Thought eCommerce Already Spiked in 2020? Just Wait for the Holidays

Thought eCommerce Already Spiked in 2020? Just Wait for the Holidays

The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in distribution center operations stretched to capacity and struggling to match demand. Mandated stay-at-home orders and health concerns kept consumers away from brick and mortar retail and pushed them into the arms of eCommerce alternatives. Online retail sales were up as much as 76% over 2019 and with the holidays approaching that number is forecast to continue climbing.

Greg Smith, Walmart U.S. executive vice president of supply chain, said in a news release that as a growing number of consumers “turn to online shopping, we want to ensure we’re staffed and ready to help deliver that special gift to their loved ones while continuing to fulfill our customer’s everyday needs.”

Distribution centers brace for holiday rush

This spike in eCommerce expectations poses major challenges to fulfill orders quickly and accurately. Distribution centers accustomed to sending single shipments per order will be increasingly expected to ship items within a single order to multiple addresses.

Data from a recent Voxware holiday survey indicates that 62 percent of respondents plan to purchase more stocking stuffers and last-minute gifts online. This means distribution centers will need to strategize the efficient ways to pick and pack small items at the height of the holiday season.

“Those who oversee distribution operations are going to have to think differently this year to meet consumer expectations,” said Keith Phillips, President and CEO of Voxware in response to the survey results. “Automation will be critical and companies that have not taken the initiative to optimize their distribution centers will struggle to deliver a flawless customer experience.”

Get it right, or else

While the holiday season is always of the utmost importance for retailers, this year is especially critical. For those who have performed below expectations thus far in 2020, a strong Q4 has taken on increased significance.

In Voxware’s holiday survey, 31 percent of respondents said they would avoid shopping with a retailer ever again if any aspect of their holiday order was botched. With eCommerce options constantly expanding, retailers should be doing everything in their power to provide the highest levels of service to avoid errors.

During the holiday season, consumers are less forgiving of mistakes or delays, and the companies that meet and exceed customer needs during this period of uncertainty will build loyalty and lifetime value.

Retailers embracing technology will be better positioned to serve customers and enjoy their repeat business. Advancements once implemented as future-proofing investments to accuracy and speed have become essential to success and survival.

Voice automation helps warehouses operate 30% more efficiently. Voice technology is proven to optimize workflows and employee performance for all distribution center functions. From receiving and put away to packing and loading shipments for delivery (and all processes in between), voice-enabled workflows remove time and errors from warehouse activities. Not only must retailers ensure that supply chains can execute online shipments on time and accurately, but they must also be able to ensure fast and convenient returns processing.

Train Fast, Train Effectively

Walmart says it will be adding 20,000 seasonal workers for its eCommerce fulfillment centers including order fillers and power equipment operators. Distribution centers across the world will be following suit, desperately adding manpower to meet demand.

To maintain efficient operations during these fluctuations, distribution centers must have a strategy in place to onboard new employees quickly and seamlessly.

First, warehouses need a process to onboard new employees rapidly and efficiently. Time spent training costs the bottom line, particularly when that energy is being devoted to a temporary employee filling a seasonal role. Additionally, outdated processes, such as paper-based picking, can be especially time-consuming to teach—and the learning curve can be steep.

Second, warehouses need a solution that can be easily used and understood by workers whose first language isn’t English. Today, nearly 20 percent of workers are non-English speaking employees, so warehouses must cater to a diverse multi-lingual workforce.

Distribution centers can address both of these challenges through voice automation. Not only is a voice solution easy and fast to train new warehouse workers, but it can also adapt to the many languages that warehouse workers speak. While some organizations hire early with the expectation of spending up to six weeks training new employees, Voxware often enables new hires to complete their training and start working within hours.

Frontier Distributing  experienced the benefits of training new employees faster with Voxware’s voice automation. According to Josh Strangway, Fleet Facility Supervisor at Frontier Distributing, “We can get a headset on them [new employees] and have them ride around with a more experienced worker to learn how and what is being said to get them working almost instantaneously.”

Winter is coming

With the holidays lying in wait right around the corner, have you made a plan on how to best meet eCommerce demand? If not, the time is now – contact Voxware today for an evaluation of how voice automation and a robust analytics program can streamline your operation and prepare for the coming holiday surge.

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