Guest Blogger: Russell Griffin is the Senior Director of Channels for ShipStation. Prior to ShipStation, he was the VP of Enterprise Sales and Agency Partnerships at BigCommerce. He also spent time at Rackspace, Peer 1 and Hostway building and developing ecommerce focused partner programs and great relationships with the best ecommerce minds around. When not building partner programs and hanging out with ecommerce experts, he serves as the Vice President of Operations for his sons Lacrosse program and is most likely at a game.
The holidays can be chaotic, but your warehouse and shipping workflow doesn’t have to be!
Here are six foolproof ways to increase the efficiency of your shipping and fulfillment during the holidays.
Use Data from Previous Years to Build a Solid Forecast for This Year
It’s important to know what you’re getting into without making gut-based decisions. When it comes to your business, making assumptions like “Product X sells pretty well, I guess we should order X% more” doesn’t set you up for long-term success.
Review your previous order history by month and by quarter and use tools like Google Trends to help predict product interest (especially by geolocation if you are doing targeted ad buys). Once you have gathered this information, you’ll be able to make data-driven decisions on which products to increase supply for and how to optimize your shipping flow.
Make High Volume SKUs Easy to Access
Use your new inventory forecast to modify your supply of high-demand products for the holidays. Make them easily accessible and optimize for quick picking. This will help reduce the time it takes to pick and pack.
In addition, consider doing a dry run. Create a sample picklist you believe would be a decent representation of holiday orders and send someone to pick those items. Observe the path they take and how long it takes them. Look for inefficiencies and reorganize the warehouse and packing area based on your findings.
If you have bins in your warehouse organized and logged in your shipping software, you could even automatically organize the SKUs on your packing slips to create the most efficient method for picking. This will help your warehouse employees (especially seasonal workers) by allowing them to just work their way down the list.
Organize Your Shipping Supplies and Stock Up on Necessities
Take those projections and make sure you have sufficient shipping supplies. You’ll be going through more tape, boxes, packing slips, inserts, labels, and everything else you use to ship. So make sure you factor that into your ramp up. You may also need to figure out new storage methods. But make sure the system is clear and bins are easy to access.
Take a photo of your packing station(s) and critique it. Is it organized well? Messy? Do people put things back in the right spot? A tip to keep your space free of clutter is to label parts of the table to put tape guns, printer, scanners, and so on. That way your workspace always stays neat.
Consider Pre-Packing When It Makes Sense
Some sellers might have a single SKU that ships in high volume, individually in the same box each time, and doesn’t have any variable weight supplies such as packing peanuts. This is one example of a product that is perfect for pre-packing. By pre-packing these products and getting them ready to ship, you can send your shipping process into hyperdrive by slapping on labels after batching them together.
However, you have to be careful with this sort of process. Make sure you are double-checking the order is correct, and there aren’t weight variables to consider. But if the only thing changing is the address, why not get a head start on those high volume products?
Diversify Your Carrier Options
One way to mitigate the risk of depending on one carrier is to make sure you have other carriers set up as a backup for the holidays. It’s better to be prepared for every worst-case scenario than to be scrambling if an order doesn’t get out by the specific cut-off date.
Go ahead and connect to other carriers. Even if you don’t use them, you’ll still be able to weigh your options on cost and delivery time. And you’ll have more carrier services available for use should you need them.
Implement Customer-Initiated Returns
With the increase of orders (especially as gifts) there is also the possible increase in returns you’ll see in the weeks following the holidays. Consider setting up customer-initiated returns so you can take some of that pressure off of your warehouse employees or support staff.
ShipStation created its Branded Returns Portal so sellers could have a landing page where customers could create their own return labels on-demand, while still giving the merchant complete control over which products and customers can initiate the returns. This will greatly improve efficiency and has been proven to increase sales and encourage repeat purchases.
Once you’ve critiqued your workflow and made adjustments for the forecasted ramp up, make sure the process is well documented. Print it out, laminate it, and tape it to your shipping station so everyone can see. You need your warehouse team in alignment if you are going to succeed. By having your workflow documented and readily available, you will be able to conquer the holiday season with greater ease.