05 December 2018

Managing seasonality in the warehouse

With Black Friday behind us, the year’s busiest retail season is well and truly here. For many businesses, the countdown to Christmas holds more commercial opportunity than any other time of year, so the pressure is on to optimise processes and maximise profits.

When it comes to warehouses, meeting and exceeding the demands of the season is becoming more challenging from one Christmas to the next. Online shopping is accounting for a larger segment of all Christmas spending year on year, and isn’t slowing even when the big day arrives – in 2017, UK online retail sales on Christmas Day were up five percent on 2016’s total of £794 million.

So, over the next month or so, your warehouse is likely to be under more operational strain than ever. Simultaneously ensuring you have the stock on hand in order to fulfil orders quickly while also managing storage space efficiently is a balancing act, and one that Christmas makes even trickier. Here’s how your warehouse management system and associated devices should be helping you face it head on.

Put your historical seasonal data to use 

Looking back at festive seasons gone by can yield more than just profit margins to beat; drilling down into data about what sold and when, can reveal trends you can use to better plan for this Christmas. Recurring spikes relating to certain items or types of products give a good indication that they will be in high demand again this year, so factoring this in ahead of time can help avoid stock shortages.

Of course, this kind of predictive planning is only possible when you have accurate and intuitive warehouse reports at your disposal. A management system should track stock as it moves through your warehouse, with every stage of its journey creating a data footprint that enables you to easily spot useful sales patterns as they emerge. 

Keep track of every last item

This level of insight requires data gathering right at the heart of your operation - on the warehouse floor. Your warehouse team need devices that effortlessly record relevant information about your stock with a simple scan as they go about their duties, which can then be fed into a central data hub and used to identify seasonal trends.

Warehouses are demanding working environments though, so standard scanning hardware is unlikely to be fit for purpose. Ergonomic and easy-to-use rugged handheld and truck-mounted computers give your warehouse team (even temporary Christmas support staff who may lack experience) the capacity to work with maximum accuracy, speed and efficiency, allowing them to swiftly and wirelessly generate the data you need to highlight fluctuations in demand.

Don’t let returns ruin your profit margin

More stock shifted during the run-up to Christmas inevitably means a higher number of returns after the 25th has been and gone. There’s not much you can do about an increase in returns – today’s consumers often shop on the basis of their ability to return goods for free – but your warehouse management software should help you minimise their impact.

Strict stock control helps to make reintroducing returned items into your inventory smooth and seamless, and enables you to see at a glance whether you will have to move things around to make room. What’s more, where possible, the level of visibility a warehouse management solution affords should also allow you to reallocate returns to fulfil back orders, negating the need to restock them first.

Pre-empting how seasonality will affect warehouse supply and demand can give your business the tools to master the pre-Christmas rush. With the right warehouse management system, the festive season can allow your operational processes to come into their own.