The holiday season, from Thanksgiving to the year-end, isn't just a festive time—it's the ultimate stress test for 3PLs and brands. The pressure is on, with order volumes surging, often exceeding 2.5 times the norm, and unpredictable spikes driven by sales.
And remember, holiday season is often just the prime example of seasonal surges that can impact your business throughout the year, from spring holidays to back-to-school.
Warehouses are bustling, with seasonal hires boosting staff numbers by over 30%. Amidst this chaos, meeting customer expectations with tight deadlines becomes paramount.
Navigating this surge isn't just about logistical prowess but mastering the intricate dance between technology and the human touch. In this post, we explore the pivotal role of a modern warehouse management system (WMS) in orchestrating efficiency during seasonal peaks and how empowering your workforce is the hidden gem for success.
The Power of a Modern WMS
Scalability and Reliability
As you think about Peak Readiness, the first thing that comes to mind might not be load tests and system up-time, but understanding these terms can significantly impact your peak experience.
If you expect a significant surge in orders, a modern cloud-based WMS with high scalability is essential. Any downtime during peak, regardless of length, can have a cascading impact on your ability to deliver - and ultimately harm customer experience.
An older, on-premise WMS is constrained by the hardware you have it installed on; in addition, not every cloud-based WMS is created equal.
Be sure to ask your provider what they are doing to prepare for the surge, not just on your account but across their entire client base. Remember, fulfillment operations are only as good as the underlying WMS on which it relies. If a cloud-based WMS can’t scale across your volume surge and its other clients’ surges, when that peak volume hits, your product fulfillment for your customers is at risk. And that means your brand is at risk.
Order Organization and SLA Management
A foundational part of managing peak volume is your ability to organize your orders efficiently. To be fair, this is true for any time of the year, but even more so during peak and other seasonal surge periods, as you battle increased volumes and tight SLAs.
Staying on top of SLAs or understanding where you might miss them is critical, especially as Christmas carrier cutoff dates approach. Leveraging a WMS with built-in and tightly integrated order management capabilities can help greatly with this.
- Are you able to easily see which orders need to be prioritized?
- Can you quickly and efficiently move orders from one facility to another if you stock out, balancing the impact that could have on your parcel costs?
- Do you have visibility into your SLAs by channel, customer type, and priority?
These are all key functions in a modern WMS that can help you manage through peak and beyond.
Picking and Packing
Seasonal sales tend to drive two things:
A spike in orders overall, which means even more picks, packs and labor hours.
And a large number of similar orders, which can boost productivity and efficiency if handled properly.
Maybe you’re running a promotional special where you give away an item for free, or perhaps you have a flagship product that is discounted and driving significant volume. Either way, you could end up with a lot of very similar orders.
This is where a WMS focused on driving labor productivity comes into action. Beyond helping you organize your orders and manage SLAs, a modern WMS will also help you pick and pack your orders in the most efficient way possible.
Efficient picking and packing is normally achieved by grouping like orders together to reduce the number of stops a picker has to make. Although this sounds simple, it is a powerful feature that can have a real impact on your throughput.
Combine this with other optimizations like streamlined pick and pack, where you handle 100s of similar orders in bulk (also known as single line item picking), along with an efficient pack station design, and you can drive large efficiencies that help with order surges.
Empowering Your Workforce
Intuitive User Interface (UI)
As you scale your seasonal workforce, you are probably thinking about two things. Quality and cost. Both of these are influenced by your WMS and how it interacts with your warehouse associates.
Paper picking should be a thing of the past (you’re not still doing that, are you?). It puts too much reliance on process knowledge.
And legacy scanner interfaces can be challenging for people unfamiliar with them and lead to a lot of wasted time with multiple clicks and overly powerful – and often unnecessary -- options that can lead to process breaks.
A modern WMS with a fresh and simple UI can make training, onboarding and managing new associates easier. With a familiar UI that mimics modern phone apps, and guided processes that limit room for human error, you can be confident that your associates will be picking and packing in no time.
During holidays and other seasonal workforce surges, getting your new staff up-to-speed and productive immediately can be the difference between a profitable period or not.
Real-Time Data Insights
The visibility you get from a modern, scan-based WMS is just as important as empowering your associates with an easy-to-use interface. The ability to see what is happening in your warehouse in real-time can substantially improve your throughput, and empowers your leaders to take action.
- Do you have too many people on picking and not enough on packing?
- Are you going to hit your SLA for your biggest clients?
- Are exceptions spiking or orders getting stuck?
You can answer these questions with your WMS’ real-time data to provide visibility into the workflow.
Associate Training and Support
When it comes to training your workforce for peak performance with your WMS, consider these key tips:
Create a Practical Training Environment
Set up a training lab with a dummy customer and real inventory. Hands-on experience enhances learning and prepares your warehouse associates for real-world scenarios.
Document Clear Work Instructions
Ensure your work instructions are well-documented, up-to-date, and easily accessible. Clarity in instructions is crucial for efficient operations, especially during peak seasons.
Opt for a WMS that supports multiple languages. This feature makes it easier for associates to interact with the system, breaking down language barriers and ensuring universal understanding.
In-App Help & Guidance
Choose a WMS that includes in-app tool-tips and instructions. This feature guides associates in real-time, reinforcing their training and minimizing the chance of errors.
Empower Your Super Users
Make sure your ‘super users’ have access to the tools and knowledge they need to successfully navigate any exceptions, as there are likely to be many more of them during peak periods.
Do You Have the Right WMS in Place?
As the holiday (or any seasonal period) rush unfolds, the blend of a modern WMS with an empowered workforce emerges as the secret sauce for success. By seamlessly integrating scalability, intuitive UIs, real-time insights, and efficient order management strategies, businesses can not only navigate but truly thrive during the intense seasonal peaks.
So, as you race against time this year, think about the untapped potential of your WMS. Is it truly up to the task? While it might be too late for this year, the lessons learned now can pave the way for a smoother, more successful holiday season next year.
Is your WMS operating at peak performance? Can you handle your current business – and your projected business?
If not, it might be time to consider alternatives. If you’re looking for a modern WMS to drive productivity improvements and operational efficiencies during peak and other periods throughout the year, you should explore Stord One Warehouse, the only WMS built by operators, for operators.