As many teams start to wind down for the holiday period, spare a thought for Santa and his helpers as they aggressively ramp up production.
There can be few more demanding operational roles than Santa’s. The challenges he faces are immense:
- Door-to-door delivery on a truly global scale, with many end points no longer supporting chimney based access.
- An incredibly fickle and tetchy customer base, prone to temper tantrums when things don’t go their way.
- A demand profile boasting a seasonal peak to strike fear in the hearts of the most talented sales and operational planners.
- A mythical workforce, in very short supply as the Elven population turns to the glamour of Hollywood courtesy of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings.
- Global warming playing havoc with a cold climate operation and the Paris Disaccord accelerating the process.
- Dissolution of free trade agreements imposing tighter border controls and impeding the free flow of goods and people.
- Dietary imbalance ill-suited to the lactose and gluten intolerant, crammed full of sugar and awash with extreme expectations of binge drinking.
So, as you head into the Christmas peak Santa, I thought I would share some opportunities that may help you and your champion team of elves get through the next few traumatic days.
- Re-imagine Your Sales Channel: Face-to-face mall visits for mass market communication are inefficient and no good for arthritic knees; try a mobile-first, omni-channel strategy.
- Order Entry System: snail mail for capturing orders is fraught with danger – the long lead times increase the risk of obsolescence, a dependency on your customers’ grammatical prowess can lead to input quality problems, a vague address – Santa Claus, North Pole – presents a high risk of orders being lost and your overloaded elves having to type in the orders. I would suggest you transition to online digital capture, with click-to-pick toy images and in-process text validation.
- Out-of-the-Box Thinking for Load Balancing: delivering a whole year’s worth of orders on one day is truly a scheduler’s nightmare. You may want to think about promoting Christmas in July and branching out into Easter egg production and fireworks, to use your workforce in a more balanced way.
- Human (Parent) Centric Packaging Design: have you considered how many millions of parental hours are spent trying to unpack layers of plastic, twist ties and tape secured within an unbreakable plastic “clamshell” to release the latest doll or action figure? All of which require a plethora of sharp instruments, an infinite amount of patience, a first aid kit for the subsequent injuries and a sedative for when the now bored child has thrown all of their other toys out of the cot.
- Workforce 2.0: the Nordic countries are high cost labour locations for packaging and distribution businesses. With the surfeit of robots on order that you are packing ready to ship, why not put them to good use in the interim to help pick and pack and save on an expensive workforce.
- Festive Fashion: with global warming and temperatures in the 40s in some of the countries you visit, I think a thick, red suit is probably a health and safety issue. You should consider more climate appropriate clothing for your Christmas night flight – think more board shorts and polos than budgie smugglers and thongs.
- Distribution Network Configuration: operating from a single distribution centre “north of the wall”, far from your customer base, places unnecessary stress on your operation and the extended stem-time incurs needless cost. Try the centre of gravity method to re-configure or develop your own genetic algorithm to optimise location choice and allow for the different multi-modal constraints for cross-docking in your hub-and-spoke model.
- Think End-to-End: offer a returns service for all the unwanted gifts that get opened but were just wrong and a mediation and conciliation service to help families to resolve the “why she got what I wanted” problem.
- Click-and-collect: give control back to your customers and offer a click-and-collect service – this significantly reduces your demand and the trouble of trying to squeeze down the chimney, plus many customers will get to see snow for the first time when they come and visit your workshop.
- Demand Management: smooth out the demand profile with a range of techniques – extend the delivery window to offer more choice, say from the 20th-30th December, introduce an Uber like surge price or charge extra for out-of-office hours delivery, alternatively offer a discount for delivery in the quieter months.
- Max the Cube: you know every cubic mm counts in logistics and the current full width bench seat configuration for your sleigh wastes precious space. By replacing the bench with a single seat you should be able to create more storage capacity.
- Tesla Driverless Sleigh: Elon Musk should be able to make it possible for you to stay home, put your feet up, enjoy an artisan, festive gin and watch Elf like everyone else. You could buy a fleet and never miss your DIFOT target again.
- Drive Train Optimisation: your reindeer need to be in peak condition for the big day so I would suggest enrolling them in an F45 programme well ahead of time and also supplement their diet with quinoa and goji berry infused carrots.
- Leave Planner: make sure your leave planner is up to date and accurate to avoid Ryanair-like embarrassment.
- Social Media Manipulation: petition the Russians to launch a social media campaign to change to the Julian calendar – the resultant chaos should be enough to significantly reduce the number of critical orders.
- Realpolitik: wait for a travel ban policy to be implemented and declare “force majeure” to avoid travel to certain disunited countries.
- Ditch the Sack: sub-optimal on so many levels – racking and stacking is non-existent, expedited picking is impossible and it’s an ergonomic, health and safety nightmare. I would suggest a well fitted backpack with adjustable harness, lumbar pads, sternum and compression straps, and a trolley, dollie and stairclimber.
- Dietary Considerations: avoid the artery clogging Christmas cake, cheese, mince pies, cookies and milk, port, whisky or beer at every stop by tweeting you’re on the 5:2 diet and that Christmas Eve/Day are your fasting days.
- SLAs: manage expectations by changing your SLA to “Up to 100mbs” (metropolises by Santa) as everyone knows you will never achieve this level of present download performance.
Given you are a monopoly provider there are obviously a number of customer-unfriendly options open to you:
- Stock Outs: make a wide-range of gifts available for selection on your website but with 90% out of stock, on back order due for replenishment on the 26th December.
- Gifts to the Node: take a lead out of the National Broadband Network rollout plan and ignore the challenging “last mile”, dumping a bunch of presents in a nearby petrol station or car park and text customers that their delivery is ready to collect.
- While You Were Out: save space by not loading your sleigh with presents and leaving “while you were out” cards asking the customer to come and collect their parcels.
- Optimise Drop Density: in geographically large countries with concentrated population centres e.g Australia and Canada, avoid rural and regional distribution by restricting services to egift cards.
- Flat Pack: flat pack certainly helps space optimisation so you can either limit customers to flat pack only gifts or if this is too restrictive simply squash everything into a flat pack shape.
- Low Cost Airline Option: cancel services at short notice and bump customers to new delivery slots due to “operational reasons”.
- Oversell and Bump: another airline favourite, commit to deliver to everyone but send 15% of your customers an eVoucher for a sandwich and a revised delivery date.
- Tier 2 Distribution: specify that you service a major city and then distribute to a satellite town over 130 miles away, similar to budget airlines using Paris Vatry airport.
I’m sure there are many, many more tips that will make Santa’s task far easier this holiday season. We would love to hear your thoughts.
In the meantime, I wish you all a very merry Christmas and a truly prosperous New Year.