Tackling Peak Season Labour Requirements with Warehouse Technology.

Blog Post by Claire Kerr

Most businesses have a peak season. For many – especially those selling ecommerce goods – Christmas and Black Friday are key. Or they may run a promotion to compete with something like Amazon Prime Day. For others, their goods may sell strongly at different times of the year, like back to school season, or according to the weather. And of course, business-to-business sales have long been known for how they can peak at the beginning or end of a financial year.

Regardless of when your own peak season is though, your order numbers are going to magnify. Some retailers can experience as much as a ten-fold lift in the number of orders during a peak. Going from an average of 100 orders a day to 1,000, or from 1k to 10k or even from 100k to a million is a tall order. Assuming you have the stock and the warehouse space, then all you need is to be able to get those orders out in good time.

Peak season employment issues.

Getting orders out to meet same-day or next day delivery targets comes down to ensuring you have enough staff to meet the seasonal demand. But in many places, there is a lack of labour to meet these often short-term needs.

In the US, the unemployment rates are down to an almost 50-year low. So, it’s proving hard for warehouses to find and retain staff. The US warehouse press is awash with stories of difficulties in recruiting staff at normal times, let alone at peak times.

The situation is similar in the UK. With low unemployment and reduced net migration ahead of Brexit, warehouse managers are having to work hard to attract new employees. On top of that, rising pay and an increase in the Living Wage have put pressure on distributors costs too.

To maintain their profits, retailers in many global markets are having to try to attract workers by offering increasingly competitive wages and additional employment benefits.

And where they can get more staff, to cope with the peak season labour requirements, they are having to add in extra hours or more shifts.

And all these new staff need to be trained. Cross-training on several different areas is effective for peak season. Staff can then move seamlessly from picking to packing, or from operating a forklift to doing a cycle count. But training budgets are squeezed and with high staff turnover rates, many warehouse managers will not feel they can justify expensive training if staff aren’t likely to stay long term.

Warehouse technology solutions to peak season labour requirements.

If you can’t get the staff, then shipping the goods out to your customers comes down to having technological processes that are efficient and scalable, and to improving productivity through automation.

As a first step, every distributor should employ software that can predict trends and analyse demand. With good stock forecasting and planning software, at least the warehouse manager knows what they are dealing with.

Picking strategies can help too. Increased seasonal demand will likely result in a difference in the profile of your orders. For example, if you run an operation that has a back to school peak, you may see more multiple line orders, due to parents ordering many different items of stationery. But if your peak is to do with a price promotion on a certain item, then you will see a rise in the number of orders, but not necessarily see any change in the number of lines per order. Each of these peaks would require its own picking strategy. And if you run an operation that sees a variety of peaks of different types, then your picking and warehouse setup needs to be flexible to meet the varying needs of each situation. A good warehouse management system (WMS) can aid with picking strategies.

But one of the most flexible and scalable solutions for any warehouse is the use of collaborative robotics.

Collaborative robots work alongside humans. They can help with handling heavy goods or doing repetitive tasks.  Robots are easy to deploy and can be scaled up and down according to seasonal peaks. They can represent a cost-effective way of meeting peak season labour requirements.

One provider of warehouse robots, Locus Robotics, a Balloon One partner, can fully deploy robotics in a warehouse in a matter of weeks. Its customers see productivity rates double or treble, even from day one. We’re pleased to have a representative from Locus Robotics, Jason Lum, at our upcoming E2E Conference. Jason Lum will be presenting on the company’s innovative autonomous robots on day two of the conference, tickets for which are available from £75.