In this past election, voters were faced with two very contrasting alternatives. Decisions on peak season fulfillment center staffing are similarly distinct: you have two very different alternatives to choose between.
On the one hand you have the Don’t Get Caught Short-Handed camp, which presumes any understaffing during peak season leads to inexcusable fulfillment bottlenecks and delays.
On the other, you have Team Waste Not, which understands that each superfluous worker you have on the warehouse floor represents a huge and unnecessary expense.
Thankfully for you, there’s a third, highly viable warehouse labor planning option that effectively combines the best of both of these approaches. It involves forecasting to create an optimized labor plan. This year, more than ever, there are many reasons why it deserves your company’s vote.
Reducing Volatility During Volatile Times
Let’s begin by addressing the two elephants in the room.
First, as its name suggests, forecasting is all about predictability. Thanks to the pandemic, this year has essentially been a study in unpredictability. As a result, it will be extra difficult to get a precise bead on your potential holiday sales volumes, except to expect that the 2020 peak shipping season will be considerably busier.
Your fulfillment team can still benefit from a forecast, however, because even a partially correct one is better than no forecast at all. This is especially true if you are working with a 3PL that has robust forecasting tools and can collaborate with you to generate a realistic and workable forecast.
Second, if you haven’t already begun forecasting for peak season, you are admittedly late to the party – because the window of opportunity for long-term holiday forecasting closed a long time ago. However, good forecasts don’t just come in yearly and quarterly increments. Provided you have the data, you can still provide your fulfillment team with valid monthly, weekly, or daily forecasts – all of which can be highly useful for warehouse labor planning. Here at Amware Fulfillment, we’re successfully using such forecasts to optimize labor for many clients.
Your fulfillment operation is hungry for data
So what kinds of data are needed to populate a valid fulfillment forecast?
Perhaps the best way to answer that is with another question: What kinds of data and background information does your company already have? In many cases, the things you’ve used to plan your manufacturing, sales, marketing, and other business functions are equally valid for creating a fulfillment forecast. Don’t ever underestimate your 3PL’s or internal fulfillment department’s appetite for data – even things you think might not be of use to these professionals often are.
These include quantitative data such as:
- Monthly sales averages
- Seasonal sales trends
- Day of the week sales trends
- The previous year’s sales figures
They also include some of the factors that will impact the number of touches your orders require, including:
- The ratio of your orders that are B2B vs. B2C
- Your typical number of lines per order and units per order
- Information about how your order profile might have changed
- The complexity of your pick and pack, including whether it involves kitting services or an elaborate presentation
- Information about how product will be coming in and/or going out; for example, is it palletized?
In addition, the data may provide a heads up about the kinds of events that could lead to extra short-term labor requirements in the warehouse, such as:
- Special marketing campaigns
- Sales blitzes
- Special offer programs, such as reduced-price shipping
A vote for forecasting is a vote for better labor efficiency
Now we know what you’re thinking: “What difference can short-term forecasts actually make now that peak season is here – and what can a 3PL or internal fulfillment department do with this information to make our operations better?”
By giving your fulfillment team fair warning about the volumes headed their way, they can provide you with a more calibrated and accurate warehouse labor plan for peak season – one that helps you better manage fulfillment costs without compromising customer service. That’s a huge advantage when you consider that labor is the single largest fulfillment center expense .
Some labor planning strategies that might result from this data include:
- Adding extra shifts staffed with seasonal workers so you can reduce your overtime expense
- Using a part-time workforce to complement your existing staffing schedules
- Planning to share full-time personnel between two 3PL accounts that have different busy times of the week or month
Having a good forecast also enables your fulfillment team to give temporary agencies advanced notice of how many extra workers will be needed. That, in turn, increases the team’s chances of actually getting these personnel when the time comes – the more notice, the better the chances in this very busy shipping season.
For more information about how you can leverage forecast data to significantly reduce fulfillment center labor costs, contact Amware Fulfillment today.