Viewpoint: Fourth And Wrong – 5 Ways To Head Off Peak Season Issues

Fall football season may have just kicked off. However, it’s already starting to feel a lot like Christmas for many eTailers.

According to research from Creditcards.com, 27% of consumers have already started their holiday shopping, and 51% will have done so before Halloween. 

But you probably knew that already, didn’t you? 

After all, you’ve probably begun seeing a significant uptick in your online orders. And hopefully you spent much of your summer putting together a robust peak season game plan to account for it.

The question is how good do you feel about your peak season plan now that crunch time is here? Just as important, is there anything else you can do to ensure that this plan succeeds despite all of the circumstances that you can’t control?

Thankfully the answer is yes – at least to a degree.

While it’s certainly too late to make major changes like optimizing your distribution network or switching your sourcing locations, there’s still ample time to make a few small but meaningful adjustments to your supply chain playbook – including the five that you’ll find on this helpful holiday checklist.

When a quarterback approaches the line of scrimmage, one of the first things he does is share the play with the rest of the offense so that everyone’s aware of his assignment. In a similar vein, you need to ensure you’re on the same page with your parcel carriers before the busy holiday season hits critical mass.

Re-confirm how much of your parcel volume each of these carriers has agreed to handle between now and Christmas. Review what kinds of additional support they’re going to be willing to offer your company when things heat up. (For example, do they have enough equipment available to provide your busiest fulfillment center with a second trailer if it’s needed? Can they provide you with a second daily pick-up?) And while you’re at it, consider lobbying for a break on some of the new peak season surcharges they’ve just announced – because believe it or not, getting such concessions is still possible provided you have the right negotiator in your corner.  

When a football game is close, there’s nothing more frustrating or inexcusable than a delay of game, the costly penalty that occurs because a team isn’t able to get a play off in time.

Your carriers have critical play clocks, too, except that theirs are usually measured in days rather than hours. And failing to keep track of them could cost your company a lot more than five yards.

In light of this, schedule a visit to each carrier’s website to ensure you’ve accurately captured each of their holiday shipping deadlines since some may have changed since you finalized your peak season plans. Then re-consider your company’s own holiday order deadlines with these dates in mind, being careful to account for any possible inbound or outbound shipping-related bottlenecks that your operations might encounter.

Although special teams may not receive the same adulation as their offensive and defensive counterparts, they can have a huge impact on a season’s outcome, especially when games are close.

Your DCs and fulfillment centers are much the same. While they may not be customer-facing, they’re responsible for many of the key activities that have to happen in order to get orders filled and out the door. 

That’s why it’s always a smart idea to schedule an early season huddle-up with the people who are in charge of these operations. Ask for their no-holds-barred assessment of what your current inventory levels look like and how healthy they think the current inbound flow of products is. Confirm that they have enough first-string players (aka their full-time associates) to handle both the current and anticipated demand. And find out how deep of a bench (aka seasonal labor) they have access to if orders exceed forecasts.  

Then use this information to re-assess the validity of your current holiday shipping timelines and service promises – or to make some critical additions or substitutions to your supply chain line-up as needed.  

Most teams rely on a series of small plays in order to win their games. But sometimes a team gets so far behind or there’s so little game time left that only huge passing plays will suffice.

Many eTailers could find themselves in a similar predicament this year, because no matter how much parcel carriers intend to make good on their standard delivery services’ promises, the reality is, they’re going to have far more packages than they can handle (about 5 million more per day according to UPS).  As a result, your company may need to use a higher percentage of premium shipping services than expected. It’s also possible that you – rather than your customers – may need to foot the bill for some of these upgrades in order to keep their business.

If you haven’t done so already, take some time to circle back with the people who are in charge of your shipping budget in order to ensure they’ve adequately accounted for this possibility – or to plead your case for more robust parcel funding.

Shoppers hate being told that they may not get their holiday orders delivered in time almost as much as coaches loathe fumbles. But they’ll hate it a lot less if you give them ample warning.

Unlike your company, most average Joes and Josephines aren’t closely following UPS’s and FedEx’s latest service or pricing announcements. Nor are they privy to the across-the-board challenges that the entire supply chain profession has faced this past year.

As a result, they could be totally caught off by the more aggressive order-by shopping dates they’ll need to observe this year – unless you’re thoughtful enough to bring those dates to their attention early and often.

Now’s the time to consider reaching out to customers via e-mails, direct mails, or social media messages in order to let them know that it’s a smart idea to shop especially early this year. You’ll also want to review your online sales channels to ensure that this same messaging is clearly posted in multiple places.

While your customers may not be thrilled to receive this information in the short-term, they’ll be grateful to have it in the long run – especially if it means the difference between Ralphie getting his Red Ryder BB gun before Christmas Day rather than after it.

This is by no means every piece of advice we have for surviving this year’s peak season with your reputation and customer base intact. In fact, look for us to pass along even more helpful hints about everything from managing inbound shipping delays to mitigating the impact of parcel carrier’s latest rate increases in the coming months.

But for now, suffice it to say that all of us here at AFS are rooting for everyone to have an extra-successful peak season. More important, we’ll be working hard to ensure that this holiday shopping season is as smooth, seamless, and stress-free as possible for all of our customers. Even if we have to go into overtime to do it.

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