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Which Season is Best For Supply Chains?

Michael Wilson | May 17, 2018

Every type of business has its seasons - which can be both positive and negative depending on which industry in particular that you're talking about. Retail stores tend to kick ...

Every type of business has its seasons - which can be both positive and negative depending on which industry in particular that you're talking about. Retail stores tend to kick into high gear starting the day after Thanksgiving (Black Friday) all the way up through Christmas - in fact; a lot of stores make the majority of their yearly revenue during just this short window.

The same is true for supply chains, which experience highs and lows all year long thanks to the seasons themselves. While it's certainly true that one season in particular tends to be better for both domestic and global shippers than others, the topic still requires you to keep a few important things in mind.

The Supply Chains and the Seasons: What You Need to Know

It should come as no surprise that, on average, freight shipments across the country tend to increase during the warmer summer months of the year as opposed to the cold winter ones. According to the Cass Freight Index, volumes typically increase dramatically as the weather starts to get nice outside between April and May, tend to plateau or even recede a bit between June and July (likely to do with the July 4th holiday), maintain that volume through the rest of the summer and then begin a slowly decline from September until the end of the year.

However, something should be noted about the holiday shopping season. Driven by the rise of e-commerce, shipment volumes do increase dramatically from Thanksgiving to Christmas as A) companies ship more product to stores, and B) people buy more products as gifts in preparation for Christmas. Many of the biggest shipping days of the year fall during this period. However, when you consider things just on a season-by-season basis, summer still tends to be a better season for shippers and for supply chains in particular than the colder months of the year. 

It's also important to point out that this data was obtained from a broad sampling of industries that included those in food, chemical, automotive, retail, OEM, packaged goods for consumers and more. The total annual freight volume per organization ranges anywhere from $1 million to $1 billion.

The Seasonal Challenges of Supply Chain Planning

In truth, while it's true that the warmer months in general are better for supply chain planning and logistics, both the summer and the winter present their fair share of challenges that are difficult to ignore. During the summer, for example, irregular traffic patterns pose a major headache for shippers everywhere. Instead of battling for road-based supremacy with school busses, drivers now have to deal with a massive volume of cars filled with people trying to get a head start on their vacations. Shippers need to be able to adapt to both new traffic patterns (particularly on the weekend) and the fact that a lot of drivers tend to feel a deeper sense of fatigue during the summer due to the heat. 

The warmer months of the year also directly coincide with hurricane season, something that has been playing havoc with supply chain planning for years. Much of this will affect supply chain managers up and down the east coast as well as in the southern parts of the country. According to Michigan State University, the major cities at risk during hurricane season include many from Miami to New York City and just about every place in between, along with New Orleans, Houston and others. Supply chain managers could suddenly face significant disruption and now have to focus on things like awareness, creating alternative plans, coordination and what to do in a potentially dangerous emergency situation. 

Winter storms during the colder months of the year pose just as much risk, but from different angles. When a sudden winter storm hits, tractor-trailers often have to deal not only with poor road conditions and unexpected indefinite delays, but also equipment failures that increase as the temperature outside decreases. This can make it very difficult to have the right equipment on hand all throughout the season, which can often lead to delayed deliveries all throughout the season.

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