As Black Friday rapidly approaches retailers are busy reminding themselves of past lessons learnt, but tomorrow’s Singles’ Day could provide the most valuable lessons of all, says Jonathan Bellwood, founder & CEO of Peoplevox.
The successes and sometimes, stresses, of peak event days like Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Panic Saturday are well-known to e-commerce retailers. No matter the outcomes, there are always lessons to be learned for the future. While these shopping events are all giants, it would also be valuable to keep an eye on the biggest of all: Singles’ Day, so called because it falls every year on 11/11 (all the ones).
It’s not just huge in China; it’s the world’s largest online sale. Organised by Alibaba, Singles’ Day 2015 racked up $14.3bn in sales. This increased to $17bn last year. In context, Cyber Monday 2016’s sales topped ‘just’ $3.45bn. And apart from being home to the largest shopping event on the planet, China is also a good indicator of how future e-commerce growth and trends are going to develop. Digital sales over there are expected to pass $1.132 trillion this year.
This is not just something that’s naturally evolved as a byproduct of the technological revolution.
Brands in China, cosmetics for example, have been taking demand generation and customer engagement techniques to new levels, especially during busy peak periods. Live streaming of rich media is a prime example, with 82% of all sales on Singles’ Day last year taking place on mobile.
Clearly, finding ways to develop deeper, relevant connections with consumers can provide a strong competitive advantage. So too does attention to organisational processes and warehousing and fulfilment.
This is why companies such as Alibaba have supported their growth proportionately with innovative and scalable warehousing technologies so that they can deftly manage the competitive shopping environments that they’ve created. In one of Alibaba’s warehouses, for example, robots do 70% of the work. And they have a cast iron Warehouse Management System (WMS) which maximises productivity for their pickers; they can fill 12-item orders in an average of just three minutes.
Evidently, Alibaba isn’t like most e-commerce companies. It can afford to experiment with innovative technology, build its own WMS and, launch massive shopping events. But, still, it’s never too soon for e-commerce retailers of all shapes and sizes to find ways of improving their warehouse efficiencies. And looking East to China could be a useful source of future inspiration.
Closer to home, especially with Black Friday on the horizon, a final review of your warehousing processes could also have a positive impact on sales, customer satisfaction and the working environment for your team.
Some areas may take longer to fix, but for others there’s still time to make a change or two for the better:
First and foremost, consider your staff. Both your permanent and temporary team members need to be fully aware of what’s expected of them in advance of any major shopping event. Sharing and easing the burden can go a long way in ensuring that morale is kept up. Your staff are charged with fulfilling all those extra orders accurately and on time; ultimately, it’s these people who will help the sales period to run without a hitch
To avoid the risk of overselling items, make sure all your stock is actually available to sell and pickers know where to find it. This will be easier if you already have a WMS which provides real-time reporting on available stock, including items still to be unpacked and awaiting put away.
You will want to map out your optimum picking routes in advance of the big event. This will avoid pickers crisscrossing the warehouse floor unnecessarily and will help to maximise their productivity.
For expected high demand sales items, you might consider creating dedicated clusters of pickers, packers and despatchers in close proximity to goods-in. This will save time. If you are already using a suitable e-commerce WMS, you know how beneficial it can be to be able to put any item anywhere in the warehouse and be able to accurately track its location.
Despatch will be the last chance for ensuring the right item will be delivered at the right time to the right customer at the correct address. If you’re relying on the human eye, or other manual methods, to get it right then you’re going to run into difficulties. When you have the right technology on side, you remove that margin of error. Integrating this technology with your order processing and shipping software systems allows staff to quickly and accurately assert these vital details.
Problems often occur if inflexible storage methods are used. Putting all sizes of the same shade of hat, for example, on the same shelf often makes it hard to differentiate between them. To help with picking accuracy and productivity, especially at peak times, it can be better to store dissimilar products together. With access to a WMS, operatives will more easily see, and filter, all orders placed, enabling them to prioritise based on order type (e.g. single, multiple, batch) and the delivery priority requirements.
Jonathan Bellwood, founder & CEO of Peoplevox.