The Logistics of Valentine’s Day: Signed, Sealed and Delivered

February 14 marks the most romantic day on the calendar: Valentine’s Day. It’s certainly not a cheap endeavor: The National Retail Federation estimates Americans will spend a record $27.4 billion on their showcases of love this year, with an average spend of $196.31 per person. 

While it’s not unusual to be loved by anyone, making sure every rose, heart-shaped chocolate box and sentimental card takes an unusual amount of effort. Valentine’s Day is the second busiest time of the year for shippers, behind only the Christmas season. And just like for Christmas holiday shipping, the logistics of Valentine’s Day highlights how the right supply chain network is needed to delight every end customer – no matter what product you’re providing.

We love and care for supply chains. That’s why I wanted to share some thoughts on the logistics of Valentine’s Day – so you can understand how suppliers and shipping companies ensure everything arrives on time – before the last candlelight dinner ends.

Flowers, Chocolates, and Cards: Managing Valentine’s Day From Multiple Fronts

With the shortest shelf life of all traditional Valentine’s Day gifts, fresh-cut flowers depend on the cold chain for success. Over 80% of flowers are imported, with most coming from Colombia. 

The International Trade Centre estimates over 500 million tons of flowers are sent for Valentine’s Day. After the flowers are harvested, the blooming buds are cooled to 35 degrees and loaded onto both commercial and freight aircraft for transport to the United States. 

At each point of entry, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers thoroughly inspect every shipment for pests, disease and contraband. Once they clear Customs, it’s back to near-freezing temperatures for the flowers as they go to the warehouse, then the distribution center, before finally arriving at the florist. 

But what if there is a problem clearing Customs? Or a network disruption impacts a climate-controlled facility? Without the proper logistics processes – and contingency plans – one problem can quickly spoil the Valentine’s Day bouquet.

Many of these bouquets are accompanied by exquisite German chocolates. According to the UN Comtrade Database, 5.6% of all the chocolate imported into the United States comes from Germany. Getting the sweet treats to the United States poses an equally daunting task. 

While the chocolates can take an intermodal route into America, they have to be transported very carefully. After packaging, each load must be protected from moisture, humidity and temperature changes. The German Transport Information Service recommends all chocolates be transported in refrigerated containers to maintain the cold chain from start to finish. Doing that requires a lot of visibility to the product and its transit across the supply chain.

And what would these gifts be without the written words of love to accompany them? Hallmark estimates over 145 million Valentine’s Day cards are exchanged across the United States. The mid-February tradition is the second largest holiday for greeting cards, trailing only behind the Christmas season. 

As with anything you send through post or parcel service,  planning ahead is vital for mailing chocolate and gifts Based on the 2019 USPS holiday season estimates, sending gifts to APO, FPO and DPO addresses can take up to six weeks to arrive!If your loved ones are in America, you can still get away with Priority Shipping within the continental United States four days in advance. For those extreme procrastinators, a parcel carrier like UPS can guarantee delivery even if you are shipping on Feb. 13 – but it will cost you hundreds of dollars. 

Understanding the characteristics of your shipment – size, weight, destination and delivery timing – can help you avoid some of those costs, while still warming a heart at the end of the love line.

Tying The Logistics Knot 

In every stop, each of these gifts face unique challenges in their supply chains. Matching them all together requires an intricate dance that depends on every stage of the transportation process going nearly perfect. One mis-step in the supply chain, like exposing chocolates to moisture or keeping flowers outside a cold environment, results in a product that is unsellable.

Without proper planning and coordination of all the moving parts, your items could either arrive too early, or too late. Valentine’s Day gifts aren’t as effective on Feb. 13, and they’re completely useless on Feb. 15. 

The good news is that many of these situations can be mitigated using modern technology. While all the pieces are dependent upon each other to make Valentine’s Day pass without a hitch, technology plays a critical role in avoiding broken hearts.

To maintain quality, companies use robust logistics monitoring, modelling and execution tools. This supports planning for the most effective port of entry, warehouse and distribution center locations, and network reach. Often an enterprise logistics company helps analyze all these factors to determine the best route forward. Supply chain data combined with analysis supports  real-time decisions if there is disruption in the chain. 

Enterprise logistics providers also offer insightful observations when there are unique breaks in the supply chain. It is important to be able to trace and track every transportation activity in the best scenarios, just in case a contingency – or official record – is needed for the worst.

