The 5 Point Last Minute Black Friday Supply Chain Checklist!

Black Friday

Black Friday is almost here!  The Last Minute Black Friday Supply Chain checklist is here too!

It marks the tipping point demarcating the less busy, preparation focussed pre-Black Friday period from the frantically busy, execution focussed post-Black Friday period.

Record sales are expected from the online retail channel in particular, as is the case year after year.

For Supply Chain teams this means that time is running out to ensure that all of the planning, preparation, contingencies, resources, systems, processes and goods are in place.  

Here is our Last Minute Black Friday checklist.

1. Is Your Inventory In Place?

You can’t complete customer orders unless you have your inventory on hand.  This typically means that your inventory must be on warehouse shelves in your (or your outsourced Logistics service provider’s) Distribution Centres, on shelves in your Retail outlets, or at Supplier locations, all ready to ship.

If you still have goods in transit to your fulfillment channels then you will need to determine now whether they will arrive in time.  If not you need to decide whether to expedite the shipment of those goods.

If goods are arriving at your Distribution Centres you need to ensure you have enough capacity and resource to allow for the expeditious receiving and storage of those goods so that they show as in stock.

You may also want to do some last-minute Inventory counting, especially on  your high value, or high volume, goods.  And inventory discrepancies are better uncovered now then risk a customer placing an order later on that you can’t fulfill because your inventory counts are wrong.

2. Do You Have Enough Resources?

The Black Friday/Cyber Monday period, and in fact the entire Holiday period, will typically result in a volume of activity during that 5 week period that is dramatically higher than any other time of the year, by many orders of magnitude.

To handle this volume of customer orders, whether in your own facilities or in the operations of your outsource partners, you will have to have exponentially increased the number of employees on hand.

Further those employees must be onboarded, trained, and retained.  Finding enough employees at the same time everyone else is staffing up can be difficult.  Retaining these employees during this hectic period can be equally challenging.  The reality is you are often only hiring a lot of employees for a 2-3 month period so their loyalty and barriers to exit are low.  

You may need to have proactively prepared an intelligent incentive plan to both attract and retain employees for the Holiday season.  Further if you are not already working 24-7 you may need to quickly add more shifts throughout this time.

The challenge here is also a function of the actual demand that you realize.  For many companies they are expecting significant growth year to year, and those numbers should be factored in to your resource planning.  But what if the actual demand is even greater than the already higher demand that you were expecting?  You will need to react quickly to secure even more resource, on a dime, or run the risk of losing those orders.

Last Minute Black Friday

3. Are Your Systems Robust Enough?

There is nothing like a high volume of activity to strain the very systems that are required to make this all work.  Your Website, your Order Management system, your Planning system, your Inventory Management system, your Receiving and Shipping systems, your Marketing systems, and your Product Data Management systems must work at all times.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday will see peak order periods that literally occur in a matter of seconds.  If any of your systems cannot support an exponentially higher amount of activity and either stall or shut down then you are in trouble.  Customers will immediately go elsewhere if your site goes down.

Contingency plans including backup databases and alternative hosting services should be reviewed to help in case you need to exercise these options.

4. Are Your Logistics Partners Ready?

Most companies are going to use a 3rd party to delivery orders to their customers.   You may be using FedEx, UPS, USPS, or any other of many 3PLs or couriers.

Whoever you are using you must realistically understand that they have many other customers who are also expecting them to deliver their goods.  So when the heat is on and they are inundated with an avalanche of packages to deliver from everyone how do you know that they have reserved the resources that you have contracted for to ensure that your packages are delivered on time?  For instance, what happens if weather inhibits their ability to delivery goods?

YOU OWN the ENTIRE Customer experience even if you are counting on someone else to perform the physical last mile delivery function.  And if the package is not delivered on time, as per the commitment that you made to the customer, you may find that you have fewer customers in the future.

You must have a very tight relationship with your Logistics service providers, including regular, frequent checkpoint communications during this Holiday period.  If there is nothing wrong then these calls can be short.  But if either you or the Logistics company has updates you will then be in a position to react as quickly as possible.

It may mean extending lead times for instance to ensure you don’t over promise to your customers.  Or it may mean defining realistic cut off times to ensure that all packages will arrive before Christmas.  Whatever the issue is real-time communications can help mitigate any damage.

5. Are You  Synchronized With Your Marketing Team?

In parallel with all of your efforts to get your Supply Chain ready for the Holiday, your Sales and Marketing team has been doing the same.  They have been planning sales, promotions and advertising, often by the hour, to ensure that they maximize sales.

Further they will be reacting hour to hour based on what actually occurs.  For products that are not selling they will be offering fire sales and last-minute promotions.  For products that are selling well they will want to sell even more.

And they are counting on Supply Chain to execute on the demand that they generate.  That means that Supply Chain and Marketing must be completely synchronized minute by minute as to what is going on.  If Marketing is promoting a product that Supply Chain can’t execute on then there will be a disaster.  If Supply Chain isn’t informing Marketing on what is happening (eg. delivery issues, weather related problems) then Marketing will be pushing the wrong products.

Any misalignment between Supply Chain and Marketing will manifest itself in the form of unhappy customers.  Ensuring that you don’t over promise and under deliver is critical while still driving for every increasing sales.

The Last Minute Black Friday Checklist in Conclusion

Months and months of planning are coming to an end.  It is now time to execute.  There is still a little time left to ask some questions to fix any remaining problems, identify further opportunities, or put additional measures in place to ensure your success.

It is going to be a hectic time but those who work in Supply Chain are usually familiar with working in stressful situations and using the Holiday adrenaline rush to their advantage.  Use our Last Minute Black Friday checklist, please.

Remember that your competitors are going through the same situation.  So rise above it and lead your organization through a successful Black Friday-Cyber Monday Holiday season!

Originally published on November 13, 2018.