In recent years, online shopping channels have taken over the UK’s market, with a huge shift in consumer confidence and continued double-digit growth. In fact, the total estimated online shopping spend during H1 of 2016 was £59.4 billion. That’s up from £52 billion in H1 of 2015.

This growth has been driven by the rise of mobile commerce, which grew 42% during 2015 and ended up being the primary shopping channel. In 2016, it’s expected to represent over half of all sales made online.

These trends have led to a huge rise in the number of home deliveries, which also means a bigger need for quality packaging materials, efficient packaging processes and reliable delivery services. There’s now an ongoing need for eRetailers to optimise their packaging operations so they can make sure they’re achieving efficiencies and cost savings as well as consistent quality, and delivering on customer promises.

The problem is that this kind of agile operation becomes even more important during periods of peak demand like the run up to Christmas, which also includes Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Black Friday in particular has become an online event with extended discounts spanning an entire week, rather than just being a one-day event on the high street. And that’s happened in just two years. In fact, last year’s Black Friday week was the busiest of the Christmas period, with estimated sales of £4.3bn – that’s up by 62%. No wonder we all get a bit of a sweat on around this time! So how do we make things easier?

Advanced planning combined with an understanding of supplier shut-down periods, adequate stock holding, flexible deliveries and strong supplier relationships are absolutely key if you want to achieve an adaptable and responsive packaging operation for your customers.

But how do we prepare for something on this scale? Retailers regularly forecast based on in-depth analysis of, typically, the last three years, along with insight into current growth levels.  But actual volumes can often swing 30% either way, leaving a stock surplus or shortage that needs to be proactively managed. This is why it’s vital to be able to call on additional resources and options so you can be agile, on demand.

First you’ll need to optimise packaging automation where possible, to avoid wasting time, labour, materials and space in the warehouse and in transit. As volumes can increase significantly – sometimes up to 30 times – any small inefficiencies are magnified at peak times. This can lead to missed opportunities to deliver cost benefits and improve your business’s performance.

It’s also important to have suppliers and partners that you can trust to be responsive and work alongside you to achieve your targets. For example, you might need on-site support, flexible or non-standard deliveries, or specialist technical advice on the latest packaging and machinery options.

The bonus? Once you’ve optimised for peak times, your brand should be able to maintain quality and consistency at all times, regardless of increased throughput and pressure on operations.

Is your packaging operation prepared for peaks in demand? See our three top tips for achieving on-demand agility.