With the peak season at an all-new high this year, warehouses and distribution centers are facing their biggest challenge yet. For e-commerce and parcel businesses the peak season is nothing new. This year the peaks started early due to the COVID crisis and with Black Friday and Holiday sales in full swing it is far from over. Experts expect increased spending on promotional days such as Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Christmas.
Peaks are unpredictable in their origin, but this year consumer behavior is even less predictable than before. Due to the current measurements, it is not certain how consumers will celebrate and what their purchasing will look like. It is therefore hard to determine how to prepare for the peak and flexibility is more important than ever. So how do you respond and quickly adapt to these challenges?
1. Prepare your pivot
Peaks require a pivot in strategy and operational approach. It is therefore important to have a plan in place that is flexible or scalable on short notice. Whether you (temporarily) expand automation or use seasonal workers to provide manual expansion, this needs to be supported by your processes or be reflected in the adapted processes.
“BY FAILING TO PREPARE, YOU ARE PREPARING TO FAIL"
2. Balance your strategies
Preferably the approach to your seasonal peak matches your overall operational strategy. If you rely heavily on manual work outside peak season, this is not the time to expand with a large automation project on short term. It takes time to get to know the system. There might be options for small fixes that will help you on short notice, such as smart adaptions of your warehouse layout or picking systems. On the other hand, if your employees are trained well and comfortable with working with automation, an expansion can be more easily achieved.
3. Know your data
Determine which items are more likely to pass through your process. It will then become clear on how to approach the peak. By using this information as a starting point, you prevent looking for an all-in-one solution and start searching for a process that best fits your case.
4. Remain flexible
If you choose automation, it has never been more important to take flexibility and scalability into account. Look for systems that are modular, easy to expand, and quick to install if you’re facing a tight deadline or unpredictable peak.
5. Reduce errors
If you are increasing the amount of manual work during peaks, you are prone to increase the number of errors as well. Every time an error occurs, it takes time to fix it and time is one of the things you do not have during the peak. By using automation in the form of efficient picking systems, sorters, (semi) automated packaging, or scanners as a confirmation tool, you drastically reduce the number of errors. If you do not have these systems in place, changes to your process could help as well. Try to make it as fail-safe as possible.
6. Timing is everything
On average, the best time to implement automation is 2 months before the actual peak is predicted. Take in mind that this period can be longer for large projects or shorter if operators are used to working with similar automation. Either way, proper training is key to high-performing operators. They must feel confident when using the system and know what they should and shouldn’t do to maximize their efforts. Be sure to train new operators until they reach the desired level of skill. This not only improves efficiency but also prevents unnecessary emergency stops or crashes, slowing down all others as well.
If you already have a sorter in place, you might want to take a look at our guide on how to reach your full induction capacity.
7. Stay positive
Let’s face it: peaks are hard work and put a lot of stress on operations. Make sure to get back on your feet when this peak is over and start preparing for next year. It is never to early to start making improvements.