Delivery man holding 3 boxes

Imagine shipping 6,000 orders in a single day.

OK, we just said that to scare you, but one of our customers actually did just that…and lived to tell the tale. And as you might imagine, they’re quite proud of it.

Whatever your normal shipping volume is, here’s one thing you know for sure: it’s going way up during the holidays.

Another thing we all know? Convoluted workflow is the greatest threat to meeting our commitments to customers and clients on time and at optimal cost during all-important peak business periods.

Convoluted workflows do not scale, but your retail shipping workload is going to grow…and grow.

According to Deloitte, “Sentiment and spending indicators are firing on all cylinders.” Deloitte’s annual forecast calls for holiday retail sales to rise a healthy 4-to-4.5 percent in 2017. Seasonally adjusted total holiday sales will hit $1.04 trillion between November and January. eCommerce sales are predicted to increase by 18 to 21 percent, reaching over $110 billion during the 2017 holiday season.

Oh my, that’s a lot to ship.

Every merchant, from brick-and-mortar retailers to mail order companies to global omnichannel sellers must get a shipping workflow in order for the holidays. Lumpy workflow means fewer packages out the door. Hiring more people presents its own set of problems around training, quality and productivity.

Here’s a “workflow self-diagnostic” exercise that may help reveal how ready you are to operate optimally.

  1. Are you integrated?
    Nothing disrupts shipping success as greatly as having to rely on disjointed, fragmented systems to get the job done. From order creation to shipment set up and rate calculation, from picking and packing to tracking, manual information entry or re-entry, if your entire process is bogged down, you’re not setting yourself up for success.
    Checkpoint: How many of these activities require separate manual management?
    1. Order processing
    2. Optimal rate calculation and carrier selection
    3. Warehouse operations: pick tickets, packing control
    4. Shipping label/packing slip generation
    5. Linking the tracking number back to the order – Each one of these operations is a potential workflow disruptor, unless integrated within a single, seamless system.
  1. Are your shipping rates under control?
    If you are calculating shipping rates in a separate system, you are introducing two very bad possibilities: delay and error. If you have to leave your order system to re-enter information into a shipping app, calculate rates, then re-re-enter the shipping cost into your order system, you’ve got a workflow segmentation problem with waaay too much room for error.
    Checkpoint: We technically refer to this situation as “an unnecessarily bad way of doing it.” Have you considered adopting an integrated order management solution that allows you to calculate shipping rates immediately, then automatically update your orders—and potentially your call center customers—in real time, with no risk of error. Based on distance and weight, an integrated system calculates your shipping cost and allows you to enter a markup, if appropriate, on a per box or per item basis, or a promotional discount, and more.Checkpoint: Can your system do rate shopping, automatically finding the lowest cost shipping method and carrier (UPS, FedEx, USPS) for every order, taking into account any delivery time guarantees (2 day, etc.)? Can you create custom carriers and rates and zones to automatically generate rates? Freestyle’s M.O.M. Shipping Service feature makes this a snap.
    Checkpoint: The mandate to offer free shipping has made cost a key factor. When shopping carts do their own shipping charge calculations the shipping charge is frozen. An integrated order management system such as Freestyle’s M.O.M. can generate a standard report that lets retailers easily match the price customers pay to actual carrier charges. M.O.M. makes it easy to understand the impact shipping cost has on profitability.
  1. Are You Picking and Packing Productively?
    Whether you operate a warehouse with separate crews of pickers and packers or do everything with just a handful of multipurpose workers, it’s all about your ability to access the right products for each order and group them correctly for packing and shipping. Batch processing (picking items in bulk as a single step, then packing the batch as a separate, possibly overlapping step) introduces obvious potential for mistakes when you batch print pick tickets and shipping labels and marry them to large herds of orders and items. It’s a time-honored way to handle volume spikes by working faster.
    Checkpoint: Do you have a “packer workstation” set up to minimize mispicks? A packer workstation such as the feature found in Freestyle’s M.O.M. system generates pick ticket paperwork automatically and displays a visual list of picked items onscreen that allows the packer to assign items to packages by literally sliding icons from left to right. Orders don’t proceed to the shipping stage until all items are accounted for.Checkpoint: Do you have the flexibility to execute a hybrid of batch and individual picking and packing? Can your system generate bar coded pick tickets so that packers can use a scanner to bring up the right order onscreen, as well as assuring the shipment is correct and accurate. Get me a packing slip/invoice and a printed label so I can close the box and put it on the dock.
    Checkpoint: Does your system offer a packer workstation with automatic connection to the scales so that weighing is quick and accurate.Checkpoint: Rather than upset a customer, can your system offer options such as partial and advanced fill, and send the remaining items when inventory is received?
  1. Do Your Outbound Shipments Automatically Tie Back to Orders?
    In addition to calculating shipping rates, generating pick paperwork, and ensuring accurate packing, an integrated order management system can generate packing slips and shipping labels automatically with matching order reference number and tracking code in place. All the pieces match, including SKU numbers, order IDs, rates, and tracking numbers. Nothing has been entered twice or transferred manually from one system to another.No delays. No human errors.Checkpoint:Does the system automatically send a shipping notification to the customer with the proper tracking number for customer DIY tracking. (This method vastly reduces the number of inbound calls checking on status.) All customers care about is ‘where is my package?’ With integrated shipping, everyone is in the know at all times.
    Checkpoint: When a shipping label is requested from the integrated system, does it automatically notify the carrier about the order, so no shipping manifests are necessary? The driver simply scans the packages at pick up and goes. The merchant only gets charged for what actually ships.Checkpoint: How much do you spend on expedited shipping? Does your commitment to customer satisfaction despite delays and errors caused by high volume and a fragmented manual workflow lead to excessive spending on expedited shipping? How much could you save here?

The Takeaway:

Convoluted, crazy workflows may already be costing you money and causing customer satisfaction challenges. Worse, fragmented and manual workflows simply can’t scale. And here is something else that’s certain: when volume rises to a certain level, it always forces a change in process. You already know that integrating your shipping process saves time, reduces manual data entry errors and gets packages out faster. The question is, are you ready to get ahead of the curve and raise your order management maturity now?