It’s easy to lose track of time; before you know it the holidays will have come and gone. Some businesses will feel like they were hit by a hurricane, while some businesses will breeze through the holiday season. The difference: preparation. There are tips and tricks to preparing for the holiday season, but once you’re in the middle of it all, how do you cope? Will your business be one that handles it with grace and leverages the holidays to launch a successful year, or will your business struggle with the day-to-day? In this post, we’ll discuss how to prepare your inventory and automation to save time, ship your orders efficiently and have things run smoothly this holiday season.
Inventory Management PreparationInventory management can be broken down into three sections: equipment, people and workflow. These all tie together, but it’s easiest to look at them as three separate entities while you prepare for the holidays. Checklists and writing out your holiday plan can help with the organization and visualization of your process. We’ve created a holiday checklist to help you get started!
Equipment: Stock Up on Supplies EarlyEquipment is vital to running your shipping operation and ensuring orders get out the door in a timely manner. Running out of packing materials can halt operations and create delays as you wait to restock. Other businesses will be scrambling to get their orders out the door, so materials may not be as easy to come by. Businesses that run into this issue are faced with sending their employees home until materials are replenished, or paying for everyone to stand around. The best way to estimate needed supplies is by looking at your sales from 2015. What growth did you see during the year and during the holiday season? Based on the estimated growth of eCommerce sales, purchase 20-30% more materials than you anticipate needing. This will account for damaged boxes or defective materials. By looking at your sales from the past year, you will ensure you’re covered during the holidays without wasting much needed space. Carriers like USPS offer free shipping materials on their website and in-store. If ordering online, make sure you’re giving yourself plenty of time between when you place your order and when you receive the materials. If you don't think you can make the cut-off, go to the Post Office and pick up the needed materials.
Equipment isn’t only limited to packing materials. Think about your work space – will you need more workstations, computers, printers, labels and scales? If you’re printing gift messages on packing slips or offering gift wrapping, do you have the necessary materials?
Businesses often opt for an additional computer, printer and scale during the busier seasons. If you're on a tight budget, different companies offer discounted electronics during this time. If your printer has problems throughout the year, it’s a good idea to invest in a new printer. Not all printers are designed to handle the volume, and this can cause a perfectly good printer to malfunction if it overheats. Make sure to test the printer before it’s needed to ensure it is fully functional and compatible with your computer or any shipping solution you're using.
If you're weighing every package and the weights are typically consistent, think about the benefit of updating weights within your selling platform or set up saved packages in your shipping solution. Solutions that offer product catalogs can help override weights that may come in incorrectly from your store. This eliminates the need for a scale for the majority of your packages. Looking at sales from the previous holiday season and the current year, determine how many labels you'll need. Make sure the labels you purchase are compatible with your printer and your label sizes are set up correctly within your shipping solution and in the printer settings of your computer.
If you offer gift messages on packing slips, make sure your solution is set up to flag these orders. This will also help if you’re offering gift wrapping options. We suggest setting up a separate wrapping station so you are not cluttering the area where you pack your orders.
People: Hire Extra HelpWith the uptick in volume, most businesses opt for part-time holiday employees. If your business needs help during the holidays, make sure to look at your budget before hiring more people than needed. If you're working in a smaller space, you'll want to take that into account. Having more people in a smaller space can slow down production rather than speed it up. Also take into account that colder weather can affect health and inclement weather can cause transportation issues. By having a clear plan, you can efficiently plan ahead.
Optimize Your WorkflowWorkflow and employee management go hand-in-hand. To reduce the need to hire more people, come up with a plan for roles and responsibilities. Ensure your proposed shipping workflow reflects any impact on picking, packing, packaging, labeling, etc. If you’re utilizing USPS as your preferred carrier, an end of day USPS Scan Form may be required. Lastly, monitor your order processing time to make sure you’re not missing carrier cut-off dates.
Consider Shipping Software AutomationIf you're using a shipping software to manage orders and print shipping labels, make sure that your account is optimized for your process. Training new hires on your shipping software is imperative to avoid user errors. If there are pain points in your process, reach out to your shipping solution and see if there are any tools you can utilize to speed up your process. The most popular automation tools are saved carrier selections, saved packaging/weights and rules. If you feel your shipping solution cannot keep up with your holiday volume and automation needs, it may be time to look for a solution that can.
Don’t Wait Until It’s Too LateBetween balancing your personal priorities and those of your business, he holidays can be a chaotic time. Early preparation is the key to sanity. Inclement weather and an increase in volume for all businesses can throw a wrench in your holiday process. Proactive planning can make the difference for a positive customer experience and ultimately set the tone for your business in the new year. The holiday season is underway, but it’s never too late to double check your business and ensure success.
For more tips on preparing for the holidays, take a look at our Holiday Guide.
About the author
Sarah Hansen is a Marketing Associate at ShippingEasy in Austin, TX. She loves sharing her knowledge of eCommerce by helping businesses with their shipping pain points.