Surviving Black Friday: how to maintain supply with heightened demand

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So you may be asking, what and when is Black Friday? Falling on the first Friday after Thanksgiving in the US, retailers offer massive discounts: firing the starting pistol for the Christmas shopping season.

Today, Black Friday fever has spread beyond the US, with British customers queuing for bargains from the early hours. But it is far from being the preserve of high street shops; the most crazy concessions are found online. Beginning in 2010, Amazon started offering Black Friday discounts in the UK — and other retailers soon caught on to its profitability.

But with increased discounts come increased orders, and therefore a lot of preparation is needed in the run up to the big day. This year, Black Friday falls on 27th November in the UK. According to Royal Mail, up to 3.1 million SMEs risk not being able to meet their delivery demands on the day — upsetting customers and potentially tarnishing their reputation. Here lies the question: will you be ready? With a bit of knowledge on how your business will be affected, and options you have to help you at this time of year, you can make sure your business is not one of the 3.1 million that disappoints customers.  

How is the supply chain affected?

The sudden increase in orders will of course boost business profits. Thanks to Black Friday 2014, John Lewis reported the highest level of weekly sales in its 150-year history, and more than 5.5 million items were ordered through Amazon. Overall, the UK’s online retail sales totalled a massive £810 million last Black Friday. But although the day is undoubtedly good for business, it can put retailers under considerable strain.

Shops become crowded, and stock replenishment can prove difficult. Online retailers will experience huge increases in website traffic, which could lead to site crashes, making customers unable to place orders. Last year, technical difficulties affected even large retailers, such as Tesco, Argos, and PC World.

Additional pressure on the supply chain comes with increased shipping times and delivery backlogs. It can take longer to process orders because there aren’t enough staff to cope with the increase in sales. Also, because of the extra traffic on the roads, vans and lorries often get delayed. Black Friday sends consumers and the supply chain into a frenzy — but there are ways to cope with it.   

How do you maintain supply chain efficiency?

With the right planning, you can keep everything running as smoothly as possible. When deciding on which products to discount, think about the likely increase of your best sellers, and look at ‘trending’ products in your sector. If you offered Black Friday deals last year, those figures should give you an indication of what to expect. If you’re a Black Friday newcomer, your Boxing Day sales performance can give you a strong base to start from.

Consider adding to your workforce, by hiring temporary staff. They can provide additional sales support in your shop, process online orders, and package goods in your warehouse.

A good relationship with your suppliers is also key. By regularly keeping in contact with them, via phone and email in the lead up to Black Friday, you can be assured that they can supply the stock you need. You don’t want to keep customers waiting for their orders any longer than necessary on account of poor communication .

Online retailers need to pay particular attention to their websites. Determine your site’s ability to handle unusually large volumes of traffic, by carrying out load testing, and make changes to improve it’s efficiency. Don’t forget to optimise your mobile site either, as many consumers impulsively shop on their phones.

Pay attention to packaging

Liaise with your packaging supplier to ensure that you will have sufficient cardboard boxes, postal boxes, and padded envelopes, ready for Black Friday.

People might order more than one of a certain item if it’s discounted, so why not save on costs by ordering some larger boxes, bags, and envelopes? This way, you can send out multiple orders in one package. It’s much more efficient, and better for the environment.

Don’t forget to order extra bubble wrap, tape and packing peanuts to ensure the goods arrive in perfect condition.  Also, ensure you have enough shelving for your retail and exporting spaces to prevent items getting damaged.

Should you consider outsourcing to a 3PL?

Outsourcing to a 3PL provider will take away some of the strains of Black Friday. The logistics will be handled by experts, who will have planned carefully to meet increased demand. You and your staff can concentrate on sales and customer service and, as a result, you might not need to hire extra staff.

You don’t necessarily have to outsource both storage and transport, either. If you have sufficient warehouse capacity, your 3PL could handle the deliveries. If you have the transport covered but you need more space, warehousing could be outsourced.

However, you may wish to handle everything yourself. This will enable you to keep a close eye on your stock: ensuring your incomings match your delivery notes, and exports tally with your numbers of orders. Handling the process yourself will mean you’re better equipped to confirm delivery dates with customers, and deal with incorrect, missed, or delayed deliveries.

Black Friday doesn’t have to be bleak every business, causing a massive profit spike in your yearly takings. So make sure you take action now to get your supply chain in check. Make the most of the countless consumers awaiting your discounts—the clock’s ticking.

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About Author

Barney Byfield is the Managing Director of Davpack, one of the leading mail order companies for packaging supplies in Europe. Davpack is also the UK packaging supplier within the European Packaging Solutions section of leading global business equipment group, TAKKT

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