As we move into Spring after a chaotic 2020, it is understandable that the traditional December peak season is not the first thing on your mind. Unfortunately, it is going to be here before you know it, and the COVID-19 pandemic has set in motion several trends that you will need in order to be ready for peak season eight months from now. But the good news is that there are some things you can do in the next few months to better position yourself.

Under normal circumstances, the pressures on your operation could be addressed by implementing new systems or adding additional labor, but these are not normal times. The parcel carriers, and many of the larger e-commerce providers, are implementing new systems this summer, resulting in diminished capacity by suppliers. And the existing challenge of finding distribution center labor was only exacerbated over the last year, making it extremely difficult to get qualified staff in place in time to help during peak.

So, although it may be too late this year to make major capital improvements, there are still actions that you can take:

1. Analyze your operation to find the vulnerable areas – This seems self-explanatory, but in the heat of last year’s battles, it may have felt that everything was a problem. A concerted effort to analyze all your data may turn up some surprising findings. For example, what may have appeared to be a delay in getting orders to shipping may have been a replenishment issue resulting in the inability to finish orders in time to make carrier cutoff times.

2. Improve what you can in time for peak – Your analysis may indicate widespread areas that should be augmented but be realistic with what you can accomplish in the next few months. Leave enough time to thoughtfully design, implement, and test out any changes well ahead of when you will be expecting those modifications to be needed.

3. Determine your parcel carrier strategy now – A few shippers found out last year that there were limited options available when they needed add new carriers. Expecting skyrocketing volumes, and concerned about their capacity, some carriers declined new business or placed limits on current customers. To minimize risk, consider a mix of the large nationwide carriers as well as the regional providers.

4. Plan your 2022 projects – Now is a prime time to plan for your major projects that will support 2022 peak as well as your long-term goals. Material handling systems, software implementations, or other projects are best tackled early enough to adequately define your requirements, select the proper partner, install, and test. Rushing to ‘squeak’ a solution in the nick of time rarely works out well for either the shipper or system supplier.

Increased parcel volumes are going to be with us again this peak. With some proactive analysis and planning you should be well positioned to meet your service expectations without resorting to drastic measures.

Jim McLafferty is the Director of Post & Parcel Sales at DMW&H. With over 25 years of experience in the material handling industry, Jim is a thought leader in postal deliveries and parcel shipments, and the equipment and systems needed within a warehouse or distribution center to facilitate package deliveries. He can be reached at or 201.635.3439.