There’s nothing more important right now than preparation, as evidenced by how COVID-19 took us by surprise. However, the upcoming peak season is a known occurrence (even though it could look slightly different than in years past), and now is the perfect time to plan for it.

Where to start? Seems simple, but start at the beginning (receiving) because if you get it wrong from the start, problems will pop up later. For instance, if your pack size when the product is received is not correct, the order pickers will be picking the wrong count, so shipping will ship the wrong count, and customers will get a pack of three items instead of 12. Often, you’ll never hear of this mistake until your inventory counts are way off.

Optimizing receiving starts with advanced shipping notices (ASNs). ASNs let you know what is coming in and when, giving you time to prepare. Second, the license plate number can be scanned, and all the details of the order are displayed. No cumbersome look up, no searching, etc. Write down the steps you currently have in receiving. Then review and see if any steps can be combined or eliminated. If you are a company that gets a lot of product from overseas in pack size, add checking the pack size to the list of criteria, since overseas companies often change the pack size without notification.

Putaway is another area that is often overlooked. If your system does not have directed putaway and you are doing it manually, create some rules. Identify product as A-movers, B-movers, etc. A-movers will receive most activity, so they need to be in the most optimal slots. The slower movers are the ones you put furthest away and in the highest positions. All too often, companies are keeping their fast movers in the farthest away locations in the highest positions, creating more travel time and replenishment time.

Picking is an area where a lot of activity is taking place, so it’s crucial to review your data before implementing improvements. Looking at the weekly orders, could one more division increase productivity and decrease bottlenecks? There are several things to review in this area to optimize for the peak time. Slotting is one and can usually increase productivity by 10-20%. Layout is another area that increases speed and throughput; automation may help, or technology may be appropriate. Most important, make sure you have the basics right first, like signage and labeling. If you are still picking with paper, make sure your pick list has increased font size on the important things (location, SKU, and count). If a need for automation is determined, do your homework. Don’t decide on the first design you look at.

Shipping is an area that some believe should be located next to or across from receiving. That may be true if you are doing a lot of cross docking. If not, shipping benefits more by a location close to picking, especially for those fast movers. Now is a good time to review shipping processes and identify any new items that need to be added or deleted. Don’t assume you have the best deal on contracts; review them for additional savings opportunities and better service. Flow in shipping can really increase productivity, so take some time to review the flow for better optimization.

Preparation is key, and now is the perfect time to get ready to optimize.

Susan Rider, President, Rider & Associates, and Executive Life Coach, can be reached at

This article originally appeared in the May/June, 2020 issue of PARCEL.