The last-minute Black Friday Logistics Checklist

By Harsh Vardhan
black friday logistics

In 2018, retail websites saw a staggering 194 million visits during the Black Friday weekend, as recorded by Hitwise. The in-store purchases were huge at the same time—Department stores alone saw 79.3 million visits (across the US). 

Black Friday 2019 is just around the corner and some analysts have been predicting a near 10% rise from last year. 

It’s always a busy time for supply chain teams: extensive planning, allocation of resources, ramping up processes, and preparation for contingencies. 

The Black Friday supply chain is delicate at the same time. There can be delays at the port (changing regulations to blame). Mother Nature is known to ruin some shipments. Unexpected demand for usually slow-moving products. And then there are driver shortages. The challenges just don’t end. 

At this time, the worst thing that can happen to a logistics company or a retailer is to run out of stock. Even sadder when it’s a popular product. 

Here is a last-minute checklist to ensure you’re not missing out on anything crucial: 

1. Take stock of resources

It always pays to be prepared. A week before orders start pouring in, have your team take stock of the facilities and equipment

If you’re expecting a delivery at your distribution center, ensure that you have the resources ready to move them to the warehouse. Source extra hand-helds, forklifts, scanners, etc.  

Make sure you have sufficient storage in the warehouse. Audit your existing inventory. Relocate slow-moving products to third-party logistics or temporary containers to free up more room. 

Take a walk across departments to see if they are equipped to accommodate the incoming shipment. 

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2. Know where your inventory is

You’d want to be on the same page with your suppliers and third-party logistics—it’s a good time to share demand projections with them. 

Making sure your inventory is where it should be—and that it is moving at the right speed—is a challenge for every company. Even Walmart is having a hard time managing its inventory, and they’re suffering. If there are goods still in transit, it’s a good time to learn exactly where they are. There’s a possibility you’ll have to expedite a shipment. Having good relations with your shipping partners pays at this time

There is always some room for inventory discrepancy. All partners should be aware of the bottlenecks that can arise and have the support (buffer supplies, extra drivers) ready to deal with them. 

It would make sense to perform some last moment inventory counting too (especially for high-value or high-volume goods). The sooner you uncover lapses (if any), the better.

3. Factor in last-minute fulfillment requests

Transportation alternatives can be a savior when last-minute fulfillment requests arise. It would help manufacturers avoid delayed load chargebacks, and help retailers avoid losing customers and sales opportunities. The best option is to use a mix of shipping options: dedicated trucks, expedited trucks, and trans load shipments

It would make sense to run an audit (a week before orders start pouring in) to see that all your modes of transportation are ready for operation.

It’s also a good idea to buy additional warehouse stock—the closer they are to your major customers, the better. 

If you have a third-party fulfillment partner, make sure you keep them updated on any projections for sales volume that you have received so far. It always goes a long way in helping them be prepared. 

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4. Make sure your IT systems are ready for the additional load

With a sudden spike in orders during Black Friday and Cyber Monday, there is always a chance that your systems get overloaded. If anything stalls or shuts down, you’re in big trouble. 

Your website, order management system, inventory management system, shipping systems, data management systems—everything must work properly at all times. 

It’s safe to assume that your database and ops team are already on top of this—but it wouldn’t hurt to double-check everything. 

Here are a few things you should do:

  • Backup all your databases
  • Evaluate a few alternate hosting services 
  • Run load tests and stress tests (here’s a great tool)
  • Ask your technical team to test everything again (and then one more time)

If you’re using a third-party vendor for anything, make sure your systems are integrated with theirs. Double-check this one. 

It’s an absolute must that you have a contingency plan. Have your tech team ready should anything go kaput. 

5. Be sure your warehouses are surge-ready

Your warehouses need to be ready to accommodate a mammoth-sized increase in stocks. That, coupled with the fact that you also have to move inventory fast, is a big challenge.

Group your incoming inventory from the fastest to slowest moving. It would make sense to place the fastest moving items at a central location in the warehouse—so that they can be picked and delivered in the minimum possible time. 

The slower moving items can be placed in areas that are away from the shipping dock. You’ll be surprised how much time you’ll save while processing and fulfilling orders. You’ll also cut down on labor costs that way.

Reorganize pick and pack lines. It will help improve the capacity of each station. It also makes sense to sort packing stations based on the type of packaging (premium, gift wrap, or personalized greeting). It won’t hurt to dedicate a few pick and pack stations to only fast-moving merchandise.

Make sure that you have extra pick and pack station materials, such as totes, mailing labels, scanners, carts, and tape. (A lack of supplies is quite common and slows down warehouse operations often.) 

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#TipAlert: If you do not use scanners to enter inventory, there are applications that can be downloaded to smartphones and tablets. Here are 15 inventory management apps to help you evaluate. 

6. Be prepared to handle a swarm of emails

The demand surge also comes with more emails from customers and partners. It’s a good time to update your customer support team about the upcoming surge. Let them know how many dedicated people you’d need, and the hours of operation.

It would make sense to try out Hiver—an email management tool that’ll help your customer support team handle emails without the usual hassles—and makes them more efficient and more responsive. It also helps your team have internal discussions without writing emails or resorting to chat.

#TipAlert: If you’ve engaged in a new contact center, give them data about the calls and emails you handled the previous year, so that they have an idea about the volume. Give them a rough projection as well. 

7. Ensure that your website has pertinent information

A lot of people are going to visit your website to seek information. Make sure that you’re ready with policies, shipping information, and other frequently asked questions. It’s a good idea to revisit what people inquired about the previous year and answer them on the website this time.

Check that the Dashboard is working fine. Run an audit to see that bookings, packing slips, order confirmations, reporting, and recorded messages are working the way they’re supposed to. 

Closing note

Ask any supply chain expert and they will have a “Black Friday shipment gone wrong” story to tell. It’s more common than we’d like.

The preparation for the shopping bonanza goes for months, and a last-minute check will ensure that everything comes together when orders start coming in. 

When everything goes as planned, and products hit the shelves at the right time, it’s not a dime short of winning a logistics Super Bowl.

About the author

Harsh is the content lead at Hiver. He's jocular, loves dogs, and is always up for a road trip. He also reads sometimes.

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