Prepare Now for the Holiday Order Crunch

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If you haven't completed your holiday planning, guess what? You're late! Get going to develop your holiday checklist to ensure your operation is ready for the holiday surge.


Assemble your management staff, and go over the following: inventory, staffing, equipment, shipping partners and team issues.


Let's talk about inventory first. There are two components, stocking level and rate of sale. Your seasonal demand will depend on the nature of your products, but as a rule of thumb, plan to do half of your annual volume in the fourth quarter.


When you analyze your experience, last year take into account your "run rate" of growth so far this year, and try to project an annual number. Half of this number will be done in the fourth quarter. E-commerce has matured greatly this year, so expect many more consumers to jump on the bandwagon this holiday season.


To what extent will last year's best sellers repeat, and what new items are important? You need to make an item-by-item judgment call, and last year's sales are only part of the picture. Last year's hot items may not be so hot this year, and new items will surge forward.


The important thing is to decide now. Don't wait. Your vendor's own shipping performance and in-stock levels come under increasing pressure as the holidays approach. Your orders need to be in for September receipt. Get in front of the pack.


In the area of staffing, you will need more people. Whether you do inhouse recruitment or work with a temporary staffing agency, you should talk to the agency now or have your recruitment underway.


Many people use temporary agencies to scout for permanent work, and this can be a source of permanent hires for you as well. Use your overall volume forecast to develop a staffing plan in your call center and in the warehouse.


Review your equipment setup. Have your information technology team run inbound traffic reports to measure bandwidth utilization. Can you handle the incoming surge? How about incoming call volume? Don't wait for the season to start putting in extra capacity if you need it.


In the warehouse, does any of your equipment present a potential bottleneck? Do you need extra scanning stations, extra printers or automatic tapers? If you have high-volume items, consider dedicated fast-pick lines to pump out this volume.


Are to your shipping partners: they aware of your forecast volume? Do you need to add extra pickups? Is your current shipping and receiving layout adequate for your planned volume surge? Now is the time to address these issues.


After you have reviewed these areas, you need to think about the most important area: staff psychology. Even with the best of plans, you will have incredible stress placed on your organization to manage the holiday season. Is your staff mentally ready? What can you do to make the mental approach "the big game opportunity" and not "the coming nightmare"?


Consider financial benefits for your employees so they share in the economic pluses of all this traffic. Plan a series of staff meetings as the season approaches at which you inform everybody of the steps in the plan and what volume is expected and make sure your organization is mentally ready.


Your success as an e-commerce company depends on your ability to serve your consumers well in this important season. If you haven't already finished your "big game" planning, don't waste another minute.


• Bob Perkins is vice president of marketing at SureSource Inc., Trumbull, CT. Reach him at rperkins@suresource.com.
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