The retail holiday season is knocking. Or wait, is it already here? Accenture’s consumer holiday research study shared that 44% of consumers start their holiday shopping earlier to get what they need in time for the holidays. And we hear that foot traffic in Walmart, Target, Best Buy, Nordstrom, Kohl’s and Macy’s has decreased by an average of 3.22%, year-on-year for the period between Black Friday to Christmas. When compared to pre-pandemic, it lowered by nearly 5% (Source – Placer.ai, an analytics firm). Although, historically, the shopping season kicked in with Black Friday, today that timeline is blurred. Trends display that the number of Brands and their consumers engaging with each other sooner are more.
Meeting customers when and where they want to shop is just the beginning of a profitable retailer story. Forget the past year, shopping trends have changed in the last 6 months. Flexible purchase, social shopping, green responsibility, influencers vs friends, family, mobile usage have all changed the landscape. So what are the supply chain strategies that’ll help Brands sail through the 2023 retail holiday season? What do they need to turn the dollar tides in their favour this year? Are there any recommended fulfillment strategies to look out for? We’ll try to get there.
Brace Yourself for the Data
A Justuno survey says that 55.89% of U.S. consumers plan to shop online this year, and 63.36% of them plan to spend the same or more than they did during the 2022 holiday season. The same report says that over a quarter of US consumers will start shopping before October 2023. Adobe’s holiday shopping study in 2022 says holiday season led to online spending of $211.7 billion.
IDC says by 2025, 20% of the top 100 global retailers will drive holistic business results using distributed AI systems with integrated data across retail planning, decisions, operations, and optimization. These analysts said that 50% of retailers will increase data management and governance technology investments by at least 20% to harness insights from spiraling amounts of data to grow omnichannel revenue. By 2026, retailers will solve the challenge of matching inventory plans to omnichannel orders, resulting in a 15% reduction in split shipments, 7% reduction in packaging, and a 20% increase in customer experience.
Ring in the Season with Smooth Operations
What retailers need is a well-equipped operations backed by a solid fulfillment strategy that can leverage the demand surge during the season of joy. This means sufficient inventory levels, optimized supply chain and logistics processes, and scalable staffing. Then there is physical inventory management and coordination with partners and suppliers, a seamless system to support ecommerce operations and an uber customer experience. All are equally important.
Our recommendations for Retailers on supply chain strategies start with a quick look at some softer parameters
Strategic Planning: A key component to capitalize on the increased demand. This must have thorough data analysis and utilization of appropriate forecasting tools. Your battle is half won when you have actionable insights from past data and use advanced forecasting tools. By examining historical sales, customer behaviours, and market trends, you can make informed decisions.
Execution Tactics: Once holiday volumes are accurately determined, it’s time for preparations. Identify holiday-specific operational flows, optimize inventory stocking levels, and consider necessary floor layout changes in the warehouse to facilitate quicker fulfilment cycles.
Labor Planning: This one’s tricky. You must be quick to assess staffing needs and initiate hiring processes, considering both permanent and temporary workers. Adequate training for temporary staff is essential, factoring in hiring and training times to ensure their proficiency in specific flows.
Time to go into the other side. A couple of considerations that could help system readiness from the fulfilment perspective, particularly in Warehouse/Distribution Center/Fulfilment Center operations are:
- Collecting and analysing peak season data
- Identifying and validating holiday specific flows
- Planning, hiring and training temporary workers
- Auditing, sizing and tuning of systems such as Order Management Systems (OMS),
Warehouse Management Systems (WMS), and Transportation Management Systems (TMS) to handle expected volumes
- Evaluation of integration capabilities to ensure seamless communication between systems
To ensure system stability under varying workloads, one must have the right sized hardware and software. An expert review helps determine the right specifications for Application Servers and Database Servers like:
- Number of application server instances
- Number of cores
- Size of RAM
- OS levels
- Heap size, Listeners, JVM settings, etc.
Some critical steps to optimize performance during application tuning:
- Configure the required number of server instances
- Address memory leaks and unnecessary iterations in the code
- Fine-tune parameters like maximum threads and connection pool size
- Monitor, analyse, tune heap utilization and garbage collection to ensure efficient resource management for optimal performance
Deeper analysis, particularly for databases, involve:
- Introducing new indexes
- Reviewing the execution plans
- Tuning long-running queries
- Disk Layout and IOPS settings
- Allocating the right garbage collection (GC) settings
- Managing the maximum number of concurrent connections, etc.
And finally, the integration layer facilitating communication between systems must be continuously monitored and adapted. In microservices and cloud architectures, effective message communication is crucial. Monitor and optimize message queues, adjust the number of consumers, and tweak queue depths to prevent peak period glitches.
Tis’ the Season for Great Deals and Mutual Profitability
Let’s not forget, consumers are as cautious about spending their dollars as they are about
celebrating. Empathy is your friend here. Investing time and effort into understanding the consumer pulse and then delivering will be key. With a strong Warehouse Management system in place, this shouldn’t be a problem. Of course, businesses who have the eye to identify this need as a must-do are probably to going to win the retail holiday season war.
Consumers are looking forward to holiday shopping! Make it worth their while
Investing time and effort in these readiness exercises are crucial for a profitable retail holiday season. They’ll enable effective preparation, operational optimization, and the ability to meet customer expectations, ultimately capitalizing on revenue opportunities during this critical period.
Acuver’s WMS practice offers specialized holiday/peak season assessments. We’ve got it all to conduct thorough evaluations and analysis to ensure clients are well prepared for increased demands and unique challenges of the holiday season. We conduct performance tests on systems to assess its load handling capacity and share actionable insights for improvement.
We help Clients identify areas of improvement, deliver customised recommendations, and supply chain strategies to optimize warehouse operations, streamline processes, and enhance overall performance during peak seasons. Our comprehensive assessment helps businesses proactively address potential bottlenecks, improve efficiency, and deliver exceptional fulfilment experiences to customers, ultimately maximizing sales and revenue opportunities.
Author: Srinivasa Rao Kaigala