25 Tips to Get Your Warehouse Ready for Black Friday, Cyber Monday and the Holiday Rush

From warehouse management software to 3PLs, get ready for the holiday rush

With U.S. online shopping projected to increase nearly 15% this holiday season, Consumers expect seamless communication, flawless service and real time transparency of orders and shipments.  The biggest shopping days of the year will soon be here.  Whether you are a 3PL, warehouse or distribution center operator, the stress of the impending crush of orders and customer demands probably has you reaching for Tums or Pepto Bismol. 

The mad rush of online orders cascade into warehouse management systems like water flowing down Niagara Falls.  Fast and furious, consumers are pushing buttons and tapping on keyboards on sites like Amazon, Best Buy, Target and Walmart with dreams of stress-free shopping and fast, free delivery.  As every supply chain professional knows, customer satisfaction depends upon error-free fast delivery, no matter how late in the holiday season that must occur.  To meet the seemingly infinite volume of orders that flood in daily, a Herculean effort in supply chain management and logistics must occur.  Far more than simply picking, packing and shipping, warehouse management solutions must be able to handle unbelievable volume in rapid iteration without locking up.  Legacy warehouse management systems simply were not designed to handle SKU proliferation, exponentially expansive order volume or the rapidity of operations required for e-commerce fulfillment and online shopping.

This year, it has been estimated that on average, warehouse operations that experience holiday fluctuation may experience an increase in inventory of 40% or more.  If your warehouse, fulfillment center or DC deals with online sales, the pace of order fulfillment operations may be fast and frenetic.  To make it through the holiday rush successfully (and as profitably as possible), it is important to examine and fix problems now.  Examining operations, warehouse space and layout and technology can help you be better prepared and ready to meet challenges before they arise.

Review Current Warehouse Operational and Business Processes Now


1. Are your current warehouse operational processes clear, easy to understand and execute?

2. Have you documented all your standard operating procedures (SOPs)? Do you update the documentation any time changes are made? Do you communicate changes regularly to warehouse workers and train them accordingly? Failure to do this leads to errors and inefficiency.

3. Are workarounds required because your warehouse management system or other information technology systems are outdated? If so, you may need new technology or an update to your existing warehouse management software.

4. Have all warehouse workers, including all shifts of seasonal workers been adequately trained?

5. What happens if systems fail, Internet connectivity or WiFi is lost or mobile computing devices, forklifts and other technology fails to work properly? What is your plan?

6. Have you established inventory validation procedures?

7. Are bulk and overflow areas of your warehouse in shape and properly arranged?

8. Have you planned for audits, cycle counting and replenishment?

9. Have all warehouse workers including all shifts and seasonal workers been trained and tested on how to properly use all the necessary equipment?

10. Do you have all the necessary equipment and mobile devices ready and in full working order for your workforce, including for seasonal workers?

Warehouse and Distribution Center Space, Layout and Organization


11. Are all warehouse storage areas clearly marked and labeled in a manner that is easy to read?

12. Are aisles and storage areas organized for fast, easy navigation without errors?

13. If overflow temporary storage was added, can it be easily navigated?

14. Have you consolidated pallets to free up more warehouse rack positions?

15. Have you ensured that primary warehouse locations are filled to maximum levels?

16. Have you considered inserting additional pallet racking in the warehouse in areas such as above dock doors or flow racks?

17. Ensure that your warehouse has adequately prepared and positioned staging areas, locations for top selling and popular items and fast-moving inventory.

Insight from Real Time Business Intelligence Helps You Prepare for the Onslaught of Orders


Using your warehouse management software, you should be able to run reports to uncover last year’s performance.


18. Using the reporting capabilities of your WMS, take a detailed look at daily operations including order and shipment volume by day. Make sure you plan work schedules and resources accordingly.

19. Use reports and dashboards from your warehouse management system to calculate service level goals for key warehouse metrics including orders or boxes per hour per employee, lines picked per hour per employee etc. To encourage peak performance, you may find it useful to post dashboards demonstrating performance metrics in a highly visible area where warehouse workers can see them.

20. After comparing projections, determine if you need help from a staffing agency to backfill your warehouse workforce if needed.

21. Use reports and dashboards to help motivate your workforce and keep everyone on track for peak performance.

The Cost and Danger of Warehouse Workarounds

If your warehouse or distribution center is using an outdated, inflexible legacy WMS, you may unable to satisfy the needs of online retailers.  E-commerce omnichannel fulfillment is demanding.  The immense flood of rapid- fire orders requires that warehouse management solutions can handle very high volumes of transactions as well as extremely fast operational processing without locking up screens and functionality.  Although you may be able to accomplish most warehouse tasks, doing so may require workarounds.  Workarounds drain away efficiency from effective warehouse operations.  This often leads to loss of time, more errors and wasted labor.

Workarounds sometimes originate when workers are unaware that a process has been changed or has not been trained in the new process or technology that was adopted.  Sometimes out of frustration, warehouse workers adapt business processes because the technology they are using is outdated and is not flexible enough to accommodate changes or cannot be upgraded.

