The ultimate peak season inventory checklist for ecommerce

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Studies show that holiday season sales can amount to 30% of all retail sales in a given year.

With the peak season rapidly approaching, being well-prepared is more crucial than ever.

In this post, we’ve compiled the ultimate peak season inventory checklist for ecommerce.

We’ll cover everything from early planning to post-peak season review and even provide key takeaways to help you navigate this busy period.

Whether you’re an online seller, an ecommerce brand, or a business owner,  this guide is exactly what you need to ensure:

  • Excellent customer satisfaction levels,
  • Faster fulfillment,
  • And, ultimately, increased sales 

We will also summarize the checklist at the end of this post for easy consumption and give you a handy downloadable guide.

We’ve got a lot of ground to cover, so let’s dive in!

Step 1: Review data from previous seasons

The first step for any retail company’s peak season preparation should be a thorough analysis of past data.

This entails looking over figures for sales volumes, page views, and conversion rates from previous peak seasons.

Identifying which products performed particularly well or challenged your logistic and fulfillment operations is also a good idea.

This retrospective assessment will enable you to identify successful strategies so they can be replicated and understand the pitfalls to avoid.

Additionally, it helps gauge the amount of inventory you will require and how best to allocate your resources for optimal results.

Tools like Google Analytics or an inventory management solution like Linnworks are built to help you analyze historical data and make business-led decisions. 

Identify trends and patterns

Understanding the broader trends affecting your industry can provide an edge in competitive markets.

This might include observing general consumer purchasing trends, technological advancements, or changes in preferences driven by social, political, or environmental factors.

For instance, sustainable and eco-friendly products have seen a surge in demand, thus showing it’s worthwhile to stock products that align with current trends.

Additionally, understanding patterns in your specific industry or niche can prepare you for the demands of the peak season, allowing you to adjust your inventory to match customer expectations.

Set goals and objectives for the upcoming peak season

Set realistic (but ambitious) goals for the peak season based on your historical data and industry trends.

For example, you could aim to increase your holiday sales by 15% compared to the previous year or reduce delivery times by 10% overall. 

Additionally, setting operational goals such as increasing warehouse efficiency or improving response times to customer queries can significantly impact your business’s overall performance and customer experience during peak times.

Step 1 Checklist 

  • Conducted an in-depth analysis of previous season data 
  • Monitored industry, socioeconomic, and consumer trends highly relevant to my business
  • Made a precise inventory plan based on historical sales and current trends
  • Set clear, measurable goals for sales and operations for the upcoming peak season

With a comprehensive plan based on accurate data and a solid understanding of trends, you’re well on your way to reaching and even exceeding your sales targets. 

Step 2: Platform reliability and speed

In ecommerce, having a dependable and fast inventory management platform can be the difference between success and failure during peak seasons. 

As transaction volumes surge, it’s essential to have a robust platform that ensures a smooth and reliable buying experience for your customers (as well as all the tools you need to manage your logistics internally). 

Evaluate the performance of your inventory management platform

A performance audit of your inventory management system is vital ahead of the peak retail season.

Analyze how it handled the previous peak periods. Look for any possibility of system slowdown or crashing because of high traffic.

Evaluate the platform’s ease of use, customization features, real-time inventory visibility, sales tracking, and reporting capabilities.

Understand the importance of stable performance during peak season

As a developer friend of mine likes to say, “Stability is a feature.” 

The stable performance of your inventory platform during peak season is critical for customer satisfaction and loyalty.

If your platform is slow or crashes during high-volume transactions, it frustrates customers, leading to cart abandonment.

Furthermore, unstable platforms can lead to overselling or underselling, resulting in lost sales and damaged reputation.

Invest in technology to keep pace with business growth

As your business grows and expands to new sales channels, upgrading or investing in a more capable inventory management system is essential.

A flexible and scalable platform aligned with your future needs ensures your platform doesn’t become a bottleneck for your growth.

