In the freighting, manufacturing, and retail sectors, August through November/December is commonly referred to as “Peak Season.” It is during this chunk of time that shopping, orders, returns, and shipping increase to an alarming degree as the holiday season, and all of its shopping habits, begin to descend upon us. Normally, this is a very exciting, albeit stressful, time for these sectors. After all, for those who capitalize on it effectively, these times of jacked up shipping and purchasing can be an exciting opportunity to increase profits and expand business. 

It should go without saying, however, that Peak Season 2020 will be unlike any we’ve seen before as COVID continues to blast away the normal modes of operation we’ve enjoyed in several industries, especially the retail and manufacturing industries. Many are planning to use this year’s peak season to make up for their stunted performance these past few months, but that can’t be done by simply running back to old methods of preparing for peak seasons past. 

Online orders are going to skyrocket this year even by peak season’s standards. Special attention will need to be paid towards how to bolster e-commerce efforts and improve shipping technology infrastructures such as industrial grade computers in order to provide a seamless shopping experience for socially distanced shoppers still looking to find the perfect gift for their loved ones. 

What can these shippers do then to plan ahead for this novel Peak Season 2020 opportunity? To understand that, it would help to delve a little further into what makes this peak season so special. 

Just How Novel Will Peak Season 2020 Be?

It’s easy to just assume that Peak Season 2020 will be different. You’d be hard pressed to find any holiday or yearly tradition that won’t be drastically changed by our new pandemic-influenced lifestyles. So what do the numbers say specifically about how shopping and shipping habits have been altered? 

Shopping Habits

To start, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, e-commerce sales grew more than 30% between the first and second quarters of 2020 alone. And this is completely divorced from hikes caused by peak season that usually start to make themselves known around this time of year. Of course, this makes complete sense. We’re all quarantining and socially distancing, so several people are making an effort to limit exposure to the outside as much as they can. 

And while stores have begun to reopen and shutdown restrictions are easing, it’s very likely that a lot of this focus on e-commerce and online retail will carry on well into the future. According to a Global Connected Consumer Index Report, nearly 30% of shoppers report they will continue mostly shopping online even after the Coronavirus subsides. 

Shipping Habits

So what does this mean for shipping and freighting? A lot, actually. 

Many retailers are expecting unprecedented levels of online traffic and e-commerce activity and are scaling their efforts to improve shipping technology to prepare. To reference one more survey, Ware2Go, a UPS company, found that order fulfillment strategies are beginning to change in response to this expected jump in activity. In fact, 77% of responding merchants and manufacturers commented that they plan to start shipping directly to consumers. Several more even explain that they plan on making 2 day shipping guarantees during the 2020 peak season. 

Now that we’ve settled away the stats, where does that leave you as a merchant or manufacturer looking to capitalize on this never-before-experienced peak season? In what ways can you best improve shipping technology at your own warehouse in order to meet skyrocketing demand?

1.) Make Sure Your End-to-End Visibility Efforts are Up to Snuff

If you expect orders and shipping to increase, you need everything from your production and freighting to machine maintenance and communication to be running like a well-oiled machine. That means the question of how to improve shipping efficiency should start first and foremost with questioning how you can better enhance your supply chain visibility. Starting with this approach means you’re starting with a groundwork of proper communication and transparency which, when you’re dealing with several disparate teams in the process of creating and shipping a product, is what will ensure your customers receive their orders when they want it delivered.

Visibility tech such as blockchain ledgers can allow for this communication between your desk workers, frontline workers, supply chain partners, and even the merchants and customers you deliver to. These ledgers allow all of your partners to share status updates and inform partners further down the chain about the progress of an order or product shipment. Many also include partnered retailers on these ledgers which can be helpful by allowing those partners to report when/if a shipment is missing or taking longer to arrive, after which the ledger can be perused to find where the shipment was held up. 

Connected worker platforms fueled by proper hardware investments can improve internal communication as well. Something like an industrial tablet can be carried around the floor and leveraged to report on the proper running of supply chain processes at the ground level. This can also allow for team members to quickly report breakdowns and stops in the process in real-time and at the ground level, eliminating the possibility of unexpected breakdowns hurting your ability to ship products out on time.

2.) Enhance Your Documentation and Billing

Whether you’re shipping directly to end users of your product, to retailers, or to other members of a supply chain, you’ll need to improve your documentation and billing efforts to you’re moving through the order to cash process properly. Shipping out your product is part of the order to cash process as well, however, shipping doesn’t occur until invoices and payments are received. Thus, finding a way to improve shipping technology and practices is also closely tied to enhancing how effectively you can receive payment for your services.

Automating the processing of customer orders with something like robotic process automation speeds up this invoice and billing procedures while also eliminating costly human error. It’s likely Peak Season 2020 will bombard you with invoices and billing paperwork that will require busy work in the form of data entry, something you don’t want to bother your teams with as they’re sure to have their hands full. RPA software is able to scan pdfs of invoices, detect where customer information needs to be loaded and automatically pull information from order requests to populate those forms. This cuts down exponentially on time spent processing orders and allows you to quickly move forward with shipping.

3.) Scale Up Your Shipping and Freighting

As far as actually shipping and freighting, it’s very likely you’ll be looking to partner with more than your usual number of shipping teams to meet increased demand brought on by the holiday season. This can be exciting, but with more teams and people to manage comes more opportunity for crossed wires and improper communication. Fortunately, Transportation Management Systems (TMS) are an integral piece of shipping technology that can help in this regard. 

Functioning as a kind of dashboard for shipping information and communications, TMS software drastically improves your shipping and freighting transparency. Not only do these programs allow you to track shipments to consumers and retailers, it also gives drivers you allow access to upload their own files and documents. 

If you’re using multiple shippers (which is very common because not all products can be carried and shipped the same way), having to navigate all of these shippers’ communication apparatuses and punching in shipping codes several times a day to track shipments opens the door to human error. A TMS can consolidate all of these apparatuses onto a single dashboard and even streamline the data entry side of the job, mitigating these human errors.  

Improve Shipping Technology with Proper Visibility and Resiliency

Peak season is a time of increased productivity and new partnerships. And while 2020 has changed the way peak season will work this year and, likely, in the years after, one thing remains certain: preparing now and researching ways to improve shipping technology and supply chain visibility programs will pay off in the short and long-term. For more information on how you can work to improve these programs within your own facility, contact an expert from Cybernet today.