MetaPack Delivery Conference 2015: Managing demand at peak

Managing demand at peak
Managing demand at peak

Never one to go back on our word, we’re ready with more highlights from the MetaPack Delivery Conference 2015. It would have been great if we’d been able to attend every single one of the talks but technology, alas, has not yet advanced so far regarding time travel or cloning. Fortunately, the morning plenary panel session was, well, plenary. All could go and all but the footsoldiers manning the stands did.

As mentioned in our first post, Black Friday 2014 was more popular than a Justin Bieber concert, with fewer pre-teen girls and more manic shoppers willing to kick and bite for a reduced TV. Dick Stead, Executive Chairman at Yodel, said that the company took in 600,000 extra parcels in two days over Black Friday weekend. To compensate for this massive influx they would have needed to hire an extra 5000 drivers for that period. Retailers and carriers were massively unprepared for the rocketing sales and, as such, a few lost out on what could have been the most profitable weekend of the year.

"A lot of retailers were playing all the right notes in the wrong order."

John Roberts, founder of ao.com

To be ready for such an increase in sales, an eCommerce business has to prepare well in advance and formulate a game plan. Some were discounting a few items just to get people through their doors while others discounted everything but the till points. The ominous date is marked into our calendars now, though, and Tuesday’s panel were on hand to give their advice on how to prepare for Black Friday 2015.

Many retailers and carriers boast that they offer 24-hour delivery and the like, which is fine for the majority of the year, but when peak hits they often struggle to keep their promise. It was asked from the audience why carriers and retailers risk over promising and under-delivering and, naturally, the main reason stated was competition. Yodel can’t take away the fast delivery option if Royal Mail are going to keep theirs because who are consumers more likely to choose as their carrier? But a little competition might just be what the industry needs. If everyone is offering the same service, it becomes a race to have the very best version of that service available.

So how is this achieved? Well, according to the panel, it will take a lot of little changes but one of them is hub capacity. Over the Christmas season Royal Mail opened an extra 10 hubs to handle the increased capacity - a necessity considering they managed over 120 million parcels in December. On a similar note, DPD spoke about their recently opened Superhub which can accurately sort up to 45,000 parcels an hour.

DPD Superhub
DPD Superhub

But the popular opinion at the entire conference was that it’s not all down to the carriers. If consumer demand is to be met at peak as well as throughout the rest of the year, the relationship between carriers and retailers has to be strong and long-lasting. It’s important for retailers to constantly communicate changes in store, such as promotions and expected peak hours, so that carriers can prepare in advance. Likewise, carriers need to relay to the retailer what their capabilities are so that the customer isn’t promised something that can’t be fulfiled.

“Carrier / retailer relationships aren’t just for Christmas.”

Brian McCarthy, Home Delivery Director for Argos,

Homebase and Habitat

Along this thread is the talk of improved delivery options. Our last post touched upon this topic in some depth so we won’t delve into it again but more options for the consumer is definitely the way forward. Of course, these options are more beneficial to customers throughout the year rather than during peak, but the rise of Click and Collect may ease the pressure on carriers.

Of course, you can get the order system right and the deliveries perfected, but without decent warehouse management software, your customer fulfilment process will be slower than a hippo in jam. Preparing for peak dates involves re-structuring your warehouse in the most efficient way possible. This isn’t as big an overhaul as it may seem because all it really involves is moving the stock most likely to sell nearer to the pack benches, a fairly simple process with the right system in place. The retailers who did well over Black Friday weekend 2014 were the ones who discounted the right stock and were able to pick and pack it quickly.

So the main advice from the speakers of this session, we thought, was to be prepared. In every way possible, be ready for Black Friday 2015. It’s in the calendar and it’s going to be just as big as last year, if not bigger, so start planning now.

Author: Jess Lawrence