Step 2 Checklist 

  • Conducted a performance audit for your ecommerce platform
  • Checked for issues like crashes, slowdowns, or any other technical glitches
  • Determined if the platform can handle anticipated traffic during the peak season
  • Assessed the need for technological upgrades or a complete system overhaul for business scalability

Step 3: Onboarding to new sales channels

Channel diversification not only spreads risk but also unlocks new revenue streams. 

In the 2020s, having an omnipresent channel strategy is slowly becoming less of a luxury and more of a necessity, especially during the busy season. 

Assess your system’s multichannel capability

Analyze if your current inventory system efficiently manages multiple sales channels. If not, consider shifting to a more advanced system.

For instance, Linnworks integrates seamlessly with 15 different channels, facilitating control over sales across multiple marketplaces.

Explore Niche Marketplaces

With a robust system, you can venture into niche-specific marketplaces beyond the common ones like Amazon and eBay.

Step 3 Checklist

  • Evaluated potential for new sales channels onboarding 
  • Assessed capacity for multichannel selling in current inventory system  
  • Identified suitable new selling platforms 
  • Leveraged a flexible system like Linnworks for easy integration

Step 4: Forecasting

Business owner forecasting on laptop

Forecasting is pivotal in peak season preparation, influencing inventory management, order fulfillment, and customer satisfaction.

Two crucial aspects to consider are demand and supplier forecasting.

Demand forecasting

Demand forecasting involves predicting customer demand for the peak season using past sales data, market trends, and any impacting external factors.

This is best done by studying historical data (if you’ve got it) or industry benchmarks (if you don’t).

Accurate forecasts help avoid overstocking or understocking, ensuring customer satisfaction and profits are maintained.

Supplier forecasting

Similarly, it’s important to communicate with suppliers to discern their turnaround times and capacity to meet peak season requirements.

Maintaining open communication with suppliers can help prevent unexpected shortages.

Forecasting for unexpected events

Plan for sudden disruptions like pandemics or shipping blockades, incorporating risk management strategies in your forecasts.

Linnworks’ upcoming interactive stock forecasting feature can aid in accurate predictions and inventory management.

Step 4 Checklist

  • Analyzed past sales trends and external factors for accurate demand forecast
  • Communicated with suppliers for insight into their peak season capacity
  • Included contingency plans in forecasts for unforeseen events
  • Utilized tools like Linnworks for precise forecasting

Sound forecasting ensures optimal inventory management, leading to savings, augmented sales, and boosted customer satisfaction.

Check out Linnworks’ self-guided product tour to see this in action! 

Step 5: Inventory assessment

You must know your inventory like the back of your hand to keep your sanity during peak season.

Accurate inventory control is everything when it comes to avoiding stock-outs, maintaining customer satisfaction, and ensuring profitability. 

Conduct a thorough inventory audit 

Start by conducting a thorough inventory audit.

This should include checking your continuous stock levels, reconciling, and ensuring the numbers align with what’s documented in your system.

We get it: this is no easy task when you move beyond just a couple of SKUs. 

However, utilizing inventory management software like Linnworks can simplify the process, offering real-time data analytics and SKU tracking features.

Identify fast-moving and slow-moving stock

Identifying and segregating your fast-moving and slow-moving stock can help optimize your warehouse space.

Fast-moving items should be easily accessible to speed up the picking and shipping processes. 

Slow-moving items that don’t require as frequent access can be stored further from the main packing area. If this requires a full-on warehouse redesign effort, so be it. Trust us; it’s worth it! 

Fast-moving items are typically your best sellers during peak season. Ensure you have enough in stock and consider re-ordering them to avoid disappointing customers.

Evaluate storage and warehouse capacity

Assess your warehouse’s capability to handle an increase in inventory.

If your storage space is limited, explore options for temporary storage rentals during peak season or even drop shipping certain items.

Step 5 Checklist

  • Conducted a complete inventory audit
  • Identified fast-moving and slow-moving items and arranged the warehouse accordingly
  • Assessed warehouse capacity to handle increased inventory during peak season
  • Explored options for a temporary warehouse if necessary

Step 6: Supplier management

Businessmen visiting supplier warehouse

Effective supplier relationships go a long way to help ensure timely product availability during peak season. Key aspects include setting expectations, backup planning, and negotiations.

