When it comes to meeting peak retail season demand, getting ahead is all about looking ahead and taking the right actions today.
Peak seasons are high-volume buying periods, the most well-known being Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving when retail buying kicks into high gear. Black Friday was traditionally the day when retailers’ balance sheets move from the red (losses) into the black (profits) at the end of the year. In 2021 package volumes for Black Friday and Cyber Monday – another critical peak day – increased by 42.88%, according to Adobe Analytics. In 2022 holiday sales rose 3.5% to $211.7 billion.
Cyber Monday deals have been a part of holiday shopping for 15 years – and it’s now the top holiday-shopping day of the year by sales. The shopping day gathered momentum in the 2000s when consumers started making purchases online while at work and during the Great Recession in 2008 as people were looking for deals, according to reporting from Business Insider analyst Andrew Lipsman. He points out in a “Reimagining Retail” podcast discussion how office workers began shopping while at work in order to avoid having to use their home dial-up connections; they tapped into the high-speed internet in their offices, leading to a rise in sales from big online retailers, especially Amazon, which helped popularize the day with heavy discounts.
Although ecommerce has slowed since the unprecedented heights of the pandemic, Cyber Monday remains the biggest shopping day of the year by sales, followed closely by Black Friday. In 2022, Black Friday sales rose 2.3% to hit $9.12 billion and Cyber Monday sales rose 5.8% to $11.3 billion. What’s more, Statista reports that global ecommerce sales were estimated to exceed $5.7 trillion in 2022.
Peak shopping periods create last-mile supply chain challenges for ecommerce distributors and sellers – especially in the dock-to-stock and pick-and-pack operating areas – so planning is critical. But preparation isn’t merely a matter of pinpointing events on a calendar and having enough inventory in stock. Warehouse fulfillment operations serving retail companies need to be able to meet unpredictable customer demand. Retailers not only must have enough inventory of SKUs that will sell, but also a fulfillment system that gets things to customers efficiently. Taking the following three measures will enable retailers to come out on top during peaks:
Customers expect retailers to provide a seamless shopping experience across online, in-store and omnichannel. But a lack of integrated in-store and online shopping experiences can cause consumer expectation letdowns. The solution is cutting-edge fulfillment orchestration software that synchronizes data across store and warehouse systems to allow retailers to fill online orders by drawing from in-store inventory, complete online order returns in-store, and enable in-store purchases from warehouse inventory.
Buy online, pick-up in-store (BOPIS), also called click-and-collect, which was popularized during the pandemic, allows customers to purchase items online for curbside pickup. Now that Covid has abated, the “collect” part more likely happens in-store. The customer makes a purchase online, the merchant prepares the order, and the customer picks up the item at the designated store. An added benefit of the fulfillment method is that it draws online customers into stores to potentially facilitate additional sales.
During the pandemic ecommerce crush of the 2021 holiday season, nearly 17% of parcels were delayed. Last-mile delivery services in 2022 were dramatically improved. But persistent warehouse fulfillment labor shortages threaten to keep delays above pre-pandemic levels. That’s because there are still talent shortages in warehouse jobs including forklift drivers, pick-and-packers; even inventory counters are harder to fill and many onsite positions may have unusual second-shift schedules that require people to work outside of the traditional nine-to-five.
The supply chain is a complex network of dependencies. On-time deliveries depend on a combination of factories, suppliers, container ships, warehouses and truck drivers. Even though container shipping prices have softened significantly since the pandemic, geopolitical issues have taken center stage in the past year. That’s why manufacturers have been looking at moving production closer to customers via onshoring to take better control of the supply chain.
In the four walls of the warehouse, retailers and 3PLs can gain control of the last mile of the supply chain by preparing for peak season now. Are you ready to optimize your fulfillment strategy for the 2023 peak season? Start planning today to take advantage of hybrid inventory, enable BOPIS for convenience, and maximize throughput to ensure on-time deliveries.