Unpacking: Seasonal Fulfillment
Winter often feels like the longest season, but if you're involved in procurement or planning inbound product movement, it's already long gone. Seasonal fulfillment means focusing on what consumers want several months down the line, rather than what's in the pipeline for the next few weeks.
In a world where it can take three to four weeks just to move cargo from an origin port halfway around the world to its U.S. destination, it will come as little surprise that the best brands are working on order fulfillment many months before that product is required.
Having only just examined the flurry of winter e-commerce, it may seem a jarring shift of gears to focus on products more suited to the summer. The truth is, however, that product planners are always a season or two ahead of the rest of us.
All of the ordering undertaken to satisfy that aforementioned holiday demand occurs over the summer months, with peak season for shipping in effect as we enter fall.
The Importance of Planning for Seasonal Fulfillment
Aside from the obvious need to satisfy customer demand, precisely executed seasonal planning has several other benefits.
First and foremost, it makes your brand look good. When you always have the right products available for order or on shelves, when and where your customers want them, sales are maximized and people trust that you'll be there when they need you.
Accurate seasonal fulfillment also delivers lower inventory holding levels. When managed well throughout the year, this can lead to some significant cumulative cost savings.
For example, the right time to start thinking about summer purchases - "beach season," if you're near either coasts or have a sunshine getaway planned - is clear in the minds of most consumers. As we approach the summer months, retailers need to have those products in transit and ready to move as quickly as possible from the shelves of the warehouse to those in the store. Bring that cargo in too early and it sits around incurring storage costs until the spring/summer shopping begins. Bring it in too late and you miss a chunk of the demand that caused it to be ordered in the first place.
Finally, successfully planning for the season's must-have items means that there will be less stock left over as customer demand moves on. We're all familiar with clearance sales featuring products that are significantly marked down. With all of the planning and expense of bringing a product line into the country, keeping those markdowns to a minimum is a key goal of every good planner.
Even the best product planners, of course, must face up to some common challenges.
Challenges of Seasonal Fulfillment
The reality of a global supply chain means that nothing is as simple as it might first seem. While advance planning for seasonal fulfillment is a fairly straightforward case of calculating overall lead times based on manufacturing, shipment, and intake of products in time for a set date, the reality of moving cargo halfway around the world inevitably throws up some hurdles.
Among the principal challenges of seasonal fulfillment are:
- Complexities caused by geographical differences: Seasonal changes hit different parts of the country at different moments, meaning intake of the same product may need to happen at different times around the U.S. to maximize efficiency/minimize holding costs.
- Being unfashionably late: The demands of fast fashion are squeezing lead times to the limit, driving ever-shorter order and shipment windows. Items in high demand might have a brief shelf life, making timely arrival a priority and perhaps negating the concern of stock holding costs.
- Potential for port delays: There's nothing quite like a labor dispute or unanticipated port congestion to completely unravel a solid seasonal fulfillment plan. Look no further than the long lines of vessels waiting to unload at the Port of Los Angeles/Long Beach last year, which caused many brands to miss their demand peak and swollen inventory levels that continue to impact the supply chain at the time of writing. We recommend a bicoastal fulfillment solution with good reason: when your cargo can't come in on one side of the country, you want an alternative route for inbound planning.
Although seasonal fulfillment isn't substantially more complex than sectors unaffected by seasonality, it does require experience and flexibility. That means the ability to quickly move to plan B - and perhaps even plans C and D! - when circumstances demand it.
With the right combination of knowledgable product planners and a fulfillment team that understands the nuances of your business, you'll be in a position to satisfy seasonal demand at just the right time to minimize storage costs and maximize customer satisfaction.