COVID-19 has affected every link in the supply chain, from the top down to the bottom. Trade and travel are restricted. In-store shopping has slowed to a crawl. The pandemic has caused shifts in consumer behavior that have led to widespread disruption.

Luckily, the supply chain has been quick to respond and adapt, finding creative ways to work within this “new normal” and survive. But because of these changes, retailers and warehouses alike aren’t sure what to expect moving into this upcoming holiday season.

Everything has changed. Many have relied on historical data and traditional forecasting methods to anticipate their needs, but that may not be enough this year to provide a clear picture. This means that the entire supply chain will need to prepare.

What Shopping This Holiday Season Will Look Like

Customers are more concerned than ever about contracting a virus now as temperatures cool and activities move indoors. Because the virus is more easily transmitted indoors, these activities, including in-person shopping at brick-and-mortar stores, will slow down considerably.

Experience-based gifts like vacations, memberships, and season passes are no longer trending, thanks to the uncertainty that COVID-19 continues to bring. Many have had to cancel vacations this year and wait to see how the pandemic evolves before rescheduling them, which likely won’t be known until 2021. This has created a greater demand for bigger-ticket gift items as a consolation prize for enduring this whirlwind of a year.

Online shopping is quickly becoming a favorite pastime. Because many traditional entertainment sources are no longer viable, consumers don’t have much else to occupy their time. This points towards a much earlier start to the holiday shopping season than in previous years.

On top of that, many major retailers have publicly stated that they will not open their doors on Thanksgiving Day, as they have in years of the past. Big-box retailers like Best Buy, Target, and Walmart have all decided to close their doors over the holiday. The jury is still out on what this means for Black Friday and its in-person deals.

All of these signs point to one outcome: a massive increase in online sales.

What This Means for Warehouses

Preparation is necessary

COVID-19 has thrown a wrench into the spokes of how warehouses traditionally prepare for the holiday season. Where previously, warehouses would slowly begin preparing during early fall for an influx of sales in late November, now the burden is expected to be much heavier much sooner.

This means that your warehouse will need to start preparing much earlier than usual and be ready for the holiday season to last longer than you are used to. It’s critical that you implement the right technology and procedures to ensure a smooth operation.

Technology plays a major role

Rugged tablets and mobile computers purposefully-designed to withstand the rigors of a warehouse environment will be instrumental. When paired with the right barcode scanners, they allow you to ensure that data collection and transfer is conducted quickly and accurately.

On top of that, you need to ensure your products are correctly labeled and can be quickly identified for faster order picking and fulfillment, which calls for efficient printing and labeling solutions.

You’ll need to increase your workforce and bring on seasonal workers to meet the anticipated demand, so it’s critical that you make sure they are well-equipped. You may need to invest in more devices so that you can make sure your workers can do their jobs efficiently. Many rugged devices today look and feel like cell phones, making it easy for temporary workers to get up to speed on processes and how to use the device. Honeywell’s CT40 and CT60 are good examples of this intuitive design that doesn’t sacrifice the durability needed in a warehouse environment.

Managing all of these devices can be difficult. Some may die mid-shift, and others may malfunction or break in such a fast-paced environment. This calls for a quick and efficient means to replace or repair these devices. If you don’t have the in-house resources at your disposal, it may be worth it to look into professional services that can conduct repairs, training, and configuration.

Safety is paramount

It’s important to remember that COVID-19 has placed increased restrictions and safety guidelines that warehouses will need to work with. Though you’re probably already acclimated to those changes, it’s easy to forget them when planning for your future needs.

Your workers, especially new hires and seasonal workers, will need to be trained how to work quickly while maximizing safety. You’ll need to go over best practices with employees, encourage social distancing, and avoid high-congestion areas. It may be worth implementing one-way floor plans to reduce face-to-face contact, and ramp up mobile communication efforts so that workers don’t need to spend as much time face-to-face.

Consider implementing:

  • Safety signage and visual reminders to keep a safe distance from one another
  • Temperature verification solutions to ensure secure access only to people without fevers
  • Mobile carts and workstations so workers can take devices on-the-go
  • Protective PVC shields
  • Antimicrobial coatings for your devices
  • Sanitizing solutions, like hand sanitizer and UV-light solutions
  • Personal protective equipment like masks, shields, and gloves

Meeting the Demands of the New Normal

COVID-19 has hit retailers and warehouses hard. It has ushered in enormous changes in consumer behavior and has tested the supply chain’s agility. The upcoming holiday season will push the supply chain to its limits.

Warehouses will need to stay focused so that they can adequately prepare. They will require a blend of the right technology and best practices in order to maintain efficient workflows, keep employees safe, and meet the increased and evolving demands.

Informs, Inc. can assist you with your technology needs. We provide industry-leading technology designed to keep your warehouse operating at peak efficiency. Our experts understand what it takes to run a successful warehouse. We can help you find the right solutions and provide you with guidance on how to leverage them to truly optimize your warehouse.

For more information on our technology and what the folks at Informs can do for your business, contact us today!