In the latest in our series of interviews about planning for peak John Boulter, MD Retail, UK&I for DHL, reveals his thoughts.
When does home delivery peak period planning begin?
Planning for peak periods is now a year-round activity with retailers starting their planning for Christmas in January, so they can directly analyse their performance over the recent festive season and identify areas for improvement. Thorough assessment allows retailers to enhance those aspects of their strategy that worked well, whilst focusing on the areas which require attention.
How is mobile’s continued growth affecting peak planning for home delivery?
Ever-increasing levels of online retail at home and on the move via smart devices are making purchasing easier than ever, but as a result peak periods of fulfilment are less clearly defined and harder to predict. This, and the rising popularity of imported peak shopping days such as ‘Black Friday’, have made home delivery peak periods a year-round challenge.
To do this, early planning is key, so we agree our schedules as far in advance as possible while fully exploiting our resources to benefit our retailers.
What steps do you take to ensure you are ready for peak period when it comes to home delivery?
Along with our retail clients we conduct a comprehensive and honest assessment of their performance to devise a strategy that meets consumer demand, both during expected and unexpected periods of heightened activity.
In addition, thanks to our scale, we are also able to review our customer base to identify collaboration opportunities. Collaborative transport solutions help retailers ensure they have sufficient infrastructure in place for periods of increased demand and avoid the hefty price tag that comes with last-minute temporary vehicles or space.
What are the main lessons learnt from 2016?
Following the success of similar practices in 2015, 2016 saw retailers continue to spread their Black Friday offers over several days and, in so doing, balance the customer proposition with the physical capabilities of their supply chains.
What are the definite not to dos during this period?
The checklist we advise retailers to follow ahead of peak periods includes:
- Review: following peak periods of activity, assess which aspects worked well and which require attention.
- Volume forecasting: Surplus stock may cost the business but empty shelves also have a negative impact on finances and reputation, so forecasting is a vital element of peak planning strategy.
- Omni-channel strategy: For multichannel retailers, an omni-channel supply chain strategy is critical. This should include a holistic assessment of a business’s unique proposition and capabilities, but other traits should be considered such as a fully transparent cross-channel inventory to allow the merging and quick reallocation of stock.
- Stock management: Time should be invested in verifying stock, ensuring all barcodes and labelling are correct. The continuous training of staff and establishment of systems will help avoid mistakes during the busy season. DHL Supply Chain works with customers to address accurate stock management, by focusing on accuracy from the point of origin. With ongoing cycle counting across our operations coupled with daily accuracy checks on both inbound and outbound product, accuracy is improved with minimal disruption.
How do you decide between the balance of later cut-off dates and possible customer disappointment when it comes to home delivery at peak?
Over the last couple of years many retailers have looked for ways to balance customer promise and service levels especially during peak times. On occasion, retailers will temporarily relax lead times or service levels for the peak period, while being fully transparent with customers about when their delivery will be fulfilled.
DHL offers later cut off times to retailers to meet demand for more structured time slots for delivery. Picking profiles in the warehouse have also become more dynamic to meet peak demand. We increasingly have to pack goods by vehicle departure time to ensure we fulfil delivery requirements, presenting an efficiency challenge as this is not always the most logical delivery route.
Is it better to under promise but over-deliver or to be honest?
That doesn’t have to be necessary. A critical review of operational capabilities, analysis of historic data on peak performance and being well planned with a flexible solution will mean that retailers can deliver to the standards consumers have come to expect year-round.
How do events such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday affect peak planning – does it make it easier or harder and what’s the balance of home delivery for such peaks?
As a logistics provider with clients across multiple industries, we have to factor into our plans that the kick-off times for peak periods will vary from sector to sector. For instance, for grocery and convenience, volumes increase dramatically in the two weeks before Christmas, then again between Christmas and New Year.
In recent years, Black Friday and Cyber Monday have created a brand-new peak in activity for fashion and general merchandise retailers at the end of November. This has typically been followed by a lower period of activity for two to three weeks, followed by a final peak of activity just before Christmas. Volumes start to return to normal in January although for some retailers, returns activity and January sales keep this a busy month.
What trends are we likely to see this year and how or what should retailers/ carriers be doing to be prepared to combat these?
Urbanisation, smaller local stores, and demand for more frequent home and store deliveries are going to drive more collaboration to help retailers cope with peak periods as it can provide valuable flexibility. Through a shared transport network, retailers can ensure they have immediate access to infrastructure according to their needs without a last-minute search for temporary vehicles or space – which often come with a hefty price tag.
By sharing transport loads, or reloading return routes, delivery costs per unit can be significantly reduced. There’s also the environmental advantage of lower carbon emissions, with fewer vehicles on the road, and fewer still running empty.
Collaboration can also enable higher levels of service through more frequent deliveries.