May 2, 2012, 4:36 PM

Better peak season fulfillment requires smarter seasonal workers

For Redcats, that means hiring for brains, not just warehouse muscle.

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Forget any old ideas of seasonal workers walking into a warehouse hiring office in the early fall and then muscling around for a few months to help a retailer sort, pick and ship all those holiday orders.  Today’s e-commerce operation requires a bit more sophistication, says Chip Edgington, executive vice president of operations for Redcats USA, No. 33 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 Guide.

“We can’t hire individuals with the same mindset today that we did 10 years ago,” he says. That’s because as e-commerce commands a larger part of the retail pie, online shoppers become more demanding, which leaves little room for error for e-retailers straining to meet tight holiday deadlines. That, in turn, has led to the deployment of more complicated technology that requires, at the least, more competence and concentration from seasonal fulfillment workers—not just some rented muscle and sweat.

Redcats, which owns such brands as The Golf Warehouse, The Sportsman’s Guide and OneStopPlus.com, employs approximately 600 permanent fulfillment workers during the year, Edgington says. As part of its effort to make its permanent fulfillment work force as efficient as possible, Redcats trains most employees in various tasks, with some able to perform seven different jobs. Additionally, incentives and overtime pay during the peak season encourages those employees to hit production targets.

During peak shopping seasons—for Redcats brands, this can mean both the fall run-up to Christmas, along with spring—that headcount typically swells by at least 10%. Now, those workers don’t have to have a Rhodes scholarship on their applications, but their reading comprehension has to be strong enough that they don’t mess up packing slips and order tickets, and they have to be comfortable with tasks that might include working with voice-command systems or expensive cranes. “It’s not the warehouse of yesterday,” Edgington says. “You need to have the skill set and capacity to come in and work in a highly technical environment.”

For much more about how e-retailers make effective use of fulfillment workers during peak seasons such as the holidays, read the upcoming June issue of Internet Retailer magazine. For a free subscription to Internet Retailer magazine, in print or digital form, click here.

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