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Warehouses: Be Prepared for the Holiday Onslaught

Posted by Sean Murphy on Sep 18, 2023

The holiday season is the most wild and wonderful time of the year for warehouses. It means more shipments and more inventory, which equates to more revenues. But it also means greater stress on logistics and fulfillment processes. Additionally, warehouse facilities will contend with a higher number of returns.

What can warehouse facilities do to get ready to ensure they’re stocked? It doesn’t help that they deal with supply chain snarls, longer supply lead times, shortage of space, and delayed product delivery just to name a few. A lot of these problems are intertwined. For example, the delay in product delivery is causing warehouses to have a huge backlog of shipping containers. However, they don’t have the space to support the backlog.

Why Warehouse Facilities Are Struggling

According to ABC News, warehouses want to have 15% availability of space. As recently as 2021, most only had 3.6% of space, which puts their operations at risk with the upcoming holiday blitz. It’s already affecting customers as shipments aren’t arriving at the expected times. Topping it all off is the shortage of truckers.

All these problems are making it difficult for Americans to get what they want. Retailers and warehouses have to cut down on the SKUs to adapt to the overload. Many of them produce high volumes with razor-thin margins. Customers are also having to pay more to get something that isn’t to their exact specifications. Often, the shipping is delayed.

An episode of Consider This from NPR explains one problem with the trucks and the lack of available chassis, the trailer that a shipping container sits on while pulled by a truck. Many of them are sitting under empty containers. Getting them out takes longer. Some containers have been stuck in a port for as long as one month.

Those delays are painful. The NPR story gives an example of a retailer who bought 50,000 air fryers as part of a Black Friday promotion. It was a success. They wanted to do it again the following year. Unfortunately, they had to cancel the promotion because the products would not arrive in time.

The story also confirms some markets have over 99% occupancy, which means all the warehouse space has been claimed and they’re crammed. Usually, the rush of inventory leads to a full warehouse. But now they’re beyond full.

Doug Kiersey, one of the guests in the NPR episode, says he’s never seen anything like this in his 40 years of building, buying, and leasing warehouses. He described it as “five years of e-commerce growth and jammed it into one year.”

The construction of new warehouses was the one industry that thrived during the pandemic. However, preparing a warehouse facility for operations is a different animal. It takes time to add robots, conveyor belts, and other technology. Kiersey had to turn away people vying for the same warehouse. This has never happened before.

What Are the Biggest Challenges for Warehouse Facilities?

Before discussing how warehouses can get ready for the holiday season, it’s important to understand what the biggest challenges are. At least, the ones that warehouse leaders can control.

Lacking the right technology

No company should bring in technology simply for technology’s sake. Leaders need to be intentional about the warehouse technology they choose. Fortunately, there have been advancements in picking, packing, and sorting technology. This will help optimize warehouse operations. In short, technology can reduce delays and human errors while increasing safety. Employees can move over to more value-added tasks that aren’t monotonous.

Failing to make the most of warehouse space

It’s very possible the warehouse isn’t efficiently using its space. Poorly laid-out warehouses can slow down movement around the floor. Less movement means fewer orders are fulfilled. A more efficient setup can speed up movement and fulfill more orders.

Consider creating a map and adding signs on the floor to help people navigate more efficiently. Also, it would be wise to have training that covers where everything is located. This ensures no one wastes one minute getting lost. Video cameras can help identify opportunities for better space utilization. More on that shortly.

Addressing the labor shortage

When the warehouse implements proper technology, it could help ease the labor shortage. Technology can handle the tedious part of the job faster. Humans can focus on tasks that technology can’t do.

It’s crucial for warehouse managers to provide training and create effective communication methods. Implementing employee-centric policies, such as flexible work schedules, can help improve productivity levels.

A Zenefits survey confirms this as 78% of the workers say they were more productive on a flexible work schedule. This could attract more talent as 77% of employees in the same survey say they would consider flexible work schedules in future job opportunities.