Communicate expectations

Share your peak season expectations and sales forecasts with suppliers. This helps them meet demands and promotes flexible, responsive relationships.

Plan backup suppliers 

Prepare for unforeseen circumstances with backup suppliers. Establish relationships early to avoid operational interruptions if primary suppliers fall short.

Negotiate supplier terms

Negotiate terms for the peak season regarding prices, delivery times, payment terms, and leftover stock return policies, fostering beneficial supplier partnerships.

Step 6 Checklist

  • Discussed peak season expectations with suppliers
  • Secured potential backup suppliers
  • Negotiated peak season terms with suppliers 

Step 7: Stock replenishment

One of the biggest challenges during peak season is managing stock replenishment.

Ensuring your inventory levels are optimally topped up to meet demand and reduce stock-out incidents is essential for maintaining customer satisfaction and maximizing sales.

Develop a replenishment strategy

Begin by creating a replenishment strategy. The strategy should clearly outline when and how much to reorder based on sales velocity, seasonality, lead times, and buffer stock levels.

Regularly reviewing and adjusting this strategy ensures you can adapt to any market or business changes.

Be sure to check out our full article on reorder points for more information on how to set this up properly.

Implement automated reordering systems

Still trying to keep all your reorder points in your head or on a scrap of paper somewhere? Consider investing in an automated reordering system or IMS with automatic reorder reminders.

These tools alert you when stock levels are getting low or if there’s a sudden spike in demand, helping maintain optimal inventory levels without needing constant manual checking.

Linnworks’ replenishment dashboard, integrated into the stock forecasting feature, can be very helpful here.

It provides real-time updates on your stock levels, removes the risk of human error, and can save valuable time spent on other business areas.

Regularly review and adjust replenishment levels

Regularly reviewing your replenishment strategy is crucial to ensure it stays effective.

Monitor your sales, customer behavior, and trends frequently, and be prepared to adjust your inventory levels accordingly.

Step 7 Checklist 

  • Developed a robust replenishment strategy considering sales velocity, seasonality, lead times, and buffer stock
  • Implemented an automated replenishing system such as Linnworks’ replenishment dashboard
  • Scheduled regular reviews of inventory levels and replenishment strategies

Step 8: Staffing and operations

Warehouse worker picking orders

Meticulously managing staffing and operations is essential during the peak season.

With increased customer demand, your team should be ready to handle tasks like picking, packing, and customer service efficiently.

Assess staffing needs for peak season

Estimate the additional staff you’ll need to handle the increased workload during peak season.

Consider hiring temporary staff to help with tasks like stuffing orders, handling customer service calls, or managing returns if necessary.

Train staff for peak season challenges

Provide ample training to all new and existing staff to handle the unique challenges of the peak season.

This should cover everything from safety protocols and efficient packing strategies to handling customer queries and complaints.

Ensure your team is well-prepared to handle the increase in volume while maintaining high levels of service.

Streamline operations for efficiency

Looking for some quick and easy efficiency gains?

Consider rearranging the warehouse for easier access to best-selling products, implementing a more efficient packing system, or employing more advanced tools for order tracking and inventory management. 

Every second saved in order processing can result in a significant reduction in lead times and an increase in customer satisfaction.

Step 8 Checklist

  • Estimated and met the staffing needs for the peak season
  • Provided comprehensive training to staff
  • Streamlined operations for maximum efficiency

Having your workforce and operations well-prepared is key to ensuring smooth and efficient management during the peak season.

Step 9: Customer service and satisfaction

During peak season, increased customer interactions and potential issues are inevitable. Effective preparation and communication ensure customer satisfaction.

Address increased customer service demands

Prepare for increased customer inquiries by adjusting resources, such as hiring extra staff or extending service hours.

Provide training specifically geared for peak season challenges.

Maintain customer satisfaction

Ensure quality service and prompt issue resolution, even in peak times. Transparency about shipping times, return policies, or other changes can greatly enhance customer trust and satisfaction.

Step 9 Checklist 

  • Prepared customer service to handle higher demands
  • Prioritized efficient issue resolution via training
  • Communicated changes affecting customers clearly

Customer satisfaction during peak season is imperative for lasting business relationships.

