As the fall season approaches, retailers, logistics providers, and packaging suppliers are all gearing up for the heavy duty gift buying and shipping that will soon take place.  

As the Wall Street Journal recently reported, companies such as Amazon, UPS and XPO are ramping up recruiting and hiring further in advance of the holidays, planning to raise wages to entice the volume of seasonal labor they need to deliver on expectations from next-day-shipping-addicted shoppers.

Attracting and training high volumes of seasonal labor (as many as 95,000 for UPS and 100,000 for Amazon, according to the Wall Street Journal) requires more investment of time and money than it ever has before, which means the pressure to get maximum productivity out of those investments is acute and intense.

Operational efficiency is key in holiday shipping

A surge of labor is necessary to shave critical seconds off the handling of each order and process unprecedented volume. But throughput speed alone creates other threats to efficiency. Order accuracy mistakes can occur. Items packed quickly are at greater risk of damage from underprotection. Other items will be overpacked and eat away at the profit margin of each pack with material waste and shipping cost.

Can the right packaging solutions help mitigate these risks? Absolutely. But there isn’t a box, bag, system, or square-foot of inflatable Bubble Wrap on this planet that can compensate for operational inefficiencies that are ingrained into the design or processes of a retail fulfillment operation.

For example, we’ve created an automated mailer system that can pack up to 50 orders per minute - but many fulfillment operations cannot support that kind of speed.

We also offer systems that automatically right-size every box to minimize waste and shipping cost, but that value is diluted when picking and sorting processes are sending three boxes out the door when one box would do.

Many of the retailers who are currently preparing for the windfall of the holiday shopping season have experienced rapid, exponential growth over the last 3 to 5 years – fueled largely or solely by e-commerce. With that growth comes profit, but it also breeds complexity. More volume, more SKUs, more outbound trucks, more labor, more stock materials, and an ever-shrinking delivery window. The processes and facility designs that worked just two years ago become choked by this new complexity creating bottlenecks and ripples of inefficiency. The introduction of more labor can add to the snarl.

Business growth should been a boon, not a burden. That’s why we’ve got experts in the field right now conducting operational maturity assessments on these rapid-growth retailers to ensure that the systems, the processes, and the people they employ are positioned for success during the height of the holidays, and when things simmer down.

When the surge of seasonal labor has subsided, those systems and processes need to serve the business for the other 10 months of the year – and just as those labor resources are no longer necessary, neither is a ton of equipment that sits idle, or expensive square footage that isn’t being used.

It takes an incredible amount of detailed choreography to deliver on the expectations consumers have for their holiday purchases – and it’s not a dance any one business can do alone.

Sealed Air is honored to be the primary partner many top retailers trust to help them survive and thrive during the busiest shipping season of the year, which – for many of us – has already begun.