Is your business ready and able to survive the eCommerce peak season? Do you have the goods, tools, relationships, and fulfillment experts ready to manage the flood of orders and the potential for supply chain disruptions? It can be hard to answer “yes” confidently to those questions, but there is still some time to plan and prepare. So, let’s dive into seven mission-critical activities that help you get ready for this year’s eCommerce peak season.
Refresh past eCommerce peak season forecasts
Surviving the eCommerce peak season requires you to prep for it, and one of the top places to start is your forecasts. Check your demand models based on last year’s data. Start by asking how much your demand is up year-over-year in other quarters. Then, see if it’s possible Q4 will scale at the same rate. Possibility covers both making that number of sales and filling that number of orders.
Build out forecasts using the most recent data you have, and follow demand forecast planning best practices. Drill down into the information you have for each channel, look at challenges you’ve had this year in those channels, and verify your inventory allocations. Start your prep with this data, and then see where you can use it realistically. Once you’ve got targets, pull out all the stops.
Establish communication lines for your team
There’s a lot more talking in eCommerce fulfillment and order management than most expect at first. You’ll want to ensure that your communication methods are useful and dependable, starting with how your team talks. Whether you focus on in-person meetings, Slack channels, project management tools, or carrier pigeons, all departments need to understand your peak season plans.
Sales and marketing should understand what you have in stock and are trying to sell, what to avoid pushing, and what you can realistically promise in terms of fulfillment speeds. Warehouse teams need more precise communication on order volume, inbound shipments, and overall expectations. Operations managers will have more to balance during peak, and as you scale, that puts increased pressure on loading docks, equipment, and shelf space in general.
Enable two-way communication so warehouses can help other departments understand when an issue occurs. Train teams on what to watch to help you avoid stockouts or unexpected events that could impact customers and orders.
Reach out to carrier, fulfillment partners
Over the past couple of years, supply chain issues have become common, and these usually throw a wrench into order fulfillment. Their impact and severity intensify greatly during the eCommerce peak season. Even minor issues can throw off your entire game plan. Address it by having a chance to ask for help.
For some, it’s going to be too late to add on brand new fulfillment options for peak 2021. So, you’ll instead want to start having regular conversations with existing carrier and fulfillment companies to learn about their capacity issues and what you can do within existing systems. This might be leveraging a 3PL’s network to add more regional carrier options or scheduling regular calls with carrier reps to get an idea of when the capacity crunch is expected to hit.
When you’ve got a reliable partner like Red Stag Fulfillment, use them. Ask for help balancing inventory, staging or prepping goods, increasing stock levels, and understanding any inbound issues. See if they can help you negotiate better rates or offer other eCommerce peak season support. Can they manage increases in both inbound and outbound orders? Are you able to have suppliers increase product volume? Is it affordable to grab this extra space from your 3PL?
Use those communication skills to share your forecasts. Then, ask your 3PL how they can help. Form a plan for fulfillment together, including an information-sharing plan. When you’ve got that plan together, flesh out how you’ll address customer complaints or potential delays if something happens in your supply chain.
Prep customers for delays every eCommerce peak season
Customer service teams have been burning the midnight oil since early 2020, and this peak season doesn’t look to be any different. Make the most of their arduous work and start prepping customers for the delays we’re all expecting.
Communicate about what you can do for customers, such as the shipping options available from carriers. Explain your order processing times and any standard delays or waiting periods. For example, if you create unique items or offer customizations, detail how long these processes take before something can be shipped. Give them the best understanding you have of when a product should arrive.
At the same time, prep them and your team for delays. Tell customers that many of the current supply chain issues and eCommerce peak season shipping delays are outside of the control of any company. Demonstrate how you’re trying to do your best and how you’ll notify customers when something happens. Create your delay and other emails now, test their sending, and see how to associate campaigns with specific orders or SKUs.
Automate as much as you can right now, so it’s easy to update and send as soon as you have a problem. This keeps customers in the loop and helps them feel like you’re on their side. Plus, it gives you a chance to notify and set expectations with the potential of exceeding them if the impact isn’t as severe as you expected.
Can you get ahead of the eCommerce peak season?
There is still some time to try and mitigate eCommerce peak season capacity crunches. One thing you can do for your customers is to launch your big sales early. Some retailers are offering Black Friday deals now or matching pricing for customers throughout the holidays. Target, for example, started its price match guarantee on October 10, though it does require guests to take some actions on pricing and registration.
If you’re worried about supply chain delays later into the year, prompt customers now to see if you can shift their orders earlier. If your eCommerce peak season starts in October or the beginning of November, you could get a few weeks’ jump on the competition. Why not try to start a sale while the spooky decorations are still up?
Plan for the backlog
Many different elements can create backlogs and delays. Look through your systems and audit what might cause an issue. Sometimes it’s software that struggles to automate processes or disconnects regularly. Manual inventory counts can cause delays at any time throughout the year. Or you might have equipment that you haven’t repaired or tuned up since last peak season. Review tools, equipment, and practices throughout the fulfillment process.
If you want to analyze this year’s progress, consider working on that technology right now. Shift IT to onboarding and adapting systems before your crush of orders, so you’ve got time to assess and plan. This can be especially helpful if you’re looking at email automation, returns management tools, or other fulfillment and inventory platforms.
Look at the physical space you have as well. Do you or your 3PL fulfillment partner have room to expand? Is there a staging area to speed up pick and pack, or to hold and process returns? Can your current layout handle peak inventory numbers? Plan ahead and ask your partners for their eCommerce peak season plans and investments. And, this planning also helps you get ready for when peak season charges end and those carrier general rate increases begin.
Thank people, partners, and purchasers
It will get a little crazy this eCommerce peak season; there’s nothing you or any company can do to avoid it all. So, it’s time to pull out the eCommerce trump card: start thanking everyone. Tell your team that you appreciate their work in getting you ready and facing what’s to come. Thank your partners and suppliers that have been busy helping you inbound and receive goods, store and ship them, and fulfill those orders. And don’t forget to send a note to your customers to express gratitude for their business and patience.
Work hard to control what you can — plan for what you think might go wrong. Then, get ready to be adaptable for what occurs. Send out thank-you notes to encourage everyone in your supply chain to encourage them to support the flexibility you’ll need come crunch time. And if you get the chance, support your partners who do the same. This eCommerce peak season is going to be a challenge, and we’ll all get through it better together.
For things like this, experience is often the best teacher. Get an understanding of what we saw in 2020’s peak season and the lessons we learned from it by clicking the image below.