Keeping Up With Demand: Tactics to Boost Productivity And Get Orders Out on Time

Order fulfillment | Shopify Retail blog

Whether you’re accepting orders in-store, online, at markets, pop-ups, or festivals, customers now expect impeccable customer service and lightning-fast shipping.

With so many retailers offering free shipping and same-day delivery (some even inside the door – we’re looking at you, Amazon!) the pressure to get orders out quickly and efficiently is fierce.

Throw a promotion or busy holiday shopping season into the mix and fulfilling all those orders can be a major challenge.

When sales are swift and orders are stacking up, try some of these tried-and-true methods to master the art of fulfillment.

Hire Extra Staff (for the Right Jobs)

The first question to ask leading up to any busy period is: Are we properly staffed? Do we need extra people to maintain customer service, more staff in store to deal with the influx of shoppers, or someone whose job is focused entirely on shipping?

Mara Devitt, a retail consultant and Senior Partner at McMillanDoolittle, says it’s important that companies take a hard look at trends in their business.

“What does that mean regarding your workflow on the customer satisfaction side and product flow in and out?” she says. “You don’t want to be overstaffed at the wrong time.”

Once you’ve worked out where (and if) you need extra help, you’ll want to make sure new recruits can handle the pressure.

On top of making sure new people are properly trained, Toronto-based lifestyle retailer Good Neighbour gives priority to friends of current staff who shop in the store and understand their philosophy.

“We prefer to fit roles to people who’ve worked with us in the past so they can come in and hit the ground running,” says co-director Sam Jalees.

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Only Shopify POS helps you manage warehouse and retail store inventory from the same back office. Shopify automatically syncs stock quantities as you receive, sell, return, or exchange products online or in store—no manual reconciling necessary.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

Hopefully, you’re already doing this day-to-day, but if there’s one thing that can potentially make or break your busy season, it’s communication.

With staff, that means having daily team meetings about what’s needed today and about key promotions in store and online.

Also, “take time throughout the day to celebrate good ideas and successes,” says Devitt. “It really keeps employees focused and engaged.”

It’s also a good idea to keep your suppliers and vendors in the loop. Let them know when you anticipate gaps in product stock or a slower response time. They’re important cogs in your work wheel, so keeping them informed is key to your own success.

And let’s not forget about the most important people in this whole process: your customers. Reaching out to your buyers directly, especially when there are delays, can make a huge difference between a repeat customer and one who’s disgruntled.

After fulfilling orders, sustainable fashion label TAMGA Designs makes a point of emailing individual customers if there is any sort of shipping delay.

Finally, never underestimate the personal touch. For designer shoe brand Tanya Heath Paris Canada targeting products to specific customers is paramount to its success.

“I sort all my customers by size and I send them a note to let them know that a shoe in their size is on sale,” says co-owner Leslie-Ann Dominy.

Anticipate Problems Before They Happen

“It’s so important to organize your team to deal with exceptions,” says Devitt. Addressing productivity issues and developing solutions before they come up will make your busy time run a lot smoother.

“Take a hard look at the customer journey and make sure you’re handling them well. Do you dedicate a specific team to returns? Do you have the right staff and resources for in-store returns? Many companies forget about the impact this has on frontline [employees]”.

Fraud is one major problem that costs both time and money. According to LexisNexis, the average number of ecommerce monthly fraud attempts spiked by a whopping 33% between 2015 and 2016.

Adding fraud protection tools to your site can be especially helpful for new staff who don’t always know what to look out for.

FURTHER READING: To kick bogus transactions to the curb, read our article on fraud prevention tactics.

When Good Neighbour first launched its ecommerce site, a surge of suspicious orders prompted them to install Signifyd fraud protection. For a small percentage of sales, it ranks orders according to risk and compensates retailers if fraudulent orders are processed.

“Our staff changes seasonally and this takes the uncertainty out of something that can be quite scary,” says Sam Jalees.

Review Your Inventory

Before a collection launch or promotion, it’s important to do regular audits of your inventory to make sure you have products on hand.

A single pair of Tanya Heath Paris Canada shoes can take up to four months to make, so having the right inventory at the right time is crucial. To make this happen, Leslie-Ann Dominy does quarterly reviews using StockSavvy. It flags barcode duplicates or products not entered into the system.

“Human error happens,” she says. “We have 1,700 barcodes for different styles and sizes, so we use StockSavvy to compare what we have [in store] with what’s on our site.”

Selling mainly online and at markets, Tamga Designs keeps its stock of sustainable fashion in a warehouse where everything is organized by color, style, and size. Clothing is shipped from Indonesia ahead of any new collection launch.

“We review all our products to make sure all pieces are accounted for and there’s no water damage,” says co-founder Yana Barankin. “Everything comes a long way so we want to make sure it all arrived intact.”

