December can be a stressful month for many business shippers as extra demand, tighter deadlines, and labor challenges often force some visible "stress fractures" in order fulfillment processes. Common examples of an over-stressed fulfillment process include slow-downs and delays from surging volumes, increased costs from expedited shipping requests, more lost, damaged, or mistaken shipments, and larger-than-normal gaps between what you expected a shipment to cost and what shows up on the carrier invoice. It's not much fun, we don't need to tell YOU that, but what if those end of year stresses could be put to good use making next year better? The good news about all the end of year rush and stress is that it will give you an oversized set of data to highlight improvement strategies. Here are some of our top recommendations for using all that extra shipping data and your end of year challenges to make NEXT year less stressful.
Read on to learn about turning end of year challenges into improvements for the new year ...
Reduce Mistakes in Pick-Pack-Ship
When shipping volumes are up and deadlines are tight, people make more mistakes. As frustrating as it is to deal with shipping errors in the heat of the moment, an end of year shipping rush can give you specific examples in enough volume to highlight patterns you can address with process, technology, or people changes. Are most errors the wrong item or quantity? Did packaging problems allow easier damage? Were certain types of mistakes (e.g. involving high-value products) more expensive to correct than others? Simple improvements might include introducing scan-pack validation at the end of your fulfillment process to match actual items and quantities going into shipping containers against the original sales order to catch and fix 90%+ of errors before they get out the door.
Improve Your Packing Process
It's easy to forget that 2015 was the year that carriers like UPS and FedEx made shipping container size, not just weight, become a key factor in shipping cost. If your fulfillment process is not yet capturing actuals --- actual weight, actual length, actual width, actual height, and actual item contents --- you can expect some negative effects to start showing up as your volume and diversity of shipping types grows. The good news is that it's actually easier than ever to automate how you record the messy actual details of shipping, we'd suggest looking at barcoded container types, electronic scale integration, and packing automation as just a few tools that can help you finally get your packing process running on actual data.
Reduce the Bite From Extra Fees
This year seemed to be the "year of the shipping fee", so don't be surprised if your end of year rush causes spikes in dimensional weight charges, excess packaging fees, freight reclassifications, residential delivery charges, or other unexpected costs. Service fees are big money-makers for most carriers and, to be fair, they also target cost drivers that make shipping more expensive for everyone. One way to reduce many fees is to improve your packing process as noted above, since better data on items in shipping containers will immediately make pricing factors like freight classification more accurate and also reduce unexpected dimensional weight surcharges. Another improvement step you can take is to introduce better upfront freight quoting with tools like automatic residential address detection to make sure the price you quote includes a more complete range of required carrier services, so you don't get stuck holding the bag on shipping fees.
Try Out Some New Carriers
We hear many business shippers emphasize the importance of carrier relationships and how shipping is not always about finding the lowest cost carrier service. While we wholeheartedly agree and see the positive results of that attitude with many shippers who are strategically well-aligned with their carriers, sometimes it is entirely appropriate to consider adding or changing carriers. For example, in a recent survey of more than 130,000 consumers in early December of this year, consumers reported on-time deliveries at a lower rate of 91.5% suggesting that overall service level predictability has been declining in recent years. The good news is that it's easier than ever to try-before-you-buy with new carrier services since technologies (like Pacejet !) can allow you to activate new carriers, try them out for a limited set of shipments or customers, and then make decisions to expand or discontinue "carrier trials" based on actual experiences. It might not be time to throw all of your carriers out but adding in specialists such as regional carriers or export carriers could make a big difference in your service levels and costs next year.
Where To Start
Like many improvement processes, the hardest step in changing your fulfillment process is usually the first step. But if you can use the holiday "rush hour" to help put some focus on your key hot spots, you'll feel more confident in making a change. Have a question about where to start, want to discuss options for a change you've already zeroed-in on, or a story about an improvement you've already made? We'd love to hear from you!