In those cases, the solution for wilted flowers is not the same as the solution for ruined chocolate. Sometimes it helps to have a partner that has experienced challenges in other just-in-time supply chains. They can bring an objective viewpoint to tie everything together and determine solutions if one piece breaks in the overall supply chains. 

We’ve created a map of your Valentine’s Day rose bouquet from the time it arrives in the U.S. to its last mile delivery to your door.

Improve E-Commerce Experience Without Sacrificing Profitability

With Amazon commanding 47% of U.S. e-commerce sales and on track to grow its online sales by 20.4% to $282.52 billion, pursuing this formidable opponent makes sense to a lot of companies. Unfortunately, many of them are sacrificing profits in their attempt to compete, with transportation and fulfillment costs consuming a large part of their budgets.

Opportunity or Liability?

In many cases, the risks of racing Amazon have literally turned into liabilities, effectively slowing progress and forcing companies to rethink everything from their online order interfaces, shopping cart conversions, and final-mile/same-day order fulfillment management.

The brick and mortar world has really ramped up its game, but Amazon has conditioned us, as end consumers, that those efforts just are not good enough.

4 Practices to Protect Profitability

The good news is that there are steps that companies can take to improve e-commerce strategies without sacrificing profitability. Here are four that your company can start using today: 

  1. Develop an above-par order fulfillment strategy. Amazon built its order fulfillment strategy around offering choices to its customers. In doing so, it made the online shopping experience all about the customer and his/her decisions. The e-tailer provides high levels of supply chain visibility as shipments move from Point A to Point B, maintains good inventory control, and understands its cost to serve. One good metric to use, when judging the efficiency of your order fulfillment processes, is the “Perfect Order,” or one that is on time, complete, intact, and includes the right shipping paperwork. In an environment where order fulfillment can comprise over 60% of the typical warehouse’s total direct labor, even small gains in this area can lead to profitability improvements
  1. Now, deliver on that strategy (on every order). Not only does shipping have to be free and fast, but if it includes a hovercraft and a promise to get a package to your doorstep within an hour, then all the better. We’re at a point where anything less simply doesn’t meet customer expectations. There’s little (if any) room for error on this step. Retailers that want to convert digital consumers know that competing on price and customer experience just isn’t enough anymore; they have to also be able to compete on speed and choice. Handled improperly, same-day delivery can be a logistical nightmare and major risk for retailers. It’s also a necessary evil for them, and something that they all have to be able to do for at least some of their customers. Making that happen requires locations and/or warehouses positioned close to those buyers; a modification of existing fulfillment procedures; a smart, profitable BOPIS strategy; and ensuring that the right product is in the right place and at precisely the right minute.

  1. Focus on continuous monitoring and improvement. Companies can no longer wait until quarterly review meetings to uncover a problem that happened a month ago. Smart companies use daily scorecards to gather, compare and disseminate meaningful, actionable intelligence (e.g., what products were shipped? How quickly were orders fulfilled? Did we pick all of our orders yesterday? If no, how can we make that up today?). By taking an introspective look at their e-commerce operations and developing metrics based on those results, retailers can adapt faster in a world that demands speed, accuracy and delivery on promises. 
  2. Make the right transportation choices. If your company can’t access data that provides strategy around carrier contract alignment and then facilitates choosing the most economical transportation mode, it’s probably losing money. And, if it’s channeling all of its resources into getting same-day and next-day shipments out the door as quickly as possible − without worrying about whether or not those are the best and most economical decisions − it’s losing even more money. These are huge risks in an era where companies are being forced to go head-to-head with Amazon and Walmart, both of which offer same-day and one-day delivery to 72% and 75% of the total U.S. population, respectively. Retailers should be using technology (i.e., transportation management systems or TMS) to select not only the most economical mode, but also one that meets customers’ delivery expectations. Leveraging transactional audit across all modes, provides companies consolidated, visibility to know the rate they paid, identify service gaps, and improve their ability to make good transportation decisions going forward.

Following these guidelines, companies can effectively improve the e-commerce experience without sacrificing profitability − all while satisfying a lot of happy, repeat customers.

Ready to learn more ways retailers can improve e-commerce performance to satisfy customer demands for service and choice? Download Transportation Insight’s e-commerce guide.