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The start of the holiday season is just around the corner and so is the time of year where retailers traditionally see boosted sales and an influx of orders to fulfill. Avoid the common fulfillment pitfalls retailers tend to face with these tips to get you ready to meet the increase in demand during the upcoming busy holiday period.

Are you ready?

If you've run some clever marketing, you've got some loyal customers or you're a seasonal business, your Christmas sales will most likely lead to an upward spike in revenue and prosperity through your sales charts. However, making the sale is only half of the battle as what happens after the sale is made is just as important.

The holiday season puts all manner of untold pressures on shoppers and retailers. The very last thing you as a retailer want is an angry customer, enraged because the product they've ordered is out of stock, they’re unsure of when it may turn up, or even worse, they've been sent the wrong product on Christmas Eve.

Some of the most common pitfalls in fulfillment, that are swept under the rug through brute manpower at quieter times, become too unwieldy to beat with raw man power alone when sales soar. In most warehouse situations, manpower has a very real diminishing return, which only becomes apparent when it’s too late!

Some of the most common issues we witness include:

  • Inability to type in and print off enough shipping labels with a carrier during a particularly busy surge in sales.
  • Mass mixing up of shipments, i.e. accidentally sending 100 people each other's orders, so none of the customers receive the correct item(s) they ordered.
  • Not notifying customers of despatch information, causing a strain on customer services and fielding queries regarding tracking information and whether or not an order has been despatched.
  • Overpaying for shipping services due to poor planning of which services are the best value and the best fit for certain orders and locations.
  • Problems with shipping services due to incorrect (guess) weights of products, causing couriers to reject shipments.

Overwhelmed by orders and with a shortage of time, retailers often react desperately, throwing 10 people at the problem in the vague hope of getting it fixed. By spending an hour or two in advance to plan effectively, retailers can avoid issues like this during busy periods entirely!

Tip 1

Get on top of your stock figures. Do a stocktake and check your inventory is up to date as damages, shrinkage and returns over the year could have lead to inaccuracies. The video below shows you how to ensure your stocktake runs smoothly. 

Tip 2

Make sure you know the best way to process your orders. The days where you eye a box up, pick it up and guess its weight are over. Have your inventory not only up to date in relation to stock figures, but also in relation to weights. Now when you're packing orders, you'll know the total weight of all the items in that consignment automatically.

Tip 3

Review your shipping rates. Speak with your current couriers and check if you can get a better price on your services. Couriers are competitive and will often have different deals available, especially if you've been increasing your volume(s) or are looking to move to a different carrier.  Shop around, but remember to run some tests with alternative couriers before the season starts. You don't want to be midway through a busy period and realize that the new shiny carrier you've chosen is unable to deliver a percentage of your orders due to weight or value restrictions.

Tip 4

Once your stock is up to date and your shipping rates are planned out, it's time to consider your order processing flow. A common process often involves the following:

  1. An order comes in and is ready for fulfillment (i.e. payment has been taken)
  2. The item(s) on the order are picked from the warehouse and packed into a box.  The warehouse operative scans the order's barcode, causing a label to print out for the order.  The label is attached. The box is sealed and the customer is automatically notified of the tracking number.
  3. At the end of the day all the boxes are collected by their respective couriers.

This might not be the solution for you, but you should try putting the process you and your staff take into clear steps, and think about how it could be more streamlined. If your process can't be made into a short bullet point check list, then you most likely have some work to do towards streamlining your process. 

Tip 5

Automate as much as possible.

If you find yourself spending time doing things over and over again, look at what that's costing you in man hours. Could it be automated further? Feeding your orders through to your order system should be a must. Automatically sending your orders from your order system through to the relevant couriers and sending out tracking information is a given. 

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About the Author

Mark has been working with businesses to streamline their processes and increase effeciency for years. He also co-founded Shiptheory.com, a carrier integration platform that streamlines the shipping and despatch process.