Seasonal Supply Chain Planning Recommendations for Online Retailers

October 18, 2013

Seasonality in the supply chain is top of mind for most retailers, particularly at this time of year in the run up to the holidays.

Cover of "Happy Holidays! (Miniature Edit...
Your seasonal supply chain planning can help customers to have ‘Happy Holidays!’

Although the familiar images of Black Friday store stampedes and sold-out star toys will be shown as much this holiday season as any other, more U.S. consumers than ever will do a majority of their shopping online this year. The National Retail Federation confirms this, assigning an $82 billion value to its projected 13-15% growth in online holiday sales.

This ecommerce boom makes managing the surge in seasonal demand on your supply chain more important than ever.

Managing Supply Chain Seasonality

There are several extra considerations to take into account as you deploy your seasonal supply chain planning.

Keep the following in mind as you make decisions that will affect how quickly your end customer receives that all-important gift:

Analyze and Forecast Purchase Trends

Review the previous season’s buying activity and compare it to more recent trends. Make note of which products seem set to spike in your industry, as well as those that are lagging, and factor this into your ordering. Close coordination with suppliers and industry purchasing experts can help you to prioritize and plan for the season’s hot items.

Maintain Daily Monitoring

Keep an eye on the most important products you’ll be bringing in, to identify any potentially industry-wide delays as early as possible. Review the key points (locations, transport options etc) in the supply chain that will impact transit times and monitor news reports for these areas as well. ‘Forewarned is forearmed,’ as the old adage goes.

Confirm lead times (and build in some slack)

The most popular items will undoubtedly experience shortages and shipping snags. Confirm with your suppliers just how long the lead time from order to receipt is for the most important products in your holiday portfolio, then build in significant slack to allow you to compensate for any shipment hiccups.

Allocate specific resources to manage the seasonal surge

Even with more than adequate planning, expecting the unexpected is still one of the keys to successful supply chain management. Dedicating extra team resources and keeping some slack at each stage of your order process will allow you to react quickly to problems and minimize disruption. Assign broadly talented, experienced team members to deal with particularly high-risk areas that you identify in your planning.

At this busiest time of year for many, issues will almost certainly arise in satisfying the demands of your customers. By preparing for these challenges before they arise with cautious planning and a responsive logistics team, you can maximize the opportunity to have customers associate your business with ‘Happy Holidays!’

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