Fulfillment Improvements Essential in Light of High-volume 2017 Holiday Sales

Dustin Caudell
Thu, Apr 26, 2018
The 2017 holiday shopping season left us with plenty to learn moving forward.
The 2017 holiday shopping season left us with plenty to learn moving forward.

It's only April but, if you're in retail, chances are you're beginning to unpack the 2017 holiday season and explore what you can improve upon for next year. If you're hoping to upgrade elements of your supply chain management plans, it's time to get moving. 

The 2017 Holiday Season in a Nutshell

Before we explore the key takeaways from last year's holiday shopping season, let's first look at the raw results, based on reports from the National Retail Federation:

  • Sales were higher than in 2016, reaching $691.9 billion, which exceeded expectations.
  • Online and other non-store sales increased by 11.5 percent.
  • Strong economic conditions underpin the healthy sales, but experts also noted the retail sector's ability to adjust to shifting consumer expectations as a major contributor to sales growth.

Of course, last year's success doesn't necessarily indicate a strong 2018. However, two of the key points made by the NRF could easily extend into next year: The rise of non-store sales and retail's ability to adapt to customer demands.

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Consumers are able to shop in more convenient ways when they go online, and retailers can promote revenue growth by offering high levels of customer services and support. However, assuaging consumer concerns about purchasing online hinges on a supply chain that allows for smooth order fulfillment and cost-efficient operations. This can be especially evident during busy holiday shopping seasons. A Multichannel Merchant report explained that demand for project management expertise across the supply chain is one of the major lessons of the 2017 holiday season.

What the Holidays Taught Us About the Supply Chain

Citing research performed by Dotcom Distribution, the Multichannel Merchant report also explained the high volume of sales in the 2017 holiday season created the possibility of significantly higher error rates. In fact, 67 percent of those polled by Dotcom Distribution said fewer than 99 percent of their orders were shipped completely. That kind of error rate can undermine customer experiences and lead to revenue problems, especially at busy times.

"Effective planning can lay a base for better customer service and order fulfillment."

The fact that many brands work with third-party logistics providers is a subtle problem within this conversation around errors. Multichannel Merchant explained that many service-level agreements between brands and distribution partners will offer variable performance expectations relative to the volume of orders being processed. In response, organizations must be particularly careful to prepare for the uptick in shipments during the holidays. Effective planning can lay a base for better customer service and order fulfillment.

For many brands, the increased volume of online sales during the 2017 holiday season exposed project management gaps during order processing and fulfillment. Brands must work to eliminate these errors and make meaningful process improvements.

Laying the Groundwork for the 2018 Holidays

SLAs are a relevant issue whether you are a third-party logistics specialist that needs to comply to keep customers happy or a warehouse manager for a retailer and working to maintain adequate service levels to support the rest of the business. Regardless of whether you're dealing with an internal or external SLA, you can't improve compliance with its terms without making process and visibility improvements to reduce the likelihood of error.

If a high volume of sales is causing operations to hit an efficiency roadblock and leading to mistakes, you need to give workers the tools they need to function more efficiently. Here are a few options:

  • Voice picking systems that let employees gather items and log inventories without carrying around a scanner.
  • Mobile data collection solutions that extend to remote facilities or distant parts of the warehouse with spotty network coverage.
  • Software that integrates data collection and enterprise resource planning solutions so every stakeholder has visibility into logistics and supply chain operations.
  • Barcode labeling systems that allow users to print new barcodes on the spot to rectify errors or avoid clerical mistakes further down the fulfillment pipeline.

Complex supply chain operations can be fraught with error. Mobile data collection solutions can empower workers to complete tasks in the easiest way possible. Eliminating the redundant data entry of paper-based processes can help brands establish a foundation for SLA management improvements heading into another busy retail year. Want to learn more? Contact RFgen today.

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