Do you have an inventory-induced headache after every holiday season? Do you spend the beginning of every new year recovering from stock-out fatigue? Is your mind still swirling with purchases orders and picking tickets and customer questions long after the holidays have come and gone?
If you ran into certain fulfillment problems during the holidays, the merry shopping season may not be to blame — your practices or outdated software might be.
There are several common problems suppliers and retailers run into during the holiday season, regardless of what they sell. Here are some all-too-familiar inventory conundrums that pop up during busy seasons — and possible solutions.
Could some of these solutions be implemented in your business and prevent that holiday panic? Read on.
Problem: You don't know what your bestsellers are, so you run out of stock quick.
You thought you had a pretty good hunch when it came to your best sellers, but demand catches you by surprise when orders peak around the holidays. You might have even tried to stock up on your most popular items, only to find yourself scrambling to fulfill orders and communicating the disappointing news to customers that the items they needed wouldn't be back in stock for a while.
Solution: You most likely need better visibility into your sales, better inventory practices, and an easy way to backorder items and accomplish other inventory tasks. Unfortunately, having a "hunch" or a "good idea" of your bestsellers isn't enough — you need much deeper insight to plan for holiday sales spikes.
Jacob Pegg, Director of Product Development at SalesPad, recommends introducing practices like timely cycle counts to help businesses stay on top of their inventory.
"When you are cycle counting, you're looking at your top-sellers. Keeping a more accurate picture of what you have in your inventory allows you to better fulfill those orders."
Pegg especially recommends timely cycle counts or stock counts for quick turnaround items.
"A good inventory system, that typically has the ability to do those types of things, allows you to keep your physical inventory and your system inventory in line with each other," Pegg added.
For example, SalesPad's inventory management software offers a way to link to an existing purchase order from a sales document to purchase items that you want to sell but don’t currently have on-hand. Linking purchase orders to sales orders is done in just a few clicks, so backordered items are guaranteed to make it to the customer.
Problem: Mismanaged promotions and discounts lead to frustrated customers and team members.
While running end-of-year and holiday promotions is a great way to boost your sales, things can get pretty confusing with all that different pricing. Your customer service team may spend valuable time manually looking up different discounts referenced by customers placing orders.
Solution: While it may seem like a no-brainer, be sure to organize all of your discounts and have a set process in place for ensuring that customers get the discounts they were promised.
This may look like dividing customers up into different groups (longtime customers, wholesale, etc.) and having a quick reference available for what discounts apply to who.
Additionally, you may want to look into software as a way to organize your customer groupings. With the right tools, you could customize your sales orders to accommodate seasonal discounts. This would make it even easier for whoever takes the order to apply discounts — without the headache.
Problem: Your warehouse team has trouble locating inventory, which slows down fulfillment.
While the system you normally have in place before the holidays works OK, your team quickly delves into a panic because of the high traffic of orders during the last months of the year. Sometimes, simply picking an item turns into doing a physical inventory as you try to track it down.
Solution: While you may have been able to get away without bin labeling (or any consistent labeling) in the past, your business has likely outgrown your current warehouse system (or lack of).
Jeremy Boogaart, VP of Operations and Business Development at SalesPad, says he sees many growing businesses make the mistake of putting off switching over to consistent bin labeling.
"When you get past the point of having more inventory than one person can keep track of in their head, it becomes pretty critical to start absolute tracking and bin locations," Boogaart said.
Problem: Your customer service team can't find the answers customers want.
Normally, your customer service team might manage just fine. However, the rush of end-of-year sales typically overwhelms them. Whether it's long hold times on phone calls or trouble tracking down delayed orders, your CSRs find themselves pulling out their hair by the end of December.
Solution: This seasonal frustration could be a symptom of a larger problem — lack of an organized and easy way to access customer data. While it's always beneficial to review best practices for customer service before seasonal spikes in your business, some of the frustration may not be due to your team, but rather your current system. If the systems aren't prepared to handle the mass influx of calls, returns, and requests, there's not much even the best CSR can do.
It may be time to implement a better way to track customer info. Before or after the holidays is a good time to sit down with your customer service team and review some of their biggest frustrations in accessing customer data. Do they need better access to order statuses? Is it difficult to pull up customer info while on a call? Brainstorm ways to provide better tools to your customer service team. This could range from simply upgrading some of the CRM tools you already have to considering a major software overhaul.
What will you change next year?
Ultimately, there's no way to remove all stress from the holiday shopping season. However, you can better manage your team and your business by taking stock of current business practices and implementing changes that will make busy seasons significantly more manageable.