Post-holiday supply chain management: Challenges and opportunities

     

As the holiday season comes to a close, many retailers are looking forward to breathing a sigh of relief. With holiday orders completed and items shipped off, supply chain managers may think their stressors are all out of the way for the year. However, the end of the year - specifically the week between Christmas and New Years - can bring a number of new challenges, as well as some key opportunities.

Preparing for holiday returns

The biggest obstacle that the post-holiday shopping season brings is the rush of returns. Whether customers received the same gift from two relatives or something that they simply don't want, they'll be looking to retailers to accommodate their needs. This can put added stress on the supply chain, which one study shows many managers may not have planned for.

Overall, 61 percent of respondents in North America and Europe identified the post-holiday season as the most difficult time of year, according to an Intermec study. This is because of the large volume of returns and exchanges these businesses see. At the same time, 52 percent of these supply chain managers admitted that their organizations don't currently have the solutions to deal with the challenges that come along with these returns. Should this merchandise be returned to the vendor? Should it be circulated back into inventory supplies or simply discarded?

"The holiday season is the busiest and most challenging time of the year for distribution operations, especially those engaged in business-to-consumer fulfillment," said Bruce Stubbs, industry marketing director for distribution center operations at Intermec. "With challenging lead times, increased volumes, temporary staffing and the after-holiday deluge of returns, improving mobility solutions for the workforce becomes more crucial than ever before if businesses are to meet customer demands and improve profitability."

In these respects, a supply chain management system is key. Such a solution can help managers determine just what to do with the items that are being returned and keep operations humming along. This way, there are no hang ups when it comes to post-holiday returns and customers needs can be quickly addressed.

Lightwell_Consumer_Post_Holiday_Sales

Whether dealing with the post-holiday challenges or aiming to re-engage customers, a supply chain management solution can provide the value, oversight and aid that companies need to be successful during this time of year.

Post-holiday sales

However, returns aren't the only challenge supply chain managers are faced with after the holiday rush. Logistics company Genco noted that many customers will take advantage of year-end sales at this time as well. A survey from RetailMeNot showed that 79 percent of shoppers plan to make purchases during post-holiday sales. With gift cards and cash burning a hole in their pockets, who could blame them?

"The days following Christmas are some of the busiest for retailers as shoppers take to the stores to use their gift cards and, in many cases, make exchanges or returns," said Trae Bodge, a RetailMeNot senior editor.

This is yet another time when a supply chain management system becomes so valuable. In addition to dealing with the rush of returns, this solution can also aid in ensuring that these transactions are carried out quickly and efficiently.

An opportunity to re-engage customers

This time of year isn't all about supply chain challenges, though. GT Nexus noted that when customers connect with a retailer to make returns, it is an opportunity to engage with these shoppers once again, or make an impression on a new client.

"Many times, this will be that person's first interaction with that specific retail store, and if retailers remember this fact, they can leverage this opportunity to gain new clients who will be entering the stores at a time when a plethora of sales and promotions surround them," GT Nexus stated. "The post-holiday returns should be viewed by retailers as an opportunity to engage customers."

One thing that is sure to frustrate any patron - new or old - is when a store doesn't have the item they're looking for. Whether part of a sale or not, it's important that retailers ensure that a customer's first interaction with the company is a good one. With proper supply chain management in place, the retailer can have better oversight of its inventory and guarantee that it has enough items in stock.

Whether dealing with the post-holiday challenges or aiming to re-engage customers, a supply chain management solution can provide the value, oversight and aid that companies need to be successful during this time of year.

More supply chain resources: