Preparing your supply chain for a COVID Christmas

We’re already halfway through the year, which means two things: the British summer isn’t looking too promising, and it’s already time to think about Christmas. But this is no ordinary Christmas. 

No, this year you must prepare your supply chain for a COVID Christmas, which requires different thinking, resources and strategies for success. 

Not sure where to start? We’re here to help.

What will a COVID Christmas look like for eCommerce?

No one’s entirely sure. While we hope life is back to normal by the end of the year, the chance of supply chains and consumer spending returning to normal in fewer than five months is unlikely. 

However, what we do we know are the supply chain areas most likely to be impacted during Christmas 2020. These are:

Product availability
With some countries still in lockdown and others facing a second wave, product manufacturing and availability are sure to be impacted throughout the rest of the year – preventing you from confidently stocking up or restocking items for Christmas.

Consumer spending
Consumer spending can go one of two ways. Either the end of the furlough scheme brings an increase in redundancies and a reduction in disposable income, or the end of a confusing year is celebrated with increased gift-giving and spending. Either way, you’ll experience an increase or a drop in Christmas sales during 2020. 

Sales channels
There’s been a significant jump in online orders throughout the lockdown but can this continue? A second wave and lockdown will certainly drive online Christmas sales, but a reduction in cases and re-opening of businesses could also reignite people’s passion for high street shopping. 

Supply chain labour
Supply chain labour is also anyone’s guess. Nation-wide redundancies might give you access to additional staff at lower costs during the final months of the year. However, a second wave could also lead to staff absences and costly temporary labour – if you can get hold of it, that is.

Product returns are already a growing eCommerce issue, and they could get a lot worse. Last-minute redundancies, cancelled Christmas plans and regretful panic buying can make that Christmas gift no longer needed – leaving you with a costly and time-intensive return. 

Fulfilment support
Finally, increased online spending and the surge of new online businesses will see eCommerce 3PLs and shipping carriers busier than ever before. This could mean less capacity to support your fulfilment operation at the last minute.

Add Your Heading Text HereHow to prepare your supply chain for a COVID Christmas

The best way to protect your supply chain against these COVID Christmas risks is by preparing now with the following:

If you haven’t drafted one of these already, get typing. A supply chain continuity plan is a document outlining how you continue delivering orders during disruption – i.e. a second wave of the pandemic here or in any country you work with. 

However, a continuity plan is only effective if it works in reality. If yours relies on temporary labour, 3PLs or couriers in the peak retail period of the year, during a pandemic – your plan won’t work unless you start arranging it now.

Start conversations with your suppliers, 3PL and carriers about their Christmas continuity plans, availability and pricing. 

Some couriers are already booking capacity and talking about peak surcharges. Discussing these topics openly and early ensures that everyone’s on the same page, with the same expectations.

Just-in-time product sourcing is a risky strategy at any time of the year, particularly this winter. Increased order volume, local lockdowns and travel restrictions will all impact product availability. And let’s not forget this country’s ability to panic shop during a crisis. 

Overcome these risks by ordering Christmas stock now and finding affordable storage space to keep it ready.

Another way to overcome the risk of a broken supply chain is by diversifying your suppliers. It’s ideal to have multiple product suppliers in different countries or regions so that a localised outbreak will only affect one supplier, allowing another to pick up the downfall.

The same goes for shipping carriers. Use a 3PL that partners with multiple shipping carriers so the disruption of one doesn’t disrupt your ability to deliver for all. 

Temporary capacity is always essential at Christmas, but it could be harder and more expensive to obtain this year. 

If you’re not able to handle an increase in online orders or staff absences during October, November and December, speak to an outsourced fulfilment specialist about using their capacity to help.

There will always be those last-minute Christmas shoppers, but this year, in particular, it’s a good idea to encourage early spending. 

The earlier people start their Christmas shopping, the more time you have to process orders, restock products, and handle your Christmas fulfilment. Discounts and offers will almost certainly work, but being honest with your customers about why early spending is encouraged should work wonders too.

If you’re covering all bases with multiple online sales channels and physical retail spaces, it’s crucial you or your 3PL is using the best fulfilment technology for the job. 

This includes inventory management software, warehouse management systems, and multi-channel management software that ensures orders are processed and shipped quickly, and sales channels are updated and synced automatically. If your 3PL doesn’t know what you’re talking about, talk to a 3PL that does.

We’re entering an unprecedented event. Christmas shopping is always a little crazy and unpredictable, and it’s bound to be even more so this year. 

While you might feel confident handling your eCommerce fulfilment during a typical Christmas, this is a make or break Christmas, where a 3PL can benefit you through:

  • Fulfilment expertise for maintaining shipping speeds and standards during a crisis. 
  • Tech integrations with sales channels ERP systems and accounting software to efficiently and effectively handle orders. 
  • Labour resources to cope with increased order volumes during peak periods. 
  • Extensive warehouse space to stock items and implement social distancing between staff.  

Interesting reading: When is the right time to use a 3PL?

Want someone to share your COVID Christmas concerns with?

Whether eCommerce fulfilment is your primary job or one of many responsibilities, planning for Christmas is challenging; preparing for a COVID Christmas is even worse. 

If you want to share your concerns and discuss ideas with an expert, get in touch today – Synergy Retail Support is here to support you and make this Christmas one to remember for the right reasons.

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Gary Rees

Gary Rees

Gary Rees is the owner of Synergy Retail Support, one of the leading SME fulfilment centres in the UK. Having successfully grown the business for over 30 years and with relationships with most household brands, he now looks to partner with customers rather than just act as a supplier so that both parties can grow together. Gary has extensive knowledge in retail compliance, production technologies, shipping details and customer service.

Feel free to contact me personally if you’d like to discuss your business.

01604 412 290