A female warehouse worker uses a mobile workstation
By Jennifer Myers | October 06, 2021

Three Ways to Prepare Your Retail Warehouse and Distribution Center Teams for the Holiday Season

As workers become busier, their risk of burnout ticks up. Use these tricks and tools to help reduce their stress and ensure your success during another turbulent holiday season.

It’s never too early to prepare for the holiday season, especially with so much uncertainty and disruption still looming over the retail industry. Based on what we know about last year’s holiday season, and based on future projections for omnichannel demand, retailers should expect another extremely busy and hectic season, as customers try to get everything they need while still staying safe from the Delta variant.

And it’s clear retailers need to prepare early this year. Nearly a quarter of consumers say they plan to shop earlier this year, with 25% expecting to do the majority of their shopping before Thanksgiving. Ten percent even expect to do most of their shopping before Halloween! While it’s certainly the case that more customers will be shopping in store this year, the majority of U.S. holiday shoppers say that they will shop online more this season than in previous years – a sentiment shared by consumers in other mature e-commerce markets around the world.

To help get ahead of the rush, several retailers are already announcing their hiring plans for the holiday season, with some planning to hire thousands to manage the massive influx of customers through the upcoming months. However, any staffing shifts intended to accommodate the increased traffic of the holiday season must occur without disrupting the customer experience.

Facing the Challenges of a Busy Holiday Season

With the holiday season stretching back into September and October, and with people still using omnichannel services at high volumes, it’s becoming more difficult to adequately prepare for the holiday season. So, what happens to warehouses and distribution centers when retailers are unprepared?

1.  Inadequate Staffing

When retailers don’t have the ability to precisely forecast how much labor they need to execute key initiatives in their warehouses, mismatches between scheduled labor and warehouse workload are more likely to occur. Managers trying to staff their warehouses properly with manual scheduling processes simply aren’t able to do so with enough foresight and precision to make up for uncertain labor forecasts.

2. Inconsistent Execution

Without the right amount of warehouse employees on the clock at any given time, tasks are more likely to go incomplete. Overwhelmed employees may communicate less consistently with their managers about what tasks still need to be complete, and vice versa. In turn, customer orders may not get packed and out the door on time, frustrating customers who expect their orders to be ready when promised.

3.  Low Employee Morale and Engagement

When warehouse employees aren’t scheduled properly, it’s likely that many will begin to feel overworked and frustrated. This leads to lower employee morale and a decrease in employee engagement and productivity. Considering the high demand for warehouse employees, if they continue to experience frustration with their work, they may even begin to quit their jobs and look for employment elsewhere.

With all of this in mind, what can retailers do to ensure warehouses are staffed properly, that critical tasks are executed properly, and that warehouse employees are engaged with their work?

Streamline Warehouse Operations with Intelligent Retail Solutions

There are three ways you can ensure your warehouses are ready for the holiday season:

1.  Create More Accurate Labor Forecasts and Schedules

Intelligent workforce management solutions tap into artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms to help you create the most accurate budgets, forecasts, and schedules possible for your warehouses. These solutions account for the variables that matter most:  product demand, customer traffic, seasonality, employee preferences, and more. They automate the scheduling process, creating optimized schedules in a matter of minutes instead of burdening your managers with the hours-long process of manually drawing up (less effective) schedules.

In addition, creating more accurate labor schedules, these intelligent workforce management tools help you better match your staffing with warehouse workload, making it easier for your employees to get orders packed and out the door.

2.  Make Execution Easier for Your Employees

Real-time task management solutions provide a 360-degree, real-time view of all work to be accomplished in your warehouses. Installed on the mobile devices your employees have in their hands (or on their arms) all day long, these incredibly powerful tools automatically gather tasks coming in from corporate, onsite staff, other Internet of Things (IoT) devices, and third-party systems, and prioritizes them before intelligently funneling them to the right warehouse employee. This avoids overloading any one employee with tasks by optimizing the workflow used to distribute tasks, ensuring assignments are given evenly and equitably across warehouse staff.

These solutions also help drive effective real-time responses to any disruptive events that occur in the warehouse. With real-time alerts and notifications being sent based on pre-set conditions, employees can be notified when an unplanned issue arises and sent actionable steps to take to address it.

By ensuring that most impactful tasks are completed properly and on time, you can minimize the risk of fulfillment delays and frustrated customers.

3. Empower Employees to Collaborate in Real Time about Everything Work Related

Real-time communication solutions enable you to centralize all messaging flowing to and from your warehouse employees, making it simple for all parties to communicate about any pending tasks, new policies, or other critical information. Warehouse employees can easily contact one another if they need to follow up on anything, a benefit that increases task completion rates and decreases the time it takes to complete important tasks.

Employee self-service solutions on mobile devices also help solve this issue by giving workers a way to check their schedules, adjust availability, and request leave whenever they want – from wherever they want. They can instantly make adjustments to better align their schedules with any outside responsibilities. And with managers able to see and address requests in real time, warehouse employees don’t have to wait until they get to work the next day to manage their schedules.

If you’re interested in learning more about how intelligent retail technology solutions can ensure your warehouse and distribution center teams are ready for the holiday season, visit our website or contact our team. We’ll be happy to discuss your unique needs and what we can do to address your current challenges.

Retail, Warehouse and Distribution,
Jennifer Myers
Jennifer Myers

Jennifer has spent her career in retail and supply chain operations working for some of the nation’s largest retailers both in the field and in the corporate office.  She joined Zebra in 2021 as a Solution Consultant, and her primary job is to listen to retailers and help them run an even better business by adopting leading-edge technology both in their brick-and-mortar stores and up the value chain to their distribution centers. Retail distribution needs are changing at the same blistering pace as changing customer demands on in-person and online shopping. 

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