The signs have started to appear. Starbucks has rolled out the pumpkin spice latte, and grocery stores have decorated their seasonal aisles with pumpkins and giant bags of candy. For consumers, this means fall and Halloween are on the way. But for retailers, it means something much scarier. Time is running out for peak-season planning.
There’s some good news regarding peak season: Preperations appear to be stabilizing after three years of COVID-driven unpredictability. Kenco’s 2023 eCommerce Peak Season Pulse found 58% of consumers expecting their holiday seasoning spending to remain the same as 2022. The flip side is that some consumers still feel burned after years of supply chain backups, with 52% responding that their supply chain-related concerns haven’t budged from last year.
These findings indicate that retailers have an opportunity to learn from their peak season 2022 ups and downs without the same level of uncertainty seen in the last few years — so it’s time to break out last year’s lessons.
Following are three areas to focus on as retailers shore up their warehouses before Q4:
The unemployment rate remains at record lows, and while that’s great news for spending power, it also means fewer people will be looking for a part-time job this peak season. Retailers should be proactively calling their temp services now to lock in labor for the holidays, and revising their training programs to ensure that seasonal employees can be navigating the racks within a day or two. The more automated the warehouse, the easier it is to get employees working alongside robots without a drop in productivity.
Speaking of automation, now’s the time to take advantage of the flexibility that warehouse robotics afford. An autonomous mobile robot (AMR) provider can lease additional units across facilities to help mitigate labor shortages and take on strenuous tasks for seasonal teams. If you haven’t already invested in robots to improve your picking and packing operations, make sure you’re asking about flexibility with potential vendors — they should be able to scale your robotic fleet based on expected sales peaks and valleys.
Finally, when scheduling seasonal labor, now more than ever it’s important to proactively coordinate with your shipping providers. With an ever-growing driver shortage and an entire trucking company going bankrupt, capacity is going to be tight over the next few months. Ensure that you have enough pickers and packers scheduled so that all orders are ready at their allotted pickup times.
Inflation and Inventory
After a year of decline, the inflation rate is once again on the rise, from 3% in June to 3.2% in July. Although it’s too early to say if this trend will last long-term, the Fed will once again meet in late September, and it looks likely that another interest rate increase is on the horizon.
Consumers are still feeling the impacts of inflation, and this new trend suggests that their concerns aren’t going away anytime soon. In fact, Kenco’s survey found 87% of consumers saying they’ll spend less this holiday season, primarily because of inflation. This challenge only compounds an existing sales issue — retailers are still working their way through excess inventory gathered in the post-pandemic rush to stock up.
In the months leading up to the holidays, take an in-depth look at your inventory and determine what might be expendable to sell at a discount to make space for more in-demand items. You can also review sales data to determine which products are often sold together (for example, batteries for a major electronic purchase) and, if one is overstocked, offer it at a steep discount or as a free gift with purchase .
Shifting Shopping Holidays
For years, Black Friday was the king of pre-holiday sales. Now, however, retailers are learning that restricting deals to the morning after Thanksgiving, or even the weekend and Cyber Monday, can shut out potential buyers. Kenco’s survey that found 60% of consumers are concerned about product availability, while 54% are concerned about their ability to afford gifts, suggesting that holiday buying behavior could shift even earlier. Consumers might want to put an item on layaway and pay over time, or secure the item before it flies off the shelf.
Of course, an earlier start to the big shopping season can be both a blessing and a curse for retailers. Preparation must begin earlier to ensure that items are in stock, but an earlier start can also help flatten the peak-season demand curve.
If you’re looking to reduce inventory on hand, or you feel comfortable you’ll have enough stock of in-demand items before November 1, now’s the time to consider “pre-Black Friday” sales in the weeks leading up to Thanskgiving. These sales help you attract attention well before the glut of Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales, allow customers to better plan their purchases, and help alleviate fulfillment burdens on your seasonal staff.
While data suggests more of the same for 2023, any retailer will tell you the unexpected can creep up quickly. A toy suddenly catches fire and sales can’t keep up with demand, or a supplier is forced to shutter operations for a week or two. That’s why it’s important to study your existing peak-season data, while maintaining a good relationship and consistent communication with your logistics providers. Making decisions based on past successes, avoiding past shortcomings, and readying contingency plans for unexpected demand spikes are all ingredients in the recipe for a successful peak season.
Jason Minghini, senior vice president of operations with Kenco.
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