Did You Get A Time Slot?

By William T. Walker, CFPIM, CSCP-F, CLTD-F, CIRM 

May 2020

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Bill Walker

Prior to the pandemic if told something was not immediately available for delivery, folks would just click on another website and shop elsewhere.  But under shelter-in-place orders folks are stuck trying to get the basic necessities, like food and beverage. The processes for both delivery to one’s home and curbside pickup start with the struggle to get access to a time slot.  Because there are limited choices in both suppliers and products folks no longer have the luxury to avoid long waiting periods by just switching to another source.  Many local businesses such as Kings with home delivery and Bottle King with curbside pickup are using a slotting technique to control their resources.

Slotting is an old scheduling technique that developed to decide when to store the next inventory receipt at the warehouse.  If the warehouse was full, then no more inventory could be received.  Airlines use slotting to decide gate assignments for incoming aircraft.  If no gate is available, then the aircraft must wait before its passengers can disembark.  More recently, the aircraft is not allowed to take-off unless a landing slot is available.

Kings has limited staffing resources to pick a customer’s shopping list, bag it, and have it transported to the customer’s location.  Bottle King has limited staffing resources to pick a customer’s order, box it, and carry the order out to the customer’s car waiting in the parking lot.  Staffing resources are reduced because of fewer people working and the requirement to keep social distancing within the warehouse. These businesses are managing day-to-day by limiting the number of customer orders being accepted in the first place. Slotting in this context means the customer must first get a delivery time slot before being allowed to enter their order.

At first, peak demand drove potential customers to seek an optimal time to game the system.  Successful connect rates seemed higher very early in the morning or around noon on Monday after all the weekend orders had been fulfilled.  Welcome screens on company websites stated, “expect delivery within 24 to 72 hours” and “no new orders are being accepted at this time”.  Frustration mounted when complete shopping lists were entered into the shopping cart only to be locked out at checkout.  As demand smooths, the shopping window will lengthen, and the order-to-delivery cycle time will shrink. 

While a slotting approach may be necessary for a business to be operational, the customer delivery experience remains one of great variability and low predictability.

©2020 William T. Walker, CFPIM, CSCP-F, CLTD-F, CIRM has 42 years practitioner experience, authored Supply Chain Construction and Supply Chain Architecture, and teaches Supply Chain Engineering at NYU Tandon plus Demand Planning at Rutgers. He is a 40-year ASCM member and APICS E&R Foundation past president. email: [email protected]