Black Friday is one of the biggest challenges faced by fashion and lifestyle brands. It means hugely increased sales volumes, extra staffing, and what can only be described as a manic delivery schedule. That means preventing networks from overheating and maintaining excellent customer satisfaction requires logistics providers to go above and beyond, bringing together all their most advanced capabilities to deliver true Black Friday success.
“Winning Black Friday comes down to what I like to call the killer combination,” says Reinardt van Oel, Chief Operations Officer for Belgium and the UK at Bleckmann. “That means a good product, a good website, good social media, and a good 3PL (third-party logistics) partner, of course!”
Bleckmann has been helping brands in the fashion and lifestyle sector deliver a stellar Black Friday performance for over ten years. And we’ve learned a thing or two over that time!
Are you ready to find out about the key logistics strategies for getting the most out of this vital sales period? Below, we discuss the unique challenges of Black Friday and how you can work with your 3PL provider to ensure it’s a success.
1. Plan, plan, plan
Over the Black Friday period, brands experience sales volumes that can be five to twelve times higher than usual. For instance, a brand that would normally be shipping 20,000 units per day, would expect to be shipping between 240,000 and 300,000 units per day during the Black Friday period – for up to ten days at a time.
Making sure your 3PL partner has the scale and flexibility you need can make or break your Black Friday. This requires a huge amount of planning and flexibility, so it’s no surprise that preparations start early. “With most of our clients, we’re discussing our Black Friday strategy in May or June – and sometimes even earlier,” says Quentin Godfirnon, Chief Operations Officer, South Netherlands, at Bleckmann. “This allows us to allocate enough resources for each client’s needs in terms of warehousing space, carrier capacity and staffing.”
It’s also crucial for logistics providers to put a lot of energy into working out with the client ahead of time what sales volumes they’re expecting and predicting their resource requirements based on this. “Our experience working on Black Friday strategies means we can accurately forecast these needs down to the smallest detail,” adds Reinardt. “For instance, some clients also sell through third parties, such as Zalando, and these outlets will often extend their Black Friday deals longer than the client themselves. This means we have to keep the Black Friday momentum going for longer and ship in extra inventory to account for this.”
2. Reward Black Friday’s star performers
Inevitably, surging sales volumes mean extra hands on deck are needed to manage it all. And building a cohesive team is one of the most important factors in every Black Friday logistic success story. But that doesn’t happen overnight! Planning for extra staff, recruitment, training and onboarding must be carefully planned to ensure everyone is ready long before “Black Friday fever” hits. Good 3PL providers will work with temporary employment agencies months in advance to ensure that enough team members are available to meet the needs of this intense sales period. But securing the talent is just the start.
“Our teams are the heart of our operation, and we couldn’t do it without them!”
“If you want to build that magic team spirit that will see you through the madness of Black Friday, you’ll need to be training your temporary staff weeks before the event,” says Quentin. “At Bleckmann, this includes providing guaranteed hours and even housing for some workers. To keep the momentum going throughout the Black Friday period itself, you should put a lot of effort into making sure our people are well looked after. For instance, we have facilities like on-site DJs, chill-out areas, free food and drink, football, and incentives like discount vouchers and prize draws. Our teams are the heart of our operation, and we couldn’t do it without them!”
3. Keep communicating
With so many moving parts and the constant stress on logistics networks, Black Friday can seem like a fast-paced chess match for logistics providers. This means that effective communication between the brand and the 3PL partner is the only way to ensure that you can meet all your customer’s expectations to the highest standards.
“When your 3PL provider is a true strategic partner, they will know your needs inside-out, so they plan can for a range of different scenarios,” says Reinardt. “That’s why it’s essential to study the granular detail of a client’s product range and pricing strategies. The trick is that the deeper the discount, the more likely that a product will fly off the shelves. Always ask your logistics partner if they design their logistics around your pricing strategy – it’s the best way to ensure a next-level customer experience throughout.”
“When your 3PL provider is a true strategic partner, they will know your needs inside-out”
“Some retailers will also want to change their discounting strategy halfway through the sales period, for example, if a product is not selling as well as it should be and they want to give it an even deeper discount,” adds Quentin. “A Black Friday veteran like Bleckmann will already have taken a situation like this into account through in-depth scenario analysis, so you’ll already have the resources ready to make it happen. Planning really is the key to stopping networks from overheating and ensuring a seamless Black Friday period.”
4. Adapt intelligently to volume peaks
Increasingly, brands are seeing spikes in demand for products that are strongly driven by trends on social media. To meet this added challenge, logistics providers need to have the operational flexibility to adapt their capacity at a moment’s notice.
“There’s nothing a strong team can’t do!”
“Our industry is no stranger to volume fluctuations thanks to years of ecommerce, so we’ve developed advanced methods for dealing with them,” explains Reinardt.“ For example, in 2021, Bleckmann helped a major client to ship over 600,000 units in one day, and over 500,000 units per day after that. That’s about 20 times the client’s normal volume, and this was in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, so we had to socially distance all our workers. To achieve this, we opened pop-up warehouses to ensure people were safe. And we still managed to deliver everything on time – there’s nothing a strong team can’t do!
5. Embrace advanced technology
But with a constant stream of new orders always coming in, even the best team needs reliable digital support to help them coordinate their work. That’s why advanced software and smart automation are key tools in the logistics provider’s belt.
“For clients with extremely high volumes, we’ll often use automation to deal with volume peaks,” explains Reinardt. “In Belgium, for example, we now have automated warehouses with conveyors that take packages from the loading bay to the automatic dispatch sorter, which then automatically takes each parcel to one of our 40 Local Hero carriers who are waiting to distribute them all over the world! We also have automatic packing stations that bag the goods themselves, with a little assistance. And we always have our exceptional teams on-hand to deal with any overflows.”
Artificial intelligence (AI) is another key weapon in the logistics armoury. “A client might receive one million orders on the first night of Black Friday, and a million more by the end of the next day,” says Quentin. “That’s too much for any single warehouse to deal with immediately, so smart providers will use AI technology such as Yazzoom, in combination with advanced warehouse management software (WMS), to select which parcels are a high priority and which ones can wait a little longer. This is known as “waving”, and I like to think of it as the ‘conductor of the orchestra’: it makes sure each element of your logistics operation is working as efficiently as possible to deliver the symphony that is a seamless Black Friday operation! It also enables you to save time and resources, and reduce carbon emissions.
6. Get ready for the future of Black Friday
In recent years, global supply-chain disruptions have caused significant headaches for brands looking to ship internationally. And with the increased costs of freight nowadays, clients no longer want everything delivered as fast as possible – but as cost-efficiently as possible.
“Consumers expect to wait a little longer for purchases during the Black Friday period, so as long as brands and retailers keep the lines of communication open and let them know, they won’t be disappointed,” says Reinardt. “Ideally, your 3PL partner will help you find the right balance between cost, speed and efficiency. If your partner has a diverse and flexible delivery network and bonded warehousing solutions like Bleckmann, you’re sure to find the right solution.”
“We’re ready to meet all the challenges that Black Friday can throw at us and deliver a successful sales period for our clients.”
“There have certainly been some added challenges when it comes to Black Friday logistics in recent years,” concludes Quentin. “But at the end of the day, the most important thing is making sure the customer is happy. The key to winning Black Friday for me really comes down to regular communication between the client and their logistics provider. And the best thing of all is to test and learn so you can adapt your approach every year. Thanks to flexible, tech-enabled logistics solutions and dedicated teams, we’re ready to meet all the challenges that Black Friday can throw at us and deliver a successful sales period for our clients.”