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Make Sure Your Website is Running Properly

During peak seasons, your website will be seeing a whole lot of extra traffic and stats show that even a two-second page loading delay can lead to a 20% abandonment rate.

Regularly running a speed test using tools like Pingdom or PageSpeed Guru can help avoid this.

You’ll also need help on hand to fix problems as they come up, and fix them fast. Tamga Designs has a web developer but uses HeyCarson for all its smaller tasks.

“It’s a fraction of the cost and great for one-off changes that our web developer may not be able to get to right away,” says Yana Barankin.

Review Shipping Practices

Customers will never complain that they got their merchandise too quickly, but they certainly might if it’s late or damaged.

Shipping tools like ShipStation and AfterShip help track packages and notify you of delays immediately so you can give customers a heads up.

Tamga Designs uses Chit Chats Express to bring its Canadian products into the U.S. using DHL or USPS.

“We like it because they offer a great business rate and our U.S. customers will get their items within three days at the most,” says Barankin.

Pre-weighing all their products and establishing which shipping boxes will be used for each item has also helped Tanya Heath Paris Canada remain efficient, says Dominy. “It saves lots of time and makes sure items are getting to my customers faster”.

Learn From Your Mistakes

At the end of every launch, promotion, or holiday rush, take some time with your team to look back and conduct a post-mortem. What worked well and what didn’t? How can you apply this knowledge to next year’s playbook?

Mara Devitt offers this example: “After one busy season, Best Buy noticed a higher number of returns on certain TV models that were showing up cracked. They solved the problem by sending them out double boxed.”

For Tamga Designs, the key to keeping its business productive at busy times has been to take a big-picture view of its practices.

“When you’re starting out, you tend to do everything task-by-task on a daily basis so you can cross things off your list,” says Barankin. “Stepping back and looking at the bigger goals and how you will achieve them week-by-week can really be a turning point for a new business.”

Devitt agrees. “Focus on areas that will really move the needle forward for your particular business, because retail isn’t one size fits all.”

Moving Forward With Efficient Order FulFillment

Staying motivated during busy seasons can be difficult, but with a little pre-planning and organization, retailers can stay on top of their to-do list and fulfill all those orders quickly and efficiently.

Unify your inventory management with Shopify

Only Shopify POS helps you manage warehouse and retail store inventory from the same back office. Shopify automatically syncs stock quantities as you receive, sell, return, or exchange products online or in store—no manual reconciling necessary.

Keeping up with demand FAQ

Why keeping up with demand is important?

Keeping up with demand is important because it ensures that customer expectations are met, product availability is maximized, and customer satisfaction is maintained. It also helps to ensure that there is no oversupply of products, which can lead to excess inventory and potential financial losses. By keeping up with demand, businesses can better plan for future growth and ensure that they have the resources necessary to meet customer needs.

What happens if supply can't keep up with demand?

If supply cannot keep up with demand, it leads to shortages in the market. This is because there are not enough goods and services available to meet the needs and wants of consumers. This can lead to higher prices and people being unable to purchase items they need or want.

How do you meet high demand?

  • Increase Production Capacity: The most effective way to meet high demand is to increase production capacity. This could include making more of a product, improving the efficiency of the production process, upgrading equipment, or hiring more staff.
  • Increase Inventory: Companies can also increase their inventory levels to meet high demand. This could involve stockpiling materials or finished goods, or relying on suppliers to provide timely deliveries.
  • Outsource Production: If a company is unable to meet demand with its own production capacity, they can look to outsource production to a third-party company.
  • Adjust Prices: Companies can also adjust their prices to increase demand. This could involve raising prices to cover increased production costs or offering discounts to encourage more people to purchase the product.
  • Expand Distribution: Companies can also expand their distribution channels to reach more customers. This could involve opening new stores, setting up more online outlets, or partnering with distributors.
  • Improve Product Promotion: Companies can also invest in product promotion to increase demand. This could involve launching an advertising campaign, creating social media content, or offering incentives for customers.

How do you manage unexpected increases in demand?

  1. Increase Production: Increase production to meet the increased demand. This may involve hiring new personnel, training existing personnel, and/or expanding your facility.
  2. Outsource Additional Work: Outsource additional work to third-party vendors or subcontractors who can support your increased demand. This can be a cost-effective way to quickly increase production.
  3. Implement Automation: Automate processes in order to increase speed and efficiency.
  4. Optimize Supply Chain: Optimize your supply chain to ensure that the necessary resources are available when you need them.
  5. Adjust Pricing: Adjust your pricing to reflect the increased demand.
  6. Improve Customer Service: Improve customer service to ensure customers are satisfied with their purchase and willing to return in the future.