Fulfilment companies may have taken all reasonable steps to ensure that they are well placed to cope with the inevitable spike in their clients’ online sales created by Black Friday and Cyber Monday, but their plans will be worthless if their chosen carrier fails to keep pace with the demands that the year’s most intense period of online shopping will bring.
That is the opinion of William Walker, sales and marketing director of Walker Logistics, the Berkshire-based specialist supply chain services operator.
“Driven to a large degree by the media coverage it received, last year’s UK Black Friday exceeded all expectations,” William Walker says.
He continues: “With consumers encouraged to buy by heavy discounts, offers of free delivery and generous loyalty card bonus schemes, a massive number of online orders were placed in a far shorter time than anyone anticipated.
“Last year, 30 retailers who offered Black Friday discounts were quizzed just after the Black Friday weekend by IMRG (Interactive Media in Retail Group) - the industry association for the UK’s e-retail sector. They reported an average sales uplift of 180 per cent.
“Black Friday had a massive impact on many retailers’ fulfilment operations for days afterwards. Indeed, the percentage of on-time deliveries fell away to a record low in December.”
Clearly Black Friday and its aftermath represents a serious challenge to the third party logistics industry.
“It is essential that 3PLs who serve clients that are planning a Black Friday promotion take steps to ensure that their staffing levels are right to cope with the likely increase in activity,” says William Walker. “And staff need to be fully trained so they are up to speed before the rush starts so stock can be dropped and picked and more replenishment cycles undertaken quickly and efficiently.”
“However,” he warns, “even the most efficient picking and packing fulfilment operation can be let down if a carrier is unable to cope with the volume of orders that need to be processed.
“Last year – even with mild weather - it was reported that some backlogs took several days to clear and led to many frustrated customers. If carriers are similarly stretched and should there be snowfall this year, the situation has the potential to unravel very quickly. The demise of City Link is only likely to exacerbate the problem.”
William Walker advises all retailers planning Black Friday promotional sales campaigns to check that their logistics or fulfilment solutions provider has more than one carrier partner they can call upon to minimize the risks of order fulfilment gridlock.
“We provide e-fulfilment services for several online retailers and in the run-up to Black Friday we have been stress testing our own operation as well as the processes of our preferred carriers to ensure that the likely uptake of orders will not cause any issues.”
“It is going to be a busy time, but we are confident that we can cope,” he adds.
Black Friday UK 2015 is on November 27th with Cyber Monday on November 30th. Black Friday is a concept imported from the US where, since the early 2000s, it has been regarded as the beginning of the Christmas shopping season.