscape is through innovations to make the tracking and interpretation of vast amounts of information accessible. Business intelligence software can help you accurately interpret market and internal data. But you should use an experienced professional alongside analytics software. This in turn empowers you to predict fulfillment needs and allocate resources accordingly.
You likely have some well-established relationships with the suppliers in your chain. This year, in particular, concerns surround how stable these are and whether they allow you to maintain fulfillment needs. While you may trust your suppliers to keep you informed, it’s also a responsible step to arrange potential backups.
This should apply to every area in your chain essential for smooth fulfillment. Raw material providers, manufacturers, warehousing logistics, and shipping should all be considered. Be open about this when you approach new companies. Make it clear you want to work with them as a contingency. This makes the relationship clear from the outset and allows you both to strategize the processes involved accordingly.
Your preparations to handle the holiday fulfillment challenges will often be focused on your internal processes. This isn’t just about how to use data or making sure you have sufficient resources. Rather, clear and effective communication protocols can make a big difference at this busy and stressful time of year.
This begins with putting measures in place to make sure you always keep your consumers in the loop. The standard practice of informing them of expected delivery dates is a good start, but you should go further. Make sure you update your website and social media accounts. Post about lower inventory numbers and even expected issues with the supply chain. Even if there are no problems, talking about this helps to set consumer expectations. This also raises their confidence that you can meet their fulfillment needs.
You must also make sure the holiday season is bolstered by stronger processes of organizational communication. There should be daily meetings between department heads so you can predict, discuss, and handle any potential fulfillment issues before they spin out of control. Keep in regular contact with your suppliers and have an open dialogue with them. This can keep you abreast of issues they’re experiencing that may affect your business. In turn, you can react promptly.
When you’re faced with the high-pressure fulfillment elements of the holiday season, it can be easy to slip into survival mode. You may find yourself or your staff close to making knee-jerk decisions based on the need to address issues quickly and profitably. However, it is important for the culture and reputation of your business for you to maintain high standards of ethics and corporate responsibility.
This should include your environmental considerations. An unexpected influx of orders may see you dropping your usual commitment to sustainability. Instead, you should seek to strategize your fulfillment processes with methods to keep your carbon footprint low. This can include preparing automated methods that improve efficiency regardless of volumes. Though there may be a higher demand for delivery, optimizing transportation elements will keep emissions and resource expenditure lower.
Alongside environmental considerations, you should consider your ethical activities. Some ecommerce brands will tend to raise prices as inventory becomes scarce. Such actions have been particularly common during COVID-19 but equate to unethical business practices. A short-term boost in your profits is not worth losing the trust of your consumers.
There are likely to be fulfillment challenges for your business during the busy holiday season. But this doesn’t mean you’re powerless to respond effectively. Strategize your use of data and implement solid communications protocols. Commit to maintaining high standards throughout and consider where alternative suppliers may be advantageous. This isn’t an easy period to handle, but with some preparation, you can find seasonal success.
© Indiana Lee 12.01.21
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