Consumer demand for fast shipping and convenient returns is as strong as ever. While out-of-stock items and shipping delays ranked as the top two consumer concerns going into the last holiday season, this year many retailers are contending with excess inventory and labor shortages — particularly in the trucking industry

Activating a flexible last mile logistics network will be key to alleviating these peak season concerns. And crowdsourcing is the answer. The same services you use for fast delivery can help you reposition your inventory, whether you’re restocking a storefront or getting returned items back on the shelf. 

Take the following steps to make sure you get inventory where you need it, when you need it.

Step 1. Use data to plan your inventory logistics

Start with what you know. Your sales and inventory records are a treasure trove of information. Take time before peak season gets into full swing to analyze what your customers are telling you through their purchasing habits. Ask questions like:

  • What do they want? You probably have a solid idea of your best selling products, categories and brands. Sales records can confirm those instincts. Compare them to past holiday seasons to anticipate likely demand. Pay attention to customer responses to promotions, too. If you’ve advertised a certain holiday season sale or product, you’ll need to have plenty of those items on hand.
  • Where do they want it? Once you’ve planned how to adjust your inventory quantities, it’s time to look at where to position it. Supply chain experts at IBM say the pandemic shifted where people choose to live, generally moving away from urban centers and into the suburbs. If your business has multiple locations, confirm which ones are seeing more traffic compared to past years so you can stock each of your locations effectively. 
  • How do they want to receive — and return — items? Take inventory positioning a step further by bringing online orders into the mix. Your customers’ online shopping habits may call for extra inventory at your order fulfillment center, as well as on store shelves. High-level customer shipping information holds valuable data, too. Are you frequently delivering to the same parts of town? Are there new areas you haven’t shipped to before? Where do customers prefer to return items? This is an opportunity to look for ways to speed up those processes for happier customers and a smoother resale process. 

Taking these steps can help you prepare for initial peak-season inventory needs. But be sure to revisit these questions throughout the season so you can react quickly as inventory fluctuates. 

Step 2. Match your logistics partners to the trends you see

Adding a nimble logistics partner to your fulfillment mix is essential during peak season. Thanks to its speed and flexibility, crowdsourcing can help you quickly get inventory exactly when and where your customers are telling you they need it. That includes moving items from your warehouse to your store and from store to store, and relocating extra inventory that needs a new home quickly.

You might rely on traditional shipping for scheduled or full-truckload deliveries, but repositioning inventory is rarely as structured or predictable. That’s where crowdsourcing comes in. Roadie’s on-demand inventory relocation capability lets your business seamlessly move items around your network when you need to, with capacity that scales to match the size or volume of items you need to move. 

When a special order cleans out a hot product from one of your locations, Roadie can enable the movement of overstock from another store or your distribution center more quickly and affordably than other logistics companies. 

If your logistics strategy doesn’t already include a relationship with a company that can meet this type of need, peak season is the time to get one on board fast. 

Step 3. Meet customers’ needs in-store, online — and in between

Consumers’ shopping habits determine how, and how quickly, you need to reposition inventory, especially considering that ship-to-home isn’t the only fulfillment option. Ecommerce in the form of BOPIS (buy online pick up in store) is growing popular for shoppers who want items right away. More than four in 10 respondents to a 2021 survey said ordering online for same-day store pickup is important to them. The number increases to 54% for shoppers ages 18 to 29. 

While BOPIS shopping more than doubled during the pandemic, this option doesn’t come without its challenges for retailers. More than 70% of retailers cite staffing among their biggest BOPIS fulfillment challenges. In addition to hiring enough people to handle pick-and-pack orders, and training existing staff on BOPIS procedures, retailers report concerns over order accuracy and implementing new technology platforms to support BOPIS trends.

Inventory issues can come into play here, too. BOPIS shoppers will rely on online inventory markers to determine where they make their purchases. A recent report found that 57% of shoppers worldwide purchased alternative products or shopped with a different retailer when desired items were out of stock. And remember: Out-of-stock items are among holiday shoppers’ biggest concerns.

Crowdsourcing with the national network of independent drivers who use Roadie can alleviate these issues. While the Roadie network can easily reposition inventory between your warehouses and retail stores, it can also streamline the process further by delivering straight from your warehouse to the customer’s doorstep. Eliminating extra stops for both you and your customer, crowdsourcing provides the ultimate shopping convenience without the operational challenges that can create retail hiccups. 

Step 4. Get returns back in your network fast with reverse logistics

With as many as 17% of in-store purchases and nearly 21% of online purchases destined for the returns desk, product returns need to be a key factor in your inventory repositioning strategy. Whether returns processing happens at a warehouse, distribution center or retail store, it’s in your best interest to get that merchandise back into your network quickly. This is especially true for seasonal items.

Crowdsourcing can help retailers manage returns by:

  1. Retrieving returned items faster. Driver’s using the Roadie app can complete last-mile deliveries to customer doorsteps within a requested delivery window. By simply reversing the process, that same driver network can retrieve returned items with the same ease and agility. That helps you get products back on your shelves quicker and makes the returns process seamless for your customers.  
  2. Delivering returned items back to the warehouse, distribution center or retail store for resale. Once returns are processed, Roadie drivers can quickly bring them to the right place in your network. 

Return pickups and inventory management deliveries are available as quickly as the same day through the Roadie platform. This means crowdsourcing can speed up your returns process from weeks to days, giving you more time to find a permanent owner for each and every item.

Make seamless returns part of your strategy to win this peak season

Having a convenient way to get inventory where it’s needed is essential during peak season. If you don’t have an on-demand option for repositioning products at the ready, you risk empty shelves in one place, an overstock elsewhere, and no easy or affordable solution for rebalancing in response to customers’ demands. 

Crowdsourcing with Roadie solves this problem using solutions you already know and trust. The same drivers who deliver to your customers’ doorsteps with speed and accuracy can move orders of any size, shape and quantity between your facilities the same day. 

With Roadie in the mix, you’ll have an on-demand option for keeping products on the shelf and customers happy all season long.

Are you prepared for peak season returns? Check out our guide to discover how crowdsourced returns can offer greater speed, convenience and control for you and your customers.

The last mile in reverse: 4 ways to optimize returns with crowdsourcing