Holiday Planning for Distributors: What can you start today?

 In Best Practices

After the bizarre-ness of 2020, many distributors discovered their go-to operational strategies needed refining. Preparing your business for the increased demand around holidays is no exception. Some might think it’s too early in the year to make peak season preparation a major priority, but the habits of holiday shoppers are evolving to our new normal. In 2020, 40% of holiday shoppers started planning and purchasing for the the holidays as early as October. This motivated (savvy, smart) distributors to start their preparation for holiday-level demand even sooner in 2021.

We’ll show you and your team how to gear up for the holidays, so even the wildest demand spikes won’t catch you off guard.

Holiday forecasting tools

Distributors often associate peak season prep with inventory forecasting, and rightfully so. Ensuring that you have the right stock in your warehouse to meet unpredictable demand is a huge agent of your success during strained seasons. However, the anomaly that was 2020 has rendered some tried-and-true forecasting strategies null, leaving distributors looking for alternative solutions.

We recommend investing in a dedicated forecasting software, designed to identify sales and demand trends from your business, and turn them into cold, hard replenishment strategy. NETSTOCK software is one such solution, built to help distributors like you make smarter inventory planning decisions. If you’re struggling with frequent stock-outs, or have more inventory on your shelves than you can currently sell, NETSTOCK is your answer.

However, holiday planning doesn’t (and shouldn’t) stop there. In order to really deliver during the most chaotic time of the year, you’ve got to dig deeper. We’re specifically talking about your operations.

Holiday operational strategies

Avoiding stock-outs and meeting customer demand are just the first step to assuring holiday preparedness. You need to feel confident that your processes are smooth and easily repeatable. Since demand is bound to be higher, you and your staff will have to work at much faster rates. When the pressure’s on, your operations need to be infallible, so you can focus on getting all your orders out the door in a timely manner.

Set your warehouse staff up for success

When it comes to making operational improvements, starting in the warehouse, the hub of most activity for your business, is key. A smart warehouse setup can make or break your efficiency during times of unnatural demand.

To ensure that your staff is best prepared to deal with an influx of orders, make sure that your inventory is organized in your warehouse in an ergonomic fashion, and works in tandem with your fulfillment processes.

One of the best ways to improve the efficiency of your fulfillment process is by classifying your inventory. “Classifying” refers to sorting your inventory offerings into groups based on shared characteristics. We detail many different classification options in our warehouse improvement strategy ebook, but here, we’ll just touch on the most relevant for peak seasons — ABC classification. This classification type sorts your inventory into three categories:

  • A: Products that are purchased most frequently, and drive the most profit for your company

  • B: Products that are mildly popular, and drive a moderate amount of profit

  • C: Products that are purchased the least often, therefore driving the least amount of profit

Once you’ve sorted your inventory by popularity, you can then reorganize the setup of your warehouse to ensure that those most popular items are the easiest to access. Ideally, you should also place these items closest to wherever your packing process takes place. This makes it easier for your fulfillment staff to find the items they need quickly. You’ll also reduce the amount of (literal) steps they must take to navigate through your warehouse in order to complete an order. By optimizing how accessible your products are, and improving the speed of your picking and packing process, it’ll be easier to prepare orders once demand starts to increase. The key to success here is to implement organizational changes earlier on in the year, so your team has time to adjust to the new patterns.

Prioritize ecommerce channels

Unsurprisingly, businesses saw a huge downturn in purchases made in-store last year, and 96% of consumers said they expected to do even more shopping online in the future. As ecommerce site traffic continues to outpace brick-and-mortar sales performances, it’s important that distributors prioritize their online sales channels, for both their sake and their customers’.

Set yourself up for ecommerce success by integrating your online selling platforms into your inventory management software. If you’re selling through multiple different platforms, or with third-party vendors, there’s plenty of opportunity for details to fall through the cracks. Putting your trust in an integrative inventory management solution means you don’t have to worry about losing purchase orders or manually updating stock counts each time you make a sale. These processes are all automated and 100% reliable, since they don’t depend on manual touches and human intervention.

Get ahead of the holidays

In order to really deliver this holiday season, you’ll need more than a solid forecasting strategy. Leveraging a clear workflow and strategically placed operational improvements helps keep your productivity high under times of stress. 2020 may have changed some shopper habits, but there’s plenty of time yet for your company to adjust their strategies.

If you’re looking to keep the productivity improvements going, but aren’t sure where to start, check out our diagnostic tool. Answer a few questions about your current processes, and we’ll analyze where you can boost the efficiency of your supply chain. We’ll also provide guide to distribution best practices, compiled from advice from seasoned industry experts. Together, we’ll help your company reach its full potential.

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