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Our team of Fulfilment Consultants share warehouse management best practice and advice.

5 steps to prepare you warehouse for peak

How To

WRITTEN BY Louisa Hopper /

30 August 2017

We talked in our last blog about the different kinds of peak that can appear in your business, both expected peaks such as Christmas and those unexpected bonuses arising from sudden changes in weather or a celebrity endorsement. But what can you do to make sure you handle these peaks smoothly and capitalise on sales during these periods?

1. Reassess what happened during peak last year 

Take Christmas. Unless you are in your first year, you will have experienced a Christmas peak before. So, how did it go last time? What went well? What had you tearing your hair out?

Understanding what happened in previous years will hopefully go some way to helping you avoid making the same mistakes again. Things to consider include:

  • When did peak period start and end?
  • Did the highest volume of orders come in when you expected them to?
  • If you ran promotions or had massive Black Friday discounts, did they help your sales?
  • Did you get your stock into the warehouse in time, and were there any bottlenecks in your warehouse processes?
  • Did some suppliers perform better than others?
  • Which products proved popular?
  • Were you overwhelmed with returns?

If your memory's sharper than a box cutter, you may be able to answer these questions automatically. Even still, it's really useful to bring up YOY reports from the various pieces of software that sit in your technology stack. Then you'll really be able to see the impact of any new processes brought in last year to deal with peak, as well as the efficacy of any new ways of working established in response to any peak issues that you may have experienced. 

Yes, you would have already run a debrief in Q1 this year after the dust settled. But now that more time has passed, and your business is a greater distance away from last year's peak stress, it's the perfect time to start making the right decisions to make this year your best ever peak period.  

2. Get your ordering and suppliers on lockdown 

This is going to sound obvious, but you can only sell the stock you have. You'll want to make sure that you have enough stock available to sell. At the same time, you don't want to go overboard and fill your warehouse to the rafters with items that are going to be difficult to shift. If you've been around for a few years, you'll know the importance of having a firm grasp on supplier lead times. You'll know which suppliers are the most reliable. And you'll know which will be able to response the fastest to re-orders should a certain product prove to be an unexpected hit.

Really taking time to audit your existing supplier relationships, and testing out new suppliers before you get too close to peak, is a massively beneficial way to spend your time. It will help you to maximise your sales and keep your customers happy. 

3. Increase the speed of your goods-in

It's simple. The faster you can get goods into your warehouse and put-away into pick locations, the faster you can be selling them. Getting this right involves carefully matching up your deliveries with your unloading capacity and staffing levels. Get it right, and you'll be able to maintain a smooth flow of goods from the delivery lorries through goods-in to put-away and beyond.

4. Show your products to best advantage to reduce returns

With increased sales come increased returns. It's inevitable. It shouldn't be unexpected. So getting these returns processed and, if fit for purpose, put back on the shelves again is crucial. The quicker that returns can be relisted on your website, the more money you're going to make.  If returns were a secondary concern last year, bump them up your list of priorities this year. The longer they're waiting to be put back on your shelves, the more money you're losing. 

There are ways to minimise returns. Making sure that your products look good (and are described accurately) on your website helps. So does shipping orders on time and ensuring that the right items are being sent to the right people.  If you do your best to ensure that the customer isn't going to get any nasty surprises when they open their delivery, you're going to eliminate a lot of unnecessary returns. 

5. Have the right technology to help you run a tight ship

The volume of stock passing through your warehouse will be much higher than usual and any pinch points in your operations that you have, so far, been getting away with, will be exposed. When you're planning for peak, and you recognise specific needs that you know can be solved by investing in the right technology, don't leave the decision to purchase until you're in the weeds again. 

It takes weeks, if not months, to properly implement a new system for your e-commerce business. That includes the time it may take to properly integrate with your existing systems. It includes the incredibly important testing period. And you're going to want to feel comfortable with your new software before you're having to deal with a massive influx of orders. 

These are just some of the things to think about now before peak hits. Time spent planning now will save hassle down the line. Preparation won't make the peak period feel like a breeze, but it will remove a lot of the stress.

Behind all of the stress that often fogs the end of the year, peak is a really exciting time for your business. Get it right and your company will draw in more customers, make more money and be in a really good position to continue its growth. The best way to make sure this happens is through proper, thorough, preparation. 

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