Keep your warehouse management system from failing during peak season

Posted by Steve Bayley 8 Jan, 2016


The Christmas period can create huge demands for various industries. Many Christmas-dependent businesses receive up to 50% of their orders in the last quarter of the year, with the last month of the year being the busiest. Without an optimised Warehouse Management System (WMS) in place, these companies could find that distribution becomes backlogged and customer service levels dip.

Research from Temando suggests that UK micro, small, mid-size and enterprise retailers were not well prepared for shipping challenges over Christmas 2015. The survey found that 79% weren’t well prepared in regards to back-end logistics such as pick and pack, labelling, documentation and transfer to carriers. It also revealed that many retailers’ back-end shipping processes weren’t fully automated, with 66% admitting that warehouse management systems were either manual or “only somewhat automated”.

Now, it’s a new year and a new start. So what lessons can we learn from the problems experienced during the last peak season?

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail

Planning and preparation is key to ensuring that performance levels stay high and disruptions are minimal. Analyse historic data to get a sense of what you should expect, and look at forecast data in order to spot any upcoming trends.

A revised strategy may be necessary to handle increased volumes - for example, hiring temporary staff to meet the labour demands. Use your gathered knowledge to estimate the volume of orders that you need to be moving daily in order to keep up with demand.

Identify special processes for the peak season

We can safely assume that order volumes will increase over any peak period, but it’s important to consider more complex changes. Every holiday or major event comes with its unique quirks - for instance, increased delivery demands affect the Christmas period every year, so moving your order deadlines a day or two earlier than usual can reduce stress and set more realistic fulfilment expectations with consumers.

Special operational conditions should be identified, analysed and planned for well in advance to avoid any last minute slip ups. Needless to say, it’s vital that all this is organised well before the peak season arrives!

Avoid any disruptions and maintenance

In a fast-paced environment during peak season, it can be hard to keep track of what’s going on. For this reason, system changes should be avoided during peak season at all costs.

Try to review all IT systems well before the peak period hits, and make sure you can handle peak season increases in volume. Testing should identify any operational and system bottlenecks, so audits should be scheduled and conducted by a pre-determined date.

Appropriate maintenance windows should also be set to minimise the impact to service (especially if you need to consider additional or extended shift patterns which would usually not need to be accounted for).

Plan for the worst

In the event that issues arise during peak season, strategies should be in place and staff should be trained to quickly and efficiently deal with the situation, minimising disruption.

Support and contingency plans should involve vendor support. This may include remote dedicated support, tailored to the appropriate depth of product knowledge, resource availability and degree of risk aversion.

Perform a post peak season follow up

Try to take a minute during the rush, and be mindful of anything you might want to do differently next year. Follow up on any problems that occurred, and analyse how any emergencies were dealt with. What worked or didn’t work? Were any valuable lessons learned? Holding a review meeting with employees can help to gather this information.

Optimise your warehouse management system

Planning and preparation are one thing, but for many companies, their WMS just isn’t up to the job. Learn how to fix that problem for 2016 by reading our WMS guide. We've examined how an adaptable WMS can benefit any growing business - simply follow the link to learn more.

Topics: Warehouse management