At this point in the holiday season, most supply chain professionals in the retail space are probably doing a lot more reacting than planning. Keeping the shelves stocked is likely priority #1,2, and 3, while things like cost and efficiency are farther down the list (if even on the list). With that said, I apologize for not writing this post 6 months ago when you may have been able to act, but perhaps this can be helpful for next year.
The holiday season provides many interesting optimization problems for those working in the retail supply chain. For many retailers, SKUs have short lifecycles and high variability. With these characteristics, it makes sense to try to centrally manage inventory in a small number of distribution centers. This allows them to risk pool the demand variability, keeping inventory and working capital as low as possible. During the non-peak season with lower sales volumes, regular (say weekly) replenishment can be planned in order to achieve transportation efficiency. Unfortunately, when the peak holiday season arrives, this strategy may not be ideal. Stores have limited ability to store product and sales velocity is high. With the goal of keeping the shelves full, they need frequent replenishment during the holiday season. If the retailer manages only a few DCs, there will be stores who are quite far away from the DCs, making it impossible (or very expensive through use of air freight) to replenish the store as frequently as necessary to prevent stockouts. Therefore, its quite possible a different distribution strategy may be called for during the holiday season. It may make sense to add seasonal distribution facilities to the network to get more product nearer to the stores. This type of strategy involves many decisions which all can be helped by using optimization:
- How many seasonal distribution points do I need?
- Where should they be located?
- Which stores are assigned to which DC?
- Which SKUs do I deploy to the seasonal DCs and which do I carry only at my regular DCs?
- How often to I replenish my seasonal DCs and what type of transportation mode do I use?
- How do I deliver to stores from the seasonal DCs (mode, route, etc)?
A good strategy ahead of the holiday season is likely to result in less headaches and less costs when the season actually arrives.