This appeared in the November/December, 2018 issue of PARCEL.

    Whether you are several months into your peak season or you are looking ahead to a busy time, it’s important to check your list. Hopefully, many of you had the foresight to take stock of the “peak season readiness” items that would make this time a little less chaotic. If you don’t have such a list, now is the time to develop one in order to make your next year run more smoothly. Whether it’s things that are going wrong or things that should have been changed or shown some attention before the season began, be sure to add it to your list now.

    The following list is not all-inclusive, but it should give you a few ideas. For those of you that are strictly e-commerce, you know this season could be a crap shoot; you could end up with a blowout, and I’m not talking snow! If you are lucky enough to have the top toys or items for Christmas, how efficiently you can pick, pack, and ship will determine how many items you will be able to sell.

    • Check with your vendors. If all items are not barcoded, can you work with them to get everything barcoded before it arrives at your receiving dock? If your vendor system or your system doesn’t have the capability to send advanced shipping notices (ASNs), discuss other options like an email notification of when a full truckload is going to arrive.
    • If you don’t already have crossdocking stations, set up these stations for the fast movers or high-volume/high-demand items. Receive and ship in the same process.
    • One of the most common problems is that regular season replenishment cycles cannot keep up with the volume, so your order fillers are waiting for product or holding orders. The more orders that have to be held creates confusion, chaos, and safety hazards. You may have to double up on the replenishment staff.
    • Speaking of staffing… Hopefully, months ago, you identified a potential source of ready workforce. Work with your local colleges or workforce development sources in your state; they may be able to help you if you waited. Also, don’t forget social media; many stay-at-home parents are looking to make some extra dollars during this season. Send out a post and start a shift for the hours the children are in school.
    • Check out all equipment! Have it maintained and peak season-ready before the season begins.
    • Have a backup plan if your system goes down or if your equipment stops working. Hopefully, you won’t need to utilize the plan, but having one may determine your success or failure if you do.
    • Review your temporary employee training. Is it easy to understand? Temps often fail because the company’s training failed. Telling a new person once how to do it and expecting them to go do it correctly is a mistake ready to happen. Tools such as signage and step-by-step laminated cards for them to take with them may help.
    • Supplies like cartons, dunnage, and tape will be flying out the door. Instead of allowing supplies to block major aisles or premium storage spaces, you may want to pull up an extra trailer to store supplies close to the packing stations.
    • Work with your shippers on pick-up times. Ordinary pick-up times may not be sufficient for the e-commerce rush. Discuss extending the times or adding extra times into the process.
    • Don’t plan on extra meetings, implementations, or other company programs during your peak. Taking your eye off the ball of shipping your customers orders may be detrimental.
    • Lastly, meet with your customer service department. Find out the top 10 complaints from the previous year and work with your team to eliminate the processes causing those complaints. And don’t forget to reward your team on December 26 if you survived the Christmas rush. They will remember your gratitude and will be even more likely to assist in making the next year successful.

    Susan Rider, President of Rider & Associates, can be reached at