How to manage deliveries during peak times & seasonal demand

You might not live in the North Pole, have a bunch of happy-go-lucky elves to help you, or be married to Mrs. Claus, but if you manage delivery logistics in the run up to December 25th, for pretty much any retail business, you likely have the same job as the big man in red:

Making sure Christmas gifts arrive at the right location before the big day.

And let’s be honest – Christmas isn’t the only peak delivery time most retail businesses have to contend with.

In the run-up to Christmas we have Hallowe’en, Thanksgiving and then the rush of Black Friday / Cyber Monday that marks the beginning of the holiday shopping season.

But the ‘season’ never really ends, with another period of pressure in January for returns and replacement products, then onto Valentines Day, Easter, the summer holidays and Wedding season and before you know it its ‘Back to School’ and Christmas music in the shops – there’s always something going on.

How to manage deliveries at peak times

As sales order volumes grow, whether due to seasonal fluctuations or day-to-day business growth, retailers manually managing orders and deliveries will find it harder and harder to meet their promises. Higher-than-ever order volumes compressed into a far shorter period of time than normal means an exceptional spike in demand – which, nonetheless, you have to deliver.

Scaling to manage holiday season deliveries is all well and good for straightforward parcel deliveries via 3rd party logistics providers (3PLs) like UPS or FedEx.

But, for businesses managing deliveries (and collections / returns) in their own fleet, scaling with seasonal demand can be much more complex.

Delivering large bulky items, that require two-man delivery or expert fitting services, items with long lead times and bespoke items, etc. gives you a whole new set of challenges during the holiday season.

Managing customer expectations & lead-times

The first order of business for preparing to manage large order volumes during peak times is to manage customer expectations. In this customer experience economy, businesses can’t afford to offer a substandard delivery experience.

For products with longer lead-times, make sure your customers are aware of that throughout the buying process. Even for products without long lead-times, if you won’t be able to keep a fast delivery promise during peak times, then don’t make that promise. One way to mitigate against over-promising on delivery is to charge extra for premium fast delivery service, to spread the delivery windows of those increased orders.

Reliable delivery is more essential than next-day delivery.

Optimise delivery routes and keep customers informed with order tracking through every step of the process so they know exactly when their item will be delivered. Be realistic about lead-times to avoid frustrations, refunds and bad reviews.

Offer delivery choice

Convenience and customer experience are key for retailers – and that goes doubly so in the Holidays when demand, expectations and emotions are all running high.

By adding a number of channels for final mile delivery, you are able to spread that demand instead of stretching the traditional delivery model to breaking point.

As mentioned in the last point, offering fast premium delivery (at a premium price) can not only spread out expected delivery dates (allowing you more time to fulfil some orders) but also give customers a feeling of choice and control over their delivery experience.

For those with bricks and mortar locations, adding options like click-and-collect, as well as ship-from-store lets you treat those retail locations as small hubs, to remove some of the pressure of high-volume distribution from a single location.

Make efficiency improvements

The obvious way to manage increased order volumes without adding resource is to increase efficiency and productivity.

Intelligent route optimisation features let you:

  • Optimise the most efficient routes, so drivers can hit the most delivery locations in the shortest time
  • Plan vehicle loads that are both safe and efficient, to maximise space on the vehicle deliver the most orders possible before stopping to reload
  • Set routes to optimise for driving days that come within Drivers hours (or HOS) regulations, to make the most efficient use of driver time on the road
  • Use multiple depots or hubs to stay agile and scale delivery demand up or down and share resources (vehicles and drivers, as well as inventory) across locations. You could even treat brick-and-mortar stores as mini-hubs if you are able to.

Essentially, you just want to be able to make the most efficient use of resources, so you can make deliveries quickly and smoothly.

Prepare to scale

Scalability doesn’t just go one way.

As well as being able to grow as your business expands, the systems you have in place also need to be agile enough to scale up and down with fluctuating demand during peak seasons. Be prepared to scale-up, with the resources in place to handle those constant fluctuations.

Even the simple things: making sure you have enough drivers and vehicles (or that your systems are able to handle subcontractors and / or temporary vehicles and drivers).

Stream is designed to be user-friendly, straightforward and easy-to-use with familiar systems (like Google Maps, Android and iOS applications and browser-based access) so new or temporary staff and drivers can quickly get up and running with minimal training.

Using cloud-based software like Stream and Brightpearl means your operations are scalable by nature. Retail automation let you put repeatable tasks on autopilot, so staff are freed up to deal with any exceptions brought about by the holidays.

Minimising failed deliveries

Part of the holiday delivery promise is making sure you deliver first time, every time.

Failed deliveries and returns need to be managed. Especially in peak periods when resources are already stretched, the cost of failed deliveries can be a real setback.

There are a number of ways to mitigate against failed deliveries:

  • Proactively communicate delivery windows with customers via email and SMS notifications, so they always know when to expect their delivery
  • Stream’s driver tracking functionality also lets you continually update that ETA on the day of delivery, giving customers an even more accurate picture of their delivery progress
  • You also have the ability, in Stream, to instantly update orders in the system and communicate with the driver so they know to leave the order with a neighbour or an alternative safe location
  • If you are still seeing lots of wasted time due to missed deliveries, you can even apply a charge for re-delivery, to deter customers from missing their delivery slots

Returns are also a concern during peak periods like Christmas. Returns need to be managed, just like deliveries. You can use nearby route functionality in Stream to arrange for returns collected en route – maximising the efficiency of each run.

Managing delivery logistics yourself, in your own vehicles, does give you one distinct advantage: you are able to control the delivery experience.

You just need to manage customer expectations – and then deliver on those expectations! If you don’t have a magical red-nosed reindeer leading your delivery operations, you can request a demo today, to talk about managing your holiday season deliveries – in time for the Christmas rush.

Previous posts on delivering in peak seasons: