Peak Season Performance: A Survival Guide

Craig Whitehouse, managing director of independent systems integrator Invar Group, offers a survivor’s guide to peak season.

According to the trading line, seasonal peaks occur with the regularity of British Prime Ministers – from Diwali, Halloween/Bonfire Night, to ‘Black Friday/Cyber ​​Monday, through Valentine’s Day, Chinese New Year and Easter . The front-end is aptly called the “Golden Quarter” – this is where most retailers make most of their sales. But the peak of peaks is always Christmas – never easy, and this year is likely to be more complex and unpredictable than usual.

With the UK and global economies teetering into recession, it’s a safe bet that in terms of volume, Christmas trading will be more subdued this year. Does it make it easier to manage the seasonal peak? Quite the contrary.

Many consumers, exposed to inflation, uncertain about their future incomes and perhaps anticipating the distressed price level of retailers, will postpone their purchases at the last minute, worsening the “spike”. Meanwhile, retailers and distributors who have controlled or reduced their workforces – or who have failed to attract staff even for the “normal” level of trade – will have fewer bodies to call on for hours. additional or additional teams. And more than ever, a sale lost because a property is not immediately available is a sale definitely lost.

This is true on all channels. E-commerce as a share of sales has fallen slightly, but at around 30%, it remains well above pre-pandemic levels. However, restocking physical stores this Christmas may be even more crucial – many consumers will not be shopping for their Christmas events: “shopping” may be Christmas treat. Additionally, we can expect a further spike in returns – not because the goods are somehow “fake”, but because many consumers would rather have the monetary value of the well-meaning “gift”.

With so much uncertainty, it may seem counter-intuitive to suggest that investing in automation is an important part of the answer. Certainly, until a few years ago, “automation” equated to “mechanization with some intelligence” and generally involved serious civil and mechanical engineering, justifiable only for companies with high and predictable production volumes. However, things have changed considerably. Intelligent automation is now both highly flexible and scalable, and is much easier to install – no heavy engineering required.

A far cry from the fixed, rigid conveyor systems and heavily racked solutions of the recent past, Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMR) can efficiently navigate routes even if their geography has changed. And increasingly, they can work safely alongside human colleagues, rather than having to be fenced off. Well-established techniques such as pick-to-light or pick-to-voice, combined with appropriate automation, can provide workers with much more rewarding and error-free conditions, improving staff retention and, perhaps, allowing salary increases.

Efficient use of these new resources depends on sophisticated and flexible warehouse management systems (WMS) that can be easily adapted to individual applications and the simple integration of best-of-breed hardware. Adaptability is key, for example, picking protocols, which can be incorporated and implemented centrally and “on the fly” – no need to individually reprogram each machine.

In addition, these solutions are most often easily scalable. It’s a fairly simple process for adding or subtracting AMRs and mobile shelves, with the WMS also being adaptable. And increasingly, these items are available for rental rather than outright purchase, providing businesses with relatively risk-free ways to meet peak demand.

But perhaps, more importantly, automation isn’t “just for Christmas”. The thing is, it can be scaled and modulated to provide year-round benefits, in both high and low seasons. Warehouse automation, intelligently designed and flexibly integrated, can bring a wealth of savings to an organization facing labor shortages and the need to achieve peak volumes at an affordable price. Judicious use of automation can allow a business to not only survive, but also to thrive.

Other independent advice on the latest technologies transforming operational performance in the warehouse can be found at:

Carol N. Valencia