In the run up to Black Friday and the peak Christmas shopping season, Antalis’ Head of Business Development for Packaging, John Garner, is urging packaging and logistics businesses not to delay their preparations a moment longer.
As we approach the traditional peak shopping period, John Garner is predicting that it will be a “peak like no other”. Here, John shares his concern that many businesses have been so focused on dealing with the unexpected surge in online sales generated by COVID-19 that they may have ‘taken their eye of the ball’ when it comes to what’s around the corner. John outlines the measures and solutions businesses can put in place to make sure they are ready for what’s coming next.
“With so much uncertainty in the air, it’s difficult to say what will transpire over the next few months. We have already seen job losses and, with furlough payments due to come to an end in October, the unemployment figures are only going to go up. But what we can be fairly certain about is that the vast majority of what people are prepared to spend will be online,” says John.
Social distancing has compounded challenges on the shopfloor
The high street has been one of the big casualties of the pandemic and, with consumers’ continued reluctance to head outdoors, a recovery is not expected any time soon. In fact, 17.2 million Britons are expected to make the switch to online shopping permanent (source: Retail Gazette). Prior to Covid-19 the shift to online was steady, with businesses able to make gradual adjustments to their operations in line with demand. But following the introduction of a nationwide lockdown, many online retailers and logistics providers were overwhelmed by the flood of online orders. Fulfilling this unprecedented volume of orders would have been challenging at the best of times, but the introduction of social distancing measures meant it just wasn’t possible to have enough people on the shopfloor to do the picking and packing, compounding an already difficult situation.
Recent adjustments are unlikely to be enough
While most businesses have managed to make adjustments to be able to cope with much of the recent growth, John is concerned that some are doing little more than treading water, “My concern is coping with the pressures Black Friday and the Christmas shopping rush will bring. Demand on the order fulfilment part of any operation will be increased; while we might see fewer sales of expensive, big ticket items, the chances are that these will be replaced with lower value items, but more of them.”
So, how do you get a packaging operation already running at full capacity ready for the biggest demand in online sales ever seen?
For John, the answer lies in maximising efficiency: “You need to make every single part of your operation work hard. And while social distancing measures are still in place it’s not possible to increase capacity by taking on additional workers, so the most efficient way to increase capacity and efficiency is automation.”
Automation equals transformation
“Over the last few months at Antalis, we have helped numerous businesses to successfully transform their operations by adding packaging machinery. Even just adding one bit of kit, such as on-demand void fill can make a huge difference”, says John, “All businesses, whatever their size, can benefit from the introduction of some degree of packaging automation. It can generate huge efficiencies.” John advises that even if a business already uses packaging machinery, it might not be running as efficiently as it could be. “Get whatever kit you currently have checked over and serviced. At Antalis, we have helped customers to increase throughput at the same times as saving as much as 70% in material costs and wastage after reviewing their existing equipment and set up.”
The pressures on online retailers doesn’t end with order fulfilment. With fewer people heading out to physical stores, the fight for retail market share is also shifting online. “Giving consumers an online shopping experience that will make them come back again and again is going to be key to long-term success. One of the best ways to achieve this is with personalisation, and there are some great things that can be done in this regard nowadays. Our team at the (currently virtual) Smart Packaging Centre have done some brilliant work in this area, such as limited edition beauty box it created for subscription brand TheVeganKind’s collaboration with vegan influencer Monami Frost.”
Don’t forget sustainability
Amongst the mayhem of the last few months, the need to operate responsibly and sustainably hasn’t gone away. John believes it’s easy to lose focus on this when you’re trying to simply get stuff out of the door, but with government packaging waste targets coupled ongoing concerns about the impact of packaging, particularly single-use packaging, it’s important that businesses continue to give it the attention it deserves. “Again, it’s something that automation can make a difference with. For example, some machinery can eliminate the need for void fill altogether, creating a smaller package footprint and reduced material usage; plus, because more packages can be loaded onto a vehicle, it can also help to reduce carbon emissions.
“Don’t leave it too late”
“Don’t leave it too late!” are John’s final words of advice for businesses thinking about their preparations for Peak 2020. “Seek the advice of a packaging expert to see how you might be able to increase the efficiency of your operation. At Antalis, we offer free audits whereby we will come in and review your operation and make recommendations on the kinds of improvements can be made. But I can’t stress enough that it’s something you need to do now if you’ve any hope of coping with a peak like we’ve never seen before.”
For more information go to www.antalis.com