Peak Performance: Warehouse Tips for Optimal E-commerce Omnichannel Fulfillment

Improve the performance of your D2C fulfillment warehouse operation with these 5 tips
 

Running a warehouse in today’s fast-paced consumer-driven environment can be challenging.  Whether you work for an Amazon warehouse, candy warehouse or 3PL, keeping costs down while making sure that your operation has speedy, accurate order fulfillment is crucial to your success.  Here are a few tips to help you remain competitive.

 

1. Work Smarter, not Harder by Using Leading Edge Technologies

Assess existing warehouse processes with the help of your workforce.  Simplify processes and eliminate steps to expedite movement through the warehouse and freight process.  Extra steps = extra time.  Process diagrams can be helpful in figuring out how to streamline operational processes like picking and shipping.  Using workflow-driven warehouse management software, your fulfillment center, warehouse, distribution center or third-party logistics operation can then take the process diagrams and automate the newly streamlined processes.  Automating processes using workflow helps to eliminate decision making, errors, duplication of labor and other costly issues, making your fulfillment operations speedier and more efficient.

Is your workforce mobile?  Empower executives and managers with real time enterprise-wide visibility and data at their fingertips.  Investing in mobility solutions such as mobile labor management on tablets keeps managers on the warehouse floor, where the action is rather than sitting at a desk. Giving greater visibility to frontline managers helps them better manage fulfillment operations and helps to ensure that your workforce is producing to capacity.

Putting a mobile device and software into the hands of warehouse managers gives them a view of operations in real time will pay off handsomely in time savings and greater efficiency.

Here are a few of the popular technologies used in fulfillment warehouses today:

The age of robotics is here.  As the adoption rate of robotics technology in the warehouse rises, omnichannel warehouse operators are realizing that this technology can be used alongside human workers to improve order fulfillment rates and increase picking velocity.

Light-enabled picking systems (pick-to-light) can be a solid investment.  Pick-to-light systems reduce training time, eliminate language barriers and result in more time and labor efficient operations.  This can be especially useful in e-commerce fulfillment center facilities in which turnover is high or in which seasonal workers play a vital role.

Warehouse wearables are now available in a wide variety of options from smart glasses and augmented technology to wrist mounted computers.  The level of ease and comfort combined with hands-free mobility provides the top functionality needed for maximum workforce productivity.

As with all technology, training and change management are critical.  Some workers may be afraid of change or apprehensive about using technology.  For older workers, this can be especially intimidating if they are not accustomed to using technology in their everyday lives. 

There may be a fear that use of technology may result in loss of jobs.  Managing these fears takes skill, patience and understanding.  Using technology in the warehouse can make the workday more productive and lead to happier customers and consumers.

Planning to change technologies or to introduce new tech into the fulfillment center or warehouse?  Have a plan.  Make sure that you prepare the workforce well in advance.  Be transparent about the objectives.  Be ready to use multiple methods of training and reinforcement for learning and using the new technologies.  It is often a good idea to find workers within the ranks who are likely to embrace the change and technology and train them in advance.  Incentivizing them to be “goodwill ambassadors” for the project can ease tension and make sure that you are putting a reassuring “human face” on the change.  Ambassadors can help with training, provide feedback and smooth over the rough edges of the transition to help ensure higher adoption rates of the new technology.

 

2. Inventory: Mixed SKU Placement

Positioning multiple SKUs in the same picking location tends to result in errors, additional picking time and reduced throughput.

 

3. Horizontal Placement of Inventory Improves Picking Speed

Placement of inventory is critical for accurate, speedy picking operations.  Position inventory horizontally as much as possible.  If vertical picking is required, locating the faster moving inventory at ground level and slower moving goods on higher levels results in better order picking speed.  Also, make sure that the appropriate storage media is used for each type of inventory.

 

4. Slot Optimization of Inventory Should be an Ongoing, Continual Process

What is slotting optimization and why is it important in e-commerce order fulfillment?  The process of slotting involves organizing the position of items within the omnichannel warehouse so that order picking can be optimized.

Proper slotting helps to ensure that inventory is positioned in the most appropriate location and storage medium for labor efficiency.  This includes consideration of ergonomics, SKU velocity, risk of damage to inventory and other factors.  Slotting software can evaluate the percentage of picks located in the correct slot zone and notify you if this drops below 80% so that you can re-slot.  Poor slotting can account for up to a 20% drag on order picking productivity.

With the advent of e-commerce fulfillment, it has proven challenging for many warehouses, distribution centers and 3PLs to deal with the issues of SKU proliferation, reduced order cycle times and volatility of demand. 

This increases the need for inventory control and proper inventory management efforts.  In a warehouse, it’s all about the real estate:  location and space really matter.

Is your warehouse using slot optimization to your advantage?  Slot optimization helps to determine the best locations for inventory slotting, leading to peak performance.  Factors such as operational constraints, evolving consumer expectations, new product demand and dynamics, velocity and product characteristics are important to consider.  As with most things, timing is everything so make sure that you position the right inventory at the optimal location and time.

Take a step back.  Clear your mind of the attitude of following the same strategies, tactics and procedures simply because “that is the way we have always done it”.  For some warehouse managers, this can prove especially difficult as being entrenched in a business can cloud one’s perspective.  Bring in a fresh voice or two, executives or workers who have only been working in your company for a short time but who have experience in other warehouse operations or similar businesses.  Listen to their feedback and take action if warranted.

Consider every inch of space in your warehouse facility and how it is specifically used.  Consider transit time for operations, SKU velocity, ergonomics and other factors and make sure that all inventory is in the best place possible based on how often it is ordered, storage requirements, etc. Order picking is typically viewed as the most costly, labor-intensive activity in the warehouse and travel time is the second highest variable cost.

Storing items that are in greatest demand and that are ordered at the same time together close to each other increases efficiency.  Here is an example. 

Often consumers will find a particular brand and style of garment that fits well and suits their needs.  Consumers frequently then order the same garment in the same size but in different colors.  Positioning inventory in this way can enable warehouse workers to pick faster and more accurately.

5. Use Standardized Containers for Inventory Storage

Relying on standardized containers to store goods helps to simplify order picking.  This eliminates the need for workers to find appropriate containers for specific inventory.  Labeling of the appropriate bin locations using easy-to-read labels saves time for order pickers.

 

Conclusion:

Online shoppers today are impatient.  They abandon shopping carts quickly when shopping online and want same day or next day delivery.  Consumers want online stores to pay for shipping costs and use social media to praise or complain about their shopping experience.

Running a fulfillment operation that services online channels is tough.  It is an especially challenging adventure fulfilling online orders and keeping retailer physical locations stocked with the goods to make for a satisfying customer experience.

Ensuring speedy, accurate order fulfillment in today’s e-commerce omnichannel world has led to increased use of technology, from robots and wearables to mobile computers, warehouse management systems and light enabled picking systems.  Additionally, effort spent in properly positioning inventory for fast, easy picking with less transit time helps ensure vital throughput.  Use of slotting optimization software can be an excellent investment in the success of your fulfillment center or warehouse, especially if it services multiple channels.

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