Another way to address the labor shortage is to hire people on a seasonal basis. Many people want seasonal jobs to help tide them over during the holiday season. To ensure the seasonal hires are successful, provide them with training.

Seasonal workers also help permanent workers not feel the strain that comes with the overwhelming loads during the holiday season. This can help with employee retention and engagement.

Struggling with planning and forecasting

It’s possible to boost warehouse operations, which will help improve planning and forecasting. Warehouse management software has come a long way. It contains predictive analytics and demand forecasting. Having the right planning and forecasting tools can help warehouse managers be prepared for all the peak season brings.

Notice all these challenges are connected. When you address one, it will help the others.

What Can Warehouse Facilities Do to Prepare for the Holiday Season?

Here are four ways to enhance warehouse operations. They can help improve operational efficiencies, reduce errors, and increase security.

1. Invest in the right technology

Many warehouse facilities still use manual picking processes. Technology can greatly speed up the process while increasing accuracy and speed. You may have already replaced manual picking processes, but you may still have outdated technology like scanners.

The latest scanning technology makes it possible for employees to use their voice and eyes for picking. This cuts down on carpal tunnel-related injuries. Technologies like voice and visual picking can reduce turnover and training time, increase safety, and speed productivity according to Almasons.

2. Train Workers

The companies with the fewest injuries prioritize training and safety. They often hold training or safety briefs on a daily basis. They have processes to ensure employees do safety checks at the start and the end of a workday. Training is easily paid for as you reduce injuries. The cost of an injury is high.

As the Almasons article stated, technology cuts down the time needed for training. The training does not have to be a formal one. It can be as simple as having a safety brief on the proper ways to prepare and use a tool as well as personal protective equipment (PPE).

3. Review operational efficiencies

Reviewing and improving warehouse efficiencies requires looking at people, technologies, and processes. Technology can’t do anything if people aren’t trained, and processes aren’t created. Focus on creating a lean manufacturing process. Look for ways to automate repetitive and tedious tasks.

Move workers to value-added tasks. It will be critical to document processes and continue finding ways to make them better. There should be procedures for safety checks, operating machines, and all the tasks in the warehouse. Don’t forget to review the returns process. How does the warehouse process them? Can the process be improved?

If you invest in a forecasting tool, then leaders will have current data to make better decisions and effectively manage resources. A warehouse management system can help you keep track of assets. You’ll know when they’re due for servicing. Equipment that undergoes proper maintenance and servicing will have a longer life. Plus, it will increase safety.

4. Use video surveillance with remote monitoring

One of the ways you can improve space utilization is by installing video cameras. They have multiple purposes. Security cameras provide a 30,000-foot view of the warehouse layout. It’s an effective way to help ensure you create a layout that maximizes operational efficiency and safety.

Another component to include with video cameras is remote monitoring. This is done offsite by humans with support from video analytics. The trained human monitoring operators do the value-added tasks of evaluating the situations picked up by the analytics and addressing any potential problems.

Video analytics, like warehouse technologies, takes on the tedious part of the monitoring. The monitoring part of the video surveillance is what turns it into a proactive security system. It can help deter crime and injuries. The monitoring operators can report safety problems, failure to follow procedures, theft, and vandalism.

Remote video surveillance helps deter crime, enhance productivity, and reduce liability. This system saves all video footage as recordings. They can be used for investigations and internal training.

Video surveillance with remote monitoring is different from other security solutions because it is proactive in helping to minimize damage, maximize warehouse and truck security, and reduce liability. When you work with a video surveillance vendor with experience in warehouse facilities like Stealth Monitoring, you could get a fast ROI in a matter of months.

To learn more about technology that helps protect warehouses from damage, check out this paper on the effects of crime on the transportation industry and warehouses. Having remote video surveillance as part of warehouse operations can help you be prepared for the holiday season so it’s less overwhelming and more wonderful.

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