As Bill Gates said, “Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” Use each customer interaction as a chance to improve.

Step 10: Handling returns

Customer service agent handling returns

Attention to the return process is crucial, especially during the peak season.

By making the return process smooth and efficient, you can turn potentially negative customer experiences into positive ones.

Review and update return policies

Ensure your return policy is updated and communicated clearly to customers—provision for any changes necessary during the peak season, such as extending the gift return period.

A concise and generous return policy can enhance customer satisfaction and foster loyalty.

Prepare for an increased volume of returns

Peak season will inevitably lead to an increase in returned items.

Anticipate and prepare for this onslaught of reverse logistics by ensuring appropriate staffing levels and a streamlined return process.

Develop a system for processing returns efficiently

An efficient returns system can drastically affect how quickly returned items can be returned to inventory and sold.

Consider implementing a return management system to organize and speed up handling returned merchandise.

Returning products to your inventory as soon as possible allows them to be sold during the remaining peak season, thus improving your sales turnover.

Step 10 Checklist 

  • Reviewed and updated return policies, if needed
  • Prepared for the increased volume of returns during the peak period
  • Developed a system or protocol for processing returns efficiently

It’s critical to remember that managing returns well can lead to increased customer satisfaction and loyalty.

A straightforward returns process encourages customers to make repeat purchases, knowing that if the product doesn’t fit their needs, they can easily return it.

Step 11: Post-peak season review

After the hustle and bustle of the peak season dies down, it’s vital to take a step back and review your performance.

This post-peak season review is a crucial part of planning for your future business strategy.

Conduct a post-peak season review

Understanding what worked and what didn’t can help you streamline your operations for the next peak period. It’s essential to learn from your successes as well as your failures.

Identify areas of success and areas for improvement

Determine which strategies and systems contributed to your successes and which created bottlenecks or inefficiencies.

Identify areas needing improvement and develop an action plan to address these for future peak seasons.

Gather customer feedback for product development

Customer feedback is a valuable resource when developing or refining products and services. 

Acknowledge customer feedback and examine how your products or services can improve. 

This might include product quality, delivery speed, ease of purchasing, or customer service interactions.

Step 11 Checklist 

  • Conducted a detailed post-peak season review
  • Identified areas of success and areas that need improvements
  • Gathered and evaluated customer feedback
  • Incorporated customer feedback into planning for the next peak season

Conducting a detailed review of the peak season gives you valuable insights to apply to future planning.

By understanding your strengths and weaknesses, you can continue to optimize your systems and strategies to serve your customers better and improve your profits.

Key takeaways in final thoughts

eCommerce clothing store owners doing inventory

As we wrap up our ultimate peak season inventory checklist for eCommerce, let’s revisit the key steps and essential considerations we’ve covered.

1. Start with early planning. Review past data, identify trends, and set clear goals.

2. Evaluate the reliability and speed of your eCommerce platform.

3. Plan for onboarding to new sales channels.

4. Establish a comprehensive forecasting strategy for demand and suppliers.

5. Assess your inventory, identifying fast and slow-moving items.

6. Establish good communication and backup plans with your suppliers.

7. Develop and implement strategies for efficient stock replenishment.

8. Plan staffing and operations to meet the increased demands of peak season.

9. Ensure excellent customer service and maintain satisfaction levels.

10. Prepare for increased returns and have a clear, user-friendly return policy.

11. Conduct a comprehensive post-peak season review.

Investing time and effort into preparing for the peak season can significantly boost your chances of success and customer satisfaction.

Every step toward an efficient and customer-friendly experience will pay dividends through increased sales and customer loyalty.

Lastly, remember that there’s no rest for the wicked! The post-peak season is an important time for reflection and analysis, taking notes on what worked, what didn’t, and what to improve on for next time.

After all, success is a journey, not a destination.

Finally, don’t forget to download a copy of the ultimate peak season inventory checklist for eCommerce to keep these crucial steps at your fingertips as you prepare for the sales rush!

Thanks for reading, and good luck!