Back-Office Operations to Keep Your Team Lean Throughout the Holidays

September 17, 2015

Black Friday, Cyber Monday and the holiday shopping season are just around the corner. That means increased order volume and in some cases, chaos in the warehouse. It’s during this festive season that warehouses bring on holiday hires to help get orders out the door.

Though it would be great to avoid it altogether, holiday hires are a necessary part of this time of year — with two major variables driving just how seasonal staffmany seasonal employees you’ll need and when you’ll need them: the seasonal volatility of your business and the level to which you rely upon manual processes to get orders delivered on time.

Extra staff brought on to plug manual holes in inefficient and error-prone processes cost a tremendous amount — not just in wages, but in training and the extra demands to existing staff. To complicate matters, those new hires disappear just as they’re starting to get into the swing of your operations.

Below are some actionable tips that can be implemented between now and the holidays to minimize your need for seasonal hires while keeping warehouse productivity and customer satisfaction at their peak.

1.  Streamline onboarding: Focus on providing systems and processes that require minimal training.

    • Barcode your inventory and warehouse:

Many seasonal hires end up picking and packing orders, as those are the quickest tasks to master. Doing this accurately and efficiently is key to customer satisfaction. Don’t rely on tribal knowledge or the fact that your permanent staff members have memorized product locations and the warehouse layout. Instead, place barcodes on racks and locations throughout the warehouse as well as on inventory to further improve KPIs and decrease training time for holiday employees.

    • Specialize your labor force through segmented workflows:

The best-run warehouses segment their workflows — separating pickers from packers and sorters from shippers. Every business has its own nuances, and order volume dictates the degree to which you can specialize. However, at the end of the day, giving individuals a set task to focus on increases their productivity by making them an expert on what they’re doing in short order. A simple pass through your day-to-day activity, with an eye toward specialization, will increase your ability to effectively onboard new hires and achieve the best performance possible.

2.  Make the most of existing employees: Leverage your most valuable assets — your existing employees.

    • Complete busy work before the season gets hectic:

Mark November 15th on your calendar NOW. Inaccurate inventory leads to overselling, slower warehouse operations, poor customer experience and increased returns. An inexperienced holiday warehouse team only aggravates those issues, so fix it before the holiday season sets in by doing necessary cycle counts and inventory quantity adjustments no later than the 15th of November. Not only will your customer service and administrative teams thank you, but you’ll end up keeping your warehouse team running at maximum performance.

    • Fulfill orders in small, deliberate shipment waves:

When order volume goes up, keep shipment processing waves small and intentional. Let your software track fulfillment activities rather than running the risk of lost pick lists or packing slips. Doing so may feel counterintuitive, but it pays off big in three ways by:

1.  Improving pick, pack and ship KPIs by giving warehouse leads control to manage bottlenecks throughout the warehouse.

2.  Allowing you to meet or exceed customer expectations by generating shipment waves according to selected ship services, such as express two-day and overnight delivery. A few focused waves processing all your express shipping services before their scheduled carrier pickup times keeps your team in tune with customer expectations amidst the holiday chaos.

3.  Providing the ability to be flexible and efficient. Process a wave of single item orders first to move the easy orders quickly. Then focus on the remaining multi-item orders, using sorting matrices, workflows or personnel experienced in the task at hand.

    • Chaotic storage (not just because Amazon does it):

If your warehouse management system (WMS) tracks barcoded inventory through multiple locations in the warehouse, the next big efficiency gain on our list comes when you can track a single SKU through multiple locations in the warehouse — or even better, across multiple warehouses, third-party logistics warehouses (3PLs), dropshippers and other vendors.

Chaotic storage makes the most of the receiving and putaway efforts. Rather than keeping a SKU located in a specific location in the warehouse, chaotic storage leverages the nearest available warehouse as storage space. This maximizes warehouse density and improves KPIs. Commonly sold inventory cycles through the nearest shelving to pick from, resulting in a plug-and-play system so new employees can hit the ground running.

    • Automated cost-based order routing:

When the holiday season ramps up, the labor required to get orders ready to process shouldn’t increase. In any efficient warehouse, manual order routing is eliminated from the business operations altogether — leading to faster fulfillment and a smaller warehouse team.

Whether inventory is being sourced from a dropshipper, just-in-time (JIT) vendor or your own warehouse, huge gains can be made with intelligent and automated routing. Make sure your order management system (OMS) can split orders to multiple locations in an automated, rule-based fashion. For more complex fulfillment environments, consider destination-based shipping costs, dropship fees and delivery time in the routing equation to ensure you’re meeting customer expectations with the least cost…every time.

When you’re wrapping up the holiday season and preparing to bid farewell to your loyal seasonal hires, remember that your employees make your business. The hardest part of hiring is finding workers with a fantastic work ethic who make a good cultural fit. If you find a gem this holiday season, don’t hesitate to bring them on board!

Blog post by Sam Moses, CEO, RetailOps