What you’ll learn:
- Why peak season poses additional challenges for warehouse workers
- What warehouse managers should do to anticipate rising demand
The typical warehouse peak season spans from October to January. Operations ramp up as customers prepare for the winter holidays by purchasing goods at physical and online stores. This massive rise in demand requires warehouse workers to prepare for picking and boxing goods for shipment. Applying some practical and thoughtful solutions helps people get ready for the surge.
Hire More Team Members
A good starting point for anticipating the warehouse peak season is to increase the workforce size and get all new hires well-trained for the coming months. It’s sometimes easier to plan for a hiring blitz than to implement one, though. That’s mainly because warehouse work is physically demanding and not everyone is interested in doing it during high-pressure periods.
Hiring professionals can make the prospect more attractive by boosting worker perks. For example, Amazon recently announced it will hire 250,000 more people in the United States for the holiday season. Part of that push is a $1.3 billion investment in wage increases. The company also launched a financial assistance pilot program and an emergency savings initiative. Those benefits are necessary, particularly since Amazon has a reputation for being an extremely demanding place to work any time of the year.
Any hiring strategy must include thorough training. Peak season operations will be fast-paced, but new workers will be well-equipped to handle them when they’ve learned the skills necessary for success.
Explore Financially Accessible Robots
The relatively short time frame of warehouse peak season makes the period great for investing in robots through leases. Customers can rent these advanced machines for limited periods, making it easy to budget for the equipment, and take advantage of it to prepare for and get through the peak season.
Supply chain company DHL is one of the major names relying on leased robots to cope with peak season demands. Executives planned to bring 2,000 machines into facilities during last year’s seasonal rush. Pitney Bowes Inc. also relied on leased robots to handle the uptick in packages during its busiest months.
These use cases represent the emerging but already popular robots-as-a-service market. The specifics vary depending on the provider. However, customers generally pay flat fees to cover aspects such as installation, maintenance and repairs. Then, the remainder of what they pay represents how much the machines get used.
Besides targeting clients who want to optimize peak season operations, this business model is ideal for those ready to see how robots could modernize their facilities and raise productivity. The convenient thing is people can do that without making significant financial investments. Many lease the robots first, see how the machines perform and then make additional decisions about whether to purchase them eventually.
One of the reasons peak season is such a challenging time in warehouses relates to the volume of packages and merchandise. Fortunately, robots excel with the additional workload because they do best with repetitive tasks workers may find boring or physically demanding. Robots shouldn’t replace employees but can support them, making their roles more enjoyable and less taxing.
Prioritize Continuous Improvement
The increased activity levels in a warehouse during peak season can elevate the severity of any mistakes made. For example, a seemingly small programming error could send thousands of packages to the wrong distribution center before someone notices what happened.
Peak season can also exacerbate the effects of non-optimized processes, including those with unnecessary steps. Statistics indicate people encounter 85% of quality issues due to poor operations and materials. Taking care of some of those before warehouse peak season gets into full swing can result in fewer errors and happier customers.
Managers should begin by getting feedback from workers about the current processes they find prohibitively time consuming, error ridden or otherwise problematic. Asking employees for input will help them feel included and motivated by the prospect of better workflows coming soon.
It’s also important to analyze the specific things that slow a process down or negatively impact quality. Once people identify them, it becomes easier to find the solutions. Would it help to target something specific in employee training sessions? Should the company invest in a new piece of equipment? Does the current warehouse layout make the identified issues worse?
Leaders must also realize people need time to adjust to process changes. That means it’ll take a while to see if the new approaches help. Relatedly, warehouse managers should introduce changes gradually, especially since peak season brings plenty of extra stress by itself. It’s important to track key metrics during the process since those will make it easier to see if a process is gradually getting better after managers enact a particular change.
Tighten Inventory Management Methods
Warehouse team members use various techniques to increase the likelihood of having the items customers want. Demand forecasting relies on advanced algorithms to calculate how the public’s demand for particular items will fluctuate. People working at large facilities often use RFID tags to see the exact locations of pallets, boxes or individual products.
Although those technologies help warehouse workers prepare for peak season, some may still fall short. A 2023 study of holiday shoppers found 67% of respondents had purchased items online and later learned about their unavailability. That’s understandably frustrating and caused 78% of people in the survey to want to see inventory levels while shopping. Such information could prompt them to purchase the low-stock items they want immediately or place them in an online shopping cart to signal their seriousness about buying them.
The survey also revealed another reason why it could pay off to make inventory management as effective as possible. People want free shipping and 84% will ensure they buy enough to meet free shipping minimums.
Warehouse team members play an important role in bolstering shopper loyalty by keeping in-demand products in stock. Effective inventory management procedures will give workers and customers accurate data about what’s ready to buy, and what’s back-ordered due to high demand.
Start Focusing on Peak Season Operations Today
These best practices will help warehouse managers and other affected parties make smart, worthwhile decisions while preparing for a facility’s busiest period. People can apply them this year and for the foreseeable future as they work hard to meet higher demands and satisfy customers.