As Black Friday and Cyber Monday approaches, distributors and wholesalers should prepare for the crush of orders for restocking and the aftermath of returns. The following tips should help you prepare. They cover three major categories: workforce management, warehouse preparation, and returns management.
Get your workforce ready
Whether a distributor or a wholesaler, you’ve probably arranged to hire extra seasonal labor to handle the higher work volume this holiday season – but not all workers are equally skilled or competent. Therefore, you need to identify the employees with the broadest skill sets and be prepared to switch their roles if an area of your operations falls behind or appears at risk of doing so.
If you know you’ll have a worker shortage, hire temporary employees to accomplish easy jobs that require little training. For all employees, temporary and regular, offer incentives to work extra hours and shifts during the holidays, offering extra summer vacation days or higher pay rates for certain days. Then, have them commit to those days so you can evaluate your staffing needs and plan accordingly.
Use Your Best Support People
Problems always arise during Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and employees need to be prepared – but they need your help. Support them by putting your best group of support specialists on duty, making sure the most qualified are ready to handle urgent matters and escalations. In addition, always have at least one additional triage level above the normal support for special cases.
Make the Busiest Days Fun
Demoralized or overworked staff can have a negative effect on customer support and operations. So, while Black Friday and Cyber Monday will be hard work, inject a sense of comradery and excitement by offering ways for employees to excel. Consider team-based competitions, rewarding people for performing certain activities, and bring in decorations, food, and drinks to make the atmosphere less stressful and show you care.
Prepare Your Warehouse
If you perform kitting operations, pre-kit or pre-load seasonal pushes for point-of-origin direct-to-store shipping. To ensure your stock flows as quickly and efficiently as possible, reconfigure your distribution center for cross-docking, which will prevent workers from putting away replenishment orders that will only be immediately re-picked and shipped again – a major cause of warehouse inefficiency in the peak season.
Review Prior Year’s Sales Data
By reviewing your sales data from last November, you’ll gain reasonable insight into the volume you can expect to ship (for most items). Knowing which items are likely to have the highest demand allows you to arrange your stock placement; you should place more popular items/products or those that will sell in larger quantities in easy-to-pick locations. And do your rearranging early – rearranging your warehouse a week before Black Friday gives your pickers time to become familiar with the new layout before heavy order fulfillment days.
Ordering and restocking are also easier when you know which items and products you sold most and least last year.
Double Check Inventory Data with Physical Checks
Since November is already here, it’s unlikely you have time to physically count everything in your warehouse before Black Friday and Cyber Monday – but that’s okay. Instead, select the 10-15 SKUs you know will sell best and perform a physical check of their quantity and condition. For some, you may find you don’t have time to restock, so be proactive and establish merchandising rules so your staff can offer substitutions for those products in the event of a stock-out. In addition, create a ‘cheat sheet’ of substitutions for each employee to reference quickly.
Make Warehouse Life Easier than Normal
Clear the warehouse. Clean up the clutter, put the out-of-place items where they belong, make sure all aisles and corners have clearance for forklifts and pallet jacks to navigate, and keep everything clearly labeled. Then consider problems you had during previous Black Fridays and have solutions for them before they happen this year. Finally, consider logistics: is your store at an optimal temperature for your employees? Are there enough kitchen and restroom supplies to serve all the additional employees? Does your printer have extra paper and ink to handle the higher print volume? If you prepare in advance, you can avoid mistakes.
Manage Returns for Fast Processing
Pre-arrange categories for how you plan to handle returns and set aside specific locations for each category. For example:
For more advanced warehouse operations, you can establish additional options for returned items (but first, make sure your staff can handle them). For example, a category for items that need to be tested for quality or defects and yet another category for products you can liquidate on a secondary market.
However you plan to handle returns, it needs to be done quickly. The longer they sit on your dock or in bins, the less likely you are to recover their value and maintain a healthy cash flow. Don’t allow your returned products to sit and drain away your profits.
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