Mark your calendars: Peak season starts earlier every year. Last year, six in ten holiday shoppers were already making purchases by November, according to the National Retail Federation — a record high. Rising demand and supply chain congestion have caused retailers like Walmart and Target to lead the charge in extending peak season by starting holiday promotions earlier to reduce roadblocks to order fulfillment later on.  

With peak season beginning earlier each year, it’s more important than ever to prepare your store for the uptick in activity, both in the aisles and behind the scenes. After all, a successful peak season is about more than just having enough product on store and warehouse shelves to meet demand. It also requires making sure you can get products to your customers on time, every time.

From an enjoyable in-store or online experience to fast shipping and a smooth returns process, retailers need to ensure their customers have a memorable — and positive — peak season shopping experience that keeps them coming back year-round.

Ready to win peak season? We have some tips to get you started:

Take stock of your inventory and prepare your warehouse.

Before you begin moving product for peak season, you need to make sure your inventory is in order. Are slow-moving or deadstock products taking up space on shelves or in storage? Consider running a flash sale or other promotion. This will create space for your more popular, fast-moving SKUs so you can make sure to avoid stockouts.

Checking your inventory is just the first step. Performing a warehouse and equipment audit will help to optimize efficiencies and ensure safety during high-volume, high-stress times. Avoid cluttered floors and aisles, maintain organized shelves and ensure all scanners and equipment are in good working order. That way, when orders come in, you’ll know where they need to go.

Review and improve your return policy.

No matter the time of year, having a well-defined returns and exchange policy on the books is always a good idea. A fine-tuned returns management process that simplifies returns for customers can help you improve the customer experience, maintain sales and improve brand loyalty. 

If a customer has a good returns experience, it may encourage them to make an exchange and save you the sale, rather than ask for their money back. 

It’s also a good idea to regularly review which products are returned the most often and why. This can help guide product design changes. If returns are quality-related, the information should go to your quality control department. You’ll also want to take a moment to consider whether your product descriptions could be revised to better set customer expectations and avoid those returns in the first place. 

Add same-day delivery to your fulfillment strategy.

Customers want and expect ultrafast delivery. Don’t let the capacity constraints or timing of traditional carriers or your own fleet limit how fast you can fulfill orders. Instead, set yourself up to scale in response to customer demand by working with a crowdsourced delivery platform. Using Roadie, you can reach 97% of U.S. households with same-day delivery. By tapping into a national network of independent drivers, you can be prepared to fulfill orders at a moment’s notice, ensuring your business can keep up with high demand and tight fulfillment timelines all season long. 

Adding crowdsourced delivery to your fulfillment strategy not only benefits your business and satisfies customers, it’s good for your employees, too. Outsourcing delivery — especially during volume surges like peak season — allows employees to focus on the highest-value jobs only they can do, while crowdsourced drivers handle your deliveries, saving you time and money. 

Communicate with suppliers ahead of peak season.

Working with your suppliers ahead of the peak season rush ensures you can meet demands and avoid potential stockouts. Share your predicted seasonal volumes and ask about their expected lead times so you can account for them and enter your orders in time. 

With continued port delays and other supply chain issues expected, you may also want to diversify your supplier mix and modes of transport. If your main supplier is unable to meet your demand or comes up against an unforeseen supply chain issue, having a few pre-vetted suppliers lined up may help get you out of a bind.

Train employees to work quickly, efficiently and safely

During peak season, you’ll want to fulfill as many orders as possible, as quickly as possible. Take the time to train and retrain your warehouse and in-store logistics crews to avoid easy mistakes that could add hours or even days to order arrivals. To save time searching for items, employees should be familiar with the warehouse or store layout and know where to find your high movers. 

This is also the time to re-emphasize the need for employees to pay attention to detail. That includes carefully checking (and rechecking) that the right items are picked, and keeping an eye open for damage or quality issues that need to be flagged to quality control. Also make sure employees have been trained in safety protocols and know what to do in case of an emergency.

Set your team up for success with crowdsourced delivery

Preparing your employees and facility to ensure a seamless order handoff with crowdsourced drivers can help make most of this ultrafast fulfillment option

Crowdsourced drivers may have never visited your store or warehouse before. Make sure your site includes clear wayfinding that guides drivers from the entrance to the pickup area and back to the exit. The loading area should also be well-marked and accessible to passenger vehicles like compact sedans and cargo vans.

And don’t forget to add pickup instructions in the Roadie app. That includes where to report for delivery, the name and phone number of the on-site contact, and order information, as well as details about the drop-off destination. For even faster pickup, use a QR or bar code to help drivers easily identify their items with a quick scan.

Ensure communication doesn’t become a barrier by training your employees on what to expect when working with crowdsourced drivers. Dedicate a convenient spot with easy access for staging orders, and communicate to employees that they may need to help drivers load the order into their vehicle. 

Every minute counts during peak season. Make sure the order handoff doesn’t add valuable minutes to your delivery time.

Make checkout a breeze. 

Customers want a smooth, frictionless buying experience, whether it happens in-store or on your website, social pages or app. In today’s competitive market, customers have plenty of choices. Investing in a frictionless customer experience across all touchpoints will lessen frustrations for shoppers, helping you attract and retain loyal customers.

Build brand awareness.

You reach a lot of customers during peak season. Use each delivery to help deepen the connection and make the experience and your brand memorable for shoppers. Custom packaging, personalized notes and marketing inserts have the power to make for a delightful unboxing experience, surprising your customers and improving brand affinity. Perhaps even include a special discount or promotion to help win their return business sooner rather than later.

Are you ready to deliver a successful peak season?

Across categories, companies are finding success by stretching the peak season time frame. Starting the season early may give you the breathing room you need to get everything out the door. But proper planning and organization are essential to having the right products on hand. And an on-demand delivery option like crowdsourcing can help make sure those items get where they need to go, when they’re needed.

Want to learn more? Download our playbook to discover how you can use your store networks as a starting point to speed up last-mile fulfillment this peak season, and all year.

Why crowdsourcing is the secret to winning with BODFS