6 Tips to Have Your Supply Chain Ready for the Holiday Rush

Cross Docking, Retail, Supply Chain
September 6, 2016

Holiday RushFor retail supply chains, the holiday rush is on. With back-to-school behind them and Halloween already out the door, supply chain managers are focused on their biggest shopping day of the year – Black Friday. With customers coming from every channel, supply chains are under even more pressure to fulfill orders.

How can you best prepare for long lines of shoppers – at the store and online – looking for great deals? Consider these tips to keep your registers ringing.


  1. Seasonal support: assemble a team focused on planning for holiday demand and capacity. Solicit input from functional groups across your organization. Choose a team that will drive accountability and set the right expectations.
  2. Avoid the bottleneck:  like many retailers, you probably source many of your products internationally. Not surprisingly, global sourcing lengthens the supply chain and lead times. This is especially challenging during seasonal demand periods when response time and product availability can make or break your bottom line. To offset long lead times, kit or pre-load seasonal pushes at the point of origin for direct-to-store distribution. By going around traditional distribution centers, you can get products on shelves faster without disrupting distribution center operations.
  3. Start recruiting now: labor requirements at distribution centers can fluctuate during peak seasons, sometimes doubling your work force. To ensure that you have qualified personnel on board year-round, without running up labor costs during non-peak periods, put a robust labor management program in place now. This will give you early visibility into seasonal hires’ productivity and help you project labor requirements for peak periods like Black Friday. Line up a pool of temporary staffing agencies and let them know early when you expect demand to spike so you can get the right resources when you need them.
  4. Don’t just train – cross-train: when you train team members on multiple skill sets, you can position them based on seasonal shifts.  Make sure you design job functions that support different skills sets. To make the best use of resources, assign less-trained temporary workers to less complex job and save cross-trained permanent employees for jobs that require more skills and experience.
  5. Know your products and where they are: it is tough to work productively if your distribution facility isn’t set up for seasonal volume surges. Consider locating faster-moving products closer to operating areas to reduce travel distance. For products with different order velocities, develop a slotting plan that helps your workforce ramp up fulfillment for seasonal products. If Black Friday is just one of a succession of seasonal events you plan for, consider designating one area for seasonal products and re-slot it for each season.
  6. Set up cross-docking: seasonal volume spikes typically mean more full-pallet or full-case replenishment orders. Too many operations continue receiving, putting away and picking orders the same way they do during non-peak periods. To improve efficiency, set up distribution centers to support cross docking, matching inbound product receipts with outbound orders (manually or using a warehouse management system). Use the time saved to move product through the facility and fill customer orders faster.

With a strategic plan and a great team you can get your products on the shelves faster, deliver better customer service and generate more profits on the first day of the holiday shopping season – and beyond.


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