Only 41 days until Christmas 2017 and retailers are already weeks into promoting holiday deals. It seems like every year stores start to promote holiday shopping earlier and earlier, and according to the National Retail Federation, 2017 holiday retail sales are expected to be up 3.6-4% over last year. This means competition will be fierce between traditional retail brick and mortar stores, online retailers and eCommerce marketplaces such as Amazon. With shoppers purchasing products in-store and online from desktop and mobile devices, the efficient flow of inventory between sales channels, along the supply chain and across borders, is imperative to win consumer confidence and take advantage of the expected increase in sales. For wholesale distribution businesses, this requires the order fulfillment process to be optimized and efficient. Proper back-end inventory and accounting wholesale ERP software is one way in which businesses can ensure the right product gets to the right customer in a timely manner. But there are several other considerations to keep in mind.
Communication with Suppliers
Communication with suppliers is imperative when it comes to purchasing requirements around the holiday season and other busy times of the year. If you communicate through EDI or other electronic channels for submitting and receiving purchase orders, ensure that all systems are fully integrated to avoid duplication of work and manual processes during peak times. With EDI, working with a trusted integration partner will ensure information easily flows between your back-end inventory and accounting ERP solution and that of your suppliers. This means order details and shipment information gets automatically populated between systems. When working with suppliers overseas, make sure you have a system in place that accounts for expected lead times based on supplier location, and then incorporates this information when setting up inventory min, max and reorder levels.
Communication with Customers
Whether you sell direct to consumers or to other businesses, proper communication with your customers is imperative to winning sales this holiday season. Behind the scenes, proper integration with all sales channels (including the phone, email, eCommerce, EDI, in-person, mobile etc.) is important so that inventory information, orders, pricing details and payment information flows between front-facing eCommerce sites and your back-end wholesale ERP system. A sophisticated ERP solution will consolidate all orders into an easy-to-use sales review screen with data maintained in a single database so information is accurate across all sales channels. On the front-end, real-time integration between your wholesale ERP solution and eCommerce sites ensures customers have access to accurate pricing and inventory quantity information. Proper integration also means systems automatically share information with customers such as order confirmations, shipping details, and tracking information.
To properly prepare your warehouse staff for an increase in order volume, the first step is to optimize warehouse processes. Setting up specific inventory locations and bin and shelf numbers will make it easy for employees to walk the warehouse floor picking orders. Consolidated pick slips based on bin and shelf location allow employees to pick product for multiple orders at the same time. Consider setting up your warehouse by zone so that inventory items are easy to find and access. Zones may include locations for fast-moving items, slow-moving items, heavy items requiring machinery to access and pick/put-away, high-security items, and refrigerated items. Barcode scanning is another tool to optimize warehouse processes. Simple verification scanning allows employees to scan items at dedicated packing stations before items are shipped to customers. Mobile picking further automates the picking, packing and shipping process by enabling employees to scan items during the picking process to identify errors and verify items at the source.
Whether your business delivers product to your customers or sends items via common carrier, automated shipping processes help reduce errors and speed up the order fulfillment process. When working with common carriers, find a wholesale ERP solution that will integrate with shipping companies so that order, address, shipping and tracking details automatically populate between systems. Furthermore, efficient workflows set up within your ERP system take into account other shipping processes by allowing employees to automatically print or email invoices, and even post the invoice, after an order has been marked as “shipped”.
Depending on where you live, the holidays are also known to bring cold weather and flu season. Even if your geographic location does not result in an uptake in sick days, many employees take extended vacation time over the holidays – a consideration that is important when trying to maintain staff levels to keep up with demand. Because of this, a lot of businesses hire temporary staff to work in the warehouse and help with the picking, packing, and shipping of orders. The better trained existing employees are, and the more efficient your warehouse processes, the easier it will be to train temporary workers and the quicker they will be productive. Implementation of tools such as mobile barcode scanning – where the use of paper and manual processes is essentially eliminated – is an easy way to eliminate the issues associated with human errors and onboarding new staff.