Tips for Improving Efficiency in the Warehouse
The past holiday season posted record growth for ecommerce transactions, and analysts are predicting continued growth throughout 2017. The increased sales signal that consumers are becoming more confident in e-retailers, but at the same time, more demanding of perks like fast and free shipping, instant customer service, and pain-free returns.
To keep pace, ecommerce businesses must seek out greater efficiencies, and the first place to look might be right under your nose – in the warehouse.
Keep it Clean
This may be a no-brainer, but when a business quickly scales, and especially during the holiday rush, the warehouse can get cluttered if the proper processes aren’t in place and enforced. With dozens of temp employees learning the ropes, boxes and pallets can be misplaced, and aisles can become littered creating inefficiencies at the least, and causing accidents at the worst. A simple policy of keeping a clean workspace can prevent a lot of headaches.
Develop a Cluster Picking Strategy
For many ecommerce businesses, orders tend to be for smaller items like shoes, clothing, small electronics, and household goods. For these smaller orders, cluster picking can be the ideal fulfillment strategy.
In cluster picking, multiple orders are retrieved during the same pass into discrete totes on a single cart. This can allow 15 orders to be picked in a single trip instead of making 15 trips across the warehouse floor, quickly resulting in greater fulfillment efficiencies.
If you are already utilizing a cluster picking strategy, consider analyzing the benefit of a larger picking cart to maximize the number of orders that can be picked in a single pass.
Consider a Warehouse Management Software Update
Consumers demand real time information on inventory and aren’t going to be happy if their order is a few days late because you temporarily sold out. Amazon has really set the bar here, and with warehouse management software innovation, you don’t have to be at a disadvantage.
Cloud based tools can provide real time updates across multiple channels and locations to track inventory, and alert staff when levels are low. Modern WMS software is also capable of automating tasks to help create additional efficiencies in the picking and packing process.
To help compare options, Gartner Inc. compiles an annual analysis of the top WMS vendors that can be helpful in choosing which solution is best for your warehouse.
Give Top SKU’s a Front Row Seat
Simply put, the less of it you sell, the further from the picking station it should be, and vice-versa. This can be especially important during peak high-volume seasons.
One methodology is to arrange inventory in groupings according to sales volume. For example, top sellers in Group 1 and closest to the main picking station, average sellers in Group 2 a bit further, and below average sellers in Group 3 located furthest from center.
As new SKU’s are introduced, consider periodically shifting the placement of top movers to increase the volume of shorter picking trips and minimize the volume of longer trips.
Utilize On Demand Warehousing
As sales grow and businesses expand, the need for more warehouse space may come sooner than expected. While this is a good problem to have, it is still a problem, and trying to figure out where to house growing inventory and how to fund a new facility can take time away from everyday operations.
Enter on Demand warehousing marketplaces like Flexe.com and Stord.com. These emerging marketplaces are often referred to as the “uberization” of warehousing, and they are creating more and more opportunities for both long and short term expansion.
On Demand warehousing could be explored simply to help expand during the busy holiday season, or as a more robust strategy to test different fulfillment locations. For example, maybe you want to consider expanding to a smaller regional distribution center to manage certain items in your inventory. Testing this approach with on demand warehousing instead of a long-term lease would be a great way to ease into it.
From sourcing your inventory to the last mile delivery of your packages, increased efficiency at any point in the distribution and fulfillment process can have a positive impact on your bottom line. Even as things are running smoothly, it is never a bad time to evaluate where your pain points are in order to strategize better solutions.
For more information about how the OSM Worldwide team can help your business, view our shipping services or contact us for a customized quote.