By Eric Carter, solutions architect at Indigo Software.
Everyone loves a bargain and there are always plenty to be had at this time of year in the run up to Christmas.
Experts predicted record sales over the Black Friday and Cyber Monday period this year and they were right. IMRG has just reported that well over £1.39bn in sales was generated on Black Friday alone.
For the vast majority of companies participating, most of their revenues will have been generated via the Internet and increasingly, from mobile devices. IMRG data confirms this trend too – almost 40% of Black Friday sales were completed on a smartphone this year. Regardless of which device consumers are choosing to buy their goods and all the merchandising and web development time invested in securing the sale, it's the warehouse that is the real hub of any Black Friday/Cyber Monday operation.
For warehouse managers, this period marks the end of months of planning to ensure supply chain processes don't collapse under the huge strain of anticipated consumer demand. A suggested 14.8 million Brits had apparently been saving up to splash out on the bargains available. But although Black Friday and Cyber Monday are behind us now, thankfully, some might say, the January sales are just around the corner.
Here are Indigo's 4 critical success factors for outstanding warehouse management when seasonal sales and price promotions are underway.
1. Spread the operational burden
Running special flash promotions or just day-long seasonal sales put a huge strain on operations. It can be far better to extend special pricing events for a longer time period. This gives warehouse operations the chance to balance the extra load on resources and means that shoppers can potentially spend more too. If they find a good bargain one day, the chances are they will return.
Another good strategy to ease operational pressure is to freeze express delivery services and offer different shipping terms during promotional periods for goods purchased on sale. For example, M&S notified its customers that their normal click & collect turnaround times would be temporarily expended during this year's Black Friday period in anticipation of the extra strain on warehouse operations. Provided any new terms and conditions are clearly displayed, there's no reason why customers would object to a temporary change in policy.
2. Support warehouse workers with effective technology
Our lives are so driven by technology and sometimes, the technology we use in our personal lives can be more advanced than the systems that support us at work. An important aspect of good warehouse management is having modern, efficient and intuitive software that's compatible with smart mobile devices to support warehouse processes is a essential and also key to maximising employee retention. It's relevant for any time of year, but especially so during peak periods. Intuitive software also means any temporary workers brought in to cope with sales promotion events can be working to full capacity in the shortest time-frames, ensuring that your extended team can operate as efficiently as possible.
3. Achieve a balance between flexibility and the need for 'process rigour'
People who know me will have heard me use the phrase 'flexibility masquerading as anarchy' to describe the many encounters I have with warehouses that have poorly defined processes. Yes, warehouse operations need to be flexible enough to accommodate special sales events and satisfy unexpected peaks, but core processes should be well defined. For example, printing hundreds of pick notes at once is easy, but not the best solution when you have a limited number of pickers working a shift. Instead, it's far more efficient to print them on demand and keep a pool of released pick notes to equal a single hour's work in total. This allows replenishment and put-away activity to be considered simultaneously, whenever new orders are released.
4. Real-time advantage of mobile working
Mobile devices are essential tools for efficient, real-time working to ensure that operatives have the information they need to identify and quickly resolve any emerging issues that could impact customer satisfaction levels. Mobile working means warehouse teams can collaborate efficiently and provide real-time status updates to management about order completion levels. In cases where voice enabled technology has also been introduced, productivity can be further improved through the ability to work hands-free.
Ultimately, no matter how busy your warehouse gets, either on Black Friday, Cyber Monday or the Boxing Day sales this year, it's a drop in the ocean to what happens on China's equivalent, Singles Day.
Now the world's biggest online shopping event, this year's sales of over $25bn completely dwarf the UK's Black Friday takings and were 4 times higher than US shoppers spent on Black Friday. Luckily the UK still has a way to go to beat that record, giving warehouse management plenty of time to get their operations fully mobile optimised and working in real-time.