The Importance of the Holiday Season
Online sales have historically risen year over year. Since most Americans are returning to normal work, life, and shopping habits, we expect to see continued movement in online sales and, potentially, a massive spike in physical store sales. It’s hard to overstate the significance of the holidays to supply chain businesses. Triumph in the high-stress holiday season is sometimes crucial for success in the following, quieter months.
But the fact is, we’re still dealing with massive supply chain disruptions like the bullwhip effect on a global scale due to the pandemic. Therefore, it’s never been more critical to establish a clear plan that fully uses the many technological resources at your disposal. So, when is the best time to start?
The Best Time to Start Is… Yesterday
Truthfully, the best time to start preparing was last month (or better yet, Q1), but our expertise tends towards integration & automation rather than time travel. So, that leaves us with the next best thing - start today.
The good news is that there are many ways to start preparing for the holidays right now, and we’re going to help guide you through six of them. Starting now, you can:
- Invest in cloud-based Electronic Data Interchange (EDI)
- Examine and evaluate your supplier base
- Prepare a flexible procurement plan
- Ensure you have enough inventory space
- Assess your sales channels for expansion
- Start creating holiday content for your website
1. Invest in Cloud-based EDI for Faster, Integrated Order Processing
If you don’t already have an EDI solution, now is the time to invest in one, well before the orders start pouring in. EDI automates key order document exchanges between you and your supply chain partners. Businesses without EDI must input key information manually, which is significantly less efficient.
Manual processes can lead to two issues. In a situation where holiday orders are through the roof, your team will be limited by its size and work hours. In that case, it may be impossible to keep up with the rush, and if orders aren’t processed within a reasonable amount of time at the retail level, customers aren’t happy. Likewise, orders processed manually by those same stressed-out team members could potentially lead to costly errors and chargebacks.
Or you could integrate an EDI solution and automate most of the information sharing process. This reduces the risk of errors and chargebacks and accelerates the order-to-cash cycle while enabling greater supply chain visibility that keeps your partners happy and your business agile. Automation also makes it easier to scale during high-volume periods without relying on seasonal hires.
If you already have an EDI provider, but aren’t getting the automation and integration you need during peak season, now is the time to upgrade to a cloud-based EDI solution for maximum flexibility and agility. Not only will it eliminate errors and enable order processing at all hours of the day. Integrated EDI also frees up team members to focus on work that adds greater value than filling in boxes with information you already have.
2. Examine and Evaluate Your Supplier Base
We don’t want to diminish the importance of diversifying your supply chain partners, but the truth is, supply relationships only succeed if you treat them as such. In other words, successfully working with supply chain partners requires a proactive and transparent relationship built around the goal of mutual success.
One win-win way to do this is by increasing visibility across your supply partners via vendor managed inventory, or VMI, something we’ll cover in more detail below.
But first, consider that all of your supply chain partners have been selected to fulfill a certain role. One important question to ask of each one of them is, are they fulfilling the role they were meant to as a partner? Again, it boils down to reaching the goal of mutual success. If they aren’t fulfilling their role, they might not be the best partner for your business– but how do you check this?
Fortunately, one of the many benefits of EDI solutions is that they offer in-depth analytics including supplier performance. By determining a well-defined set of KPIs, you can gauge supply partner effectiveness in terms of on-time, in-full deliveries, compliance, and chargeback instances.
We know it isn’t possible to holiday-proof your business, but if you can leverage EDI software properly, you can set yourself up with backup suppliers and focus on high-profit, high sales products despite potential supply chain disruptions.
3. Prepare a Flexible Procurement Plan
Flexibility and agility will give you an upper hand in a constantly changing and stressed market. It’s still recovering, and no one can say if it will return to the way it was, much less when.
If you want to keep a close eye on buyer trends and make smart procurement decisions accordingly, the answer is VMI. Vendor-managed inventory (VMI) is a collaborative solution that gives suppliers real-time visibility into downstream partner inventory movements. Sales data is automatically sent to the VMI system, which combines that information with advanced forecasting algorithms and pre-set procurement rules like min-max shelf presence and item stratification categories.
This means better forecasting, faster response time to in-the-moment customer demand, optimised shipments, and improved in-stock rates. It also helps you to anticipate and consolidate truckloads. This means you can build fewer but fuller trucks, thereby saving on transportation costs, and mitigating the impact of the current driver shortage.
4. Ensure You Have Sufficient Inventory Space
One of the effects of the pandemic is that we are simply out of inventory space. Ports are still congested, and warehouses are full.
Now is the best time to anticipate inventory space issues and plan ahead by looking at different routes to market or, in some cases, partnering with third-party logistics professionals (3PLs) well before the fourth quarter.
VMI software can help here, too. For retailers and wholesalers, better procurement practices can mean less safety stock investment, which saves a lot of space. For manufacturers, VMI can more accurately predict necessary manufacturing levels and timing, so less product sits unsold or in waiting.
5. Assess Your Sales Channels for Expansion
It’s an accurate statement in any industry or channel: businesses tend to do what is familiar. Some companies advertise in the local paper exclusively. Others rely almost entirely on Amazon’s infrastructure. Some sell in two or three channels, but shy away from emerging sales trends like BOPIS.
But there’s always an opportunity to expand your sales channels into unexplored territory. For DtC sellers, dropship programs and marketplaces hold already-curated customer bases for you to access. For manufacturers, B2B eCommerce can help connect your business to digitally-savvy buyers. Or, if you only sell via a B2C eCommerce storefront, options like scan-based trading could help you create retail brick-and-mortar relationships.
To manage all this, we recommend a solution that is connected across your sales channels. In most cases, a unified commerce platform can allow you to manage all of your sales channels in one place and even allow you to send orders directly to your accounting or ERP system.
6. Start Creating Holiday Content for Your Website
Of course, in recommending the above courses of action, we want to remind you not to lose sight of your marketing and content efforts. Building out branded, appealing content is a great way to get a unique edge on the competition. Overwhelmed by the amount of content you or your team have to manage? A product information management system (PIM) system might be right for you. Rather than relying on spreadsheets, emails, data entry, manufacturer specs, and so on, a PIM offers a single, dynamic source of truth you can use to gather, enrich, and publish your content.
Get Started Today - At TrueCommerce, We Can Help
There may be a lot to do, but getting started sooner will help prepare you for the holidays, which will be here before you know it. If you can focus on getting the most out of your solutions, you can prepare for success in the face of the holiday rush. Agile, integrated solutions like the ones by TrueCommerce offer unparalleled cohesiveness across your business that puts you in control of your most important data. These solutions, combined with clear, optimised processes, will help you not just to survive the holiday season but to thrive in it.