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Managing the three phases of peak season

According to the National Retail Federation, holiday retail sales increased 5.5 percent in 2017 – the highest sales gain since the Great Recession. With consumer confidence nearing an 18-year high, peak season isn’t likely to slow down any time soon. 

You’ve likely begun prepping your warehouse for retail’s “golden quarter” even earlier to meet this uptick in sales, which means now is a good time to review your processes for before, during and after the rush. Adopting a mindset of efficiency will drive a more productive peak season, from planning in August to returns in January. 

Because the holidays are the “season of giving,” we thought we’d get into the spirit of the season by providing some tips to consider during the three phases of peak season:

Pre-peak: It’s in the details

A strategic holiday season plan is a must-have for any successful warehouse. But what should an effective plan include? 

For starters, complete an in-depth inventory audit to ensure your bulk and overflow areas are prepared for additional stock. Examine your peak season 2017 sales data to determine which items sold quickest, and make sure to have extra inventory on hand. If you have a best-of-breed warehouse management system (WMS), your software can manage this data, keeping it in one easily accessible location and simplifying the inventory process. 

In addition, it’s important to ensure your warehouse layout is optimized to accommodate your stock and fulfilment processes. Using sales data maintained by your WMS, you’ll have the numbers needed to justify a warehouse reorganization, moving popular items closer to packing stations to reduce picking time. 

Also, don’t forget about the benefits of building up. Consider installing different racking, slotting and picking faces and consolidate item locations to make the most of your warehouse space. 

Peak: Lend a helping hand

Planning for peak season is one thing. Execution is another. How do you manage the height of peak season without breaking the bank? 

For most warehouses, temporary labor is the answer. By hiring outside help to manage repetitive tasks, you can increase productivity and efficiency. Temporary labor also frees up more experienced employees to manage more complicated warehouse tasks.


If you’re looking at a staff increase this holiday season, first ensure your training processes are easy to grasp and take no longer than a day. You can relieve much of this burden by investing in an intuitive WMS and focusing sessions on mastering the technology. Take note of those who catch on quickly, and consider placing them on more complex tasks if you believe they’re ready. This promotes loyalty, and helps you develop a pool of labor you can call throughout the year in case of demand spikes. 

If you have prepared properly, your WMS, warehouse and staff will operate like a well-oiled machine to help you manage even the most stressful peak season. 

Post-peak: Return of the gifts

Peak season doesn’t end after the mad rush of orders – next come returns. January and February are just as important in maintaining successful peak season operations as September-December. 

You need a detailed plan for handling the inevitable reverse logistics crunch after Christmas. Speed and organization are key. That means you’ll need to have the proper technology to automate and streamline product return processes. 

A best-of-breed WMS can do this for you.  You can configure your WMS to specific rules, helping you develop a flow for returned products based on product type, reason for return and whether they can be resold. Armed with this plan, your warehouse can be optimized to facilitate returns and determine if/where such returned products can be stored. 

Lessons learned

From pre-rush planning, to staying cool in the heat of peak season and mastering reverse logistics, it’s important to review your peak season plan and prior year performance. You’ll identify pain points and make improvements to your warehouse processes. 

Ask yourself what areas you exceeded in and where you could improve, and factor your findings into a plan of action and improvement. Then, consider what moves you need to make in preparation for peak season 2019. Remember, it’s just around the corner!


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