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Home>Automation>Picking & sortation>Swisslog offers Christmas planning tips

Swisslog offers Christmas planning tips

29 November 2013

We're unlikely to see the end of the last minute mad dash along the high street for Christmas presents anytime soon, but with e-commerce sales becoming an increasingly vital part of the retail mix, there may be a little more elbow room this year for the more forgetful of shoppers.

Customer expectations are even higher at Christmas, when stocking plans are stretched to the limit; seasonal products are in short supply and the weather putting the supply chain to the test. The reason, of course, is that fixed deadline. Santa may have had a thousand years to get used to it, but we as consumers still expect delivery in time for Christmas when ordering as late as 22nd December. It's a demand which is simply not always possible, however, by planning ahead, retailers can avoid festive foul ups and enjoy the season of goodwill in the knowledge that they did everything possible to keep the sleigh on the road.


Swisslog’s Senior Logistics Consultant Brian Whale provides five tips to help you jump start your Christmas by planning ahead.

•          Tip 1 - Plan for Growth: This year, there will be even more piece picking and it's a trend that's clearly set to continue. Here's where the latest flexible and scalable solutions really come into their own, by adapting to changing requirements. Solutions like AutoStore, for example, combine inventory storage technology and fulfilment software into a state-of-the-art goods-to-man system. It's modularity allows the possibility to increase system capacity during running operations. Once you've been bitten by the planning bug, plan for growth by working with a systems integrator on a 3 to 5 year plan.

•         Tip 2 - Plan for Speed & Flexibility: Plan ahead and design an automated system that can cater for peaks, even if it means extended hours or more pickers. Speed of order fulfilment is needed for peak times, whilst efficiency levels ensure you're not paying for the times when utilisation is low.

•         Tip 3 - Plan for Returns: particularly how to manage, service and process returns quickly in order to get them back available as stock as quickly as possible. This is where automation can play a big hand. Returned products are dead money while they are being checked and returned to stock – that is not available to pick. The process can be described as a ‘Reverse Pick’… putting product back into the inventory. Straight after Christmas we also see an increase in these return levels. Cash tied up can be a serious concern for e-commerce, especially for smaller players. Businesses don’t go bankrupt because of running out of orders; they go bankrupt for running out of cash.

•         Tip 4 - Integration: Integrate existing inventory control systems with Warehouse Management Systems to track and manage stock throughout the supply chain. This will allow for the management of stock levels to cater for seasonal effect.

•         Tip 5 - Education: Work with other business functions to educate customers via advertising or press releases that put a positive attitude or incentive to ordering early.

Remember, Christmas is a time of excess - and we're not just talking about drinking, eating and giving expensive gifts! The ebb and flow of any logistics operation means there is always the need to be flexible and responsive to seasonal changes. Christmas, for the most part, is a time of year when the system is really put to the test. 

Extra sales (hopefully) combined with more last minute orders, on tighter deadlines and prompting more returns. You can add elves / extra resource to any facility to help you get over a short bump, but inexperienced, part-time labour is exactly the type of workforce likely to make more mistakes. You might even rely on a 3rd party to take care of the overflow, but this too can be costly in the long run, removes you one step from your customer base and can make you heavily reliant on that supplier.

If you want to plan the perfect Christmas next year, take a leaf out of Santa's book, and plan early.