Because business processes are often altered in order to gain efficiency, when warehouse workers circumvent the system or create a workaround, the loss in productivity and/or efficiency can be especially pronounced.   To help with this, create a system of accountability and focus on accurate operations.  In the course of day-to-day operations, when errors are made, take this as an opportunity to turn this into a “teachable moment”.  Pay careful attention to workarounds.  First, find out why the workaround was developed and was deficiency it addresses.  Next, determine if the workaround solves or causes problems.  If the workaround issue is related to technology, such as a legacy warehouse management system, conduct a technology assessment to determine  a remedy such as replacement of the technology, reconfiguring a workflow in the WMS, etc.

If an error is made at the onset of the picking process, the person who made the error is less likely to be concerned as it is likely that downstream, someone such as a packer will notice and fix the mistake.  Errors are costly to warehouse operations.  Once an error is made, labor resources are needed to correct the mistake, quite a downward spiral in terms of productivity.  Mistakes can also have more nebulous costs, such as a reduction in customer satisfaction as well as costs that are quantifiable such as in drops in order fulfillment rates, labor productivity and overall business efficiency.

Perform Warehouse Operations Stress Tests Now

Running a two-hour simulation of peak volume can help you isolate and address problem areas.  Your technology and your staff must be able to perform at top levels in peak conditions.  Make sure that you build in the necessary level of complexity for your business and customers.

The stress test should be designed to test labor resources, planning, established systems and procedures as well as the technical aspects of your operation.  Testing your workforce, especially under simulated conditions in which there are labor shortages, equipment problems and system difficulties will reveal how well your organization has prepared, planned and trained.

22. Assess operational volume and speed. Can your warehouse management software handle the robust needs for high speed high volume e-commerce omnichannel order fulfillment?

23. Stress test critical interface touch points and operations:

  • Inventory and order adjustments
  • Operational process flows
  • Picking, packing and shipping
  • Returns processing/reverse logistics
  • ERP system, financial and accounting software
  • Material handling solutions
  • Pick-to-light and put-to-light
  • Voice enabled systems
  • Mobile computing devices and printers
  • Goods to person system
  • 3PL billing
  • Web portal: can your customers access all the info they need in real time without outside help from your customer service representatives?
  • Permanent and seasonal warehouse workers, customer service representatives and support staff
  • Internet connectivity, networked solutions and WiFi
  • Real time communications and visibility using mobile devices

Pro-Actively Prepare for Asset Management and Maintenance Needs


24. Evaluate, check and re-check your equipment. Service it now and make sure any problems are completely resolved to ensure top efficiency of: 

  • Forklifts
  • Lift equipment
  • Conveyors and carousels
  • Mobile computers, bar code readers, bar code scanners and printers
  • Material handling solutions

25. Make sure you have adequate supplies on hand in case of malfunction or wear: batteries, cables, power cords, replacement devices and equipment.


Using Third Party Logistics Providers (3PLs) as Partners to Fulfill Online Orders

To help retailers fulfill all those millions of orders, third party logistics providers act as intermediaries between retailers and consumers.  Across the United States, 3PLs receive goods into warehouses, handle, store and ship out orders and collaborate with transportation and logistics providers for the last mile delivery to consumers. Specialists in supply chain logistics operations, outsourcing to 3PLs can help give online retailers the bandwidth to meet burgeoning order volume and improve the customer experience.

The most successful third party logistics providers invest in technology to give themselves a competitive edge.  Third party logistics providers typically rely on warehouse management systems developed specifically for the 3PL industry rather than simple inventory management software. Using a 3PL WMS system designed to meet the requirements of many different types of clients, each with their own unique billing requirements and operational needs is essential and provides a competitive advantage in courting and winning new business. 

Often during the holiday season, consumers specify personalization for their orders.  This may come in the form of gift cards, gift wrapping, specialized packaging, custom assembly of kits or other options.  In addition to individual requirements by consumers, retailers and manufacturers may have requirements and specifications.

For 3PLs, being able to bill for all the specialized labor and services is critical to profitability.  In years gone by, third party logistics providers would use spreadsheets to keep track of these services.  In recent years, many warehouse management software vendors developed specialized 3PL billing capabilities, sometimes in separate systems or modules.  The problem often is that the 3PL billing capabilities are not flexible enough to handle the immense variation in services.  This tends to result in a loss of revenue for 3PLs or use of “workarounds” with their current software.  This is undesirable, error-prone and inefficient.

User Friendly 3PL Web Portals Help Ensure Customer Satisfaction and Reduce Labor Costs

One way for a third party logistics provider to keep labor costs under control is to provide a web portal for their customers.  A web portal that can easily be managed and personalized for each customer can significantly cut down on customer service labor and time.  In turn, giving customers the way to be independent and have more control over their operations, inventory, reports and other matters typically leads to increased customer satisfaction and can provide a valuable competitive advantage.

In the world of online retail, being able to access real time information and reports can improve the reaction time, order fulfillment rates and lead to a better customer experience for consumers-all key to developing brand loyalty. 


The holidays are upon us and the supply chain logistics industry needs to be fully prepared.  Consumers have become increasingly demanding and have proven to be fickle when vexed from delays in order delivery and errors.

Training, pro-active maintenance and asset management preparedness and a thorough examination of operational processes and technology will help to identify weaknesses that can be remedied before Black Friday, Cyber Monday and the holiday rush.

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