The dramatic shift toward e-commerce has prompted warehousing operations to embrace multi-channel fulfillment as a matter of urgency, leaving little room for error or inefficiencies. While this presents certain challenges, e-commerce retail and the push beyond traditional retail fulfillment offer new opportunities to achieve and maintain a competitive edge.
Following are five common warehousing strategies that organizations need to master if they wish to be successful in a multi-channel world.
Get flexible enough to cost-effectively handle widely different order sizes. E-commerce has led to a proliferation of delivery options such as straight-to-consumer or BOPIS (buy online, pickup in store). Many warehouses are set up to prioritize fulfillment to retail stores with truckload and pallet-load orders. But with e-commerce dominating the market, resulting in higher quantities of smaller orders, companies must develop the capability to fulfill that range of sizes efficiently. Many face the difficulty of legacy warehouse management systems (WMS) that can’t flex easily to the new demands, and it can take months to change over to one that can handle them. Despite the challenges, investing in a newer system is worth it. It will help you decide exactly how you’re going to handle different orders, analyze the flow and costs, and identify bottlenecks. In essence, a warehouse operator needs to be able to pick and pack orders for individual end-consumers, like a retailer. For some, this will require a significant shift in thinking, but the benefits will speak for themselves.
Improve visibility of available inventory. Especially during the pandemic, with the chaotic fluctuations in both supply and demand, it’s become important to be highly accurate not just about what you currently have available in the warehouse, but what’s going to be coming in. Before digitalization, companies tended to have a blinkered view of their inventory, monitoring only what was within the four walls of the warehouse. Now, with far more tools available to meet demand, it’s critical to step back and take a wider look. One solution to improving visibility is to pick a WMS that provides reports and dashboards able to meet the information requirements of sales, marketing and supply chain personnel. You may also choose to use a WMS that features real-time dashboard visualizations that can be displayed prominently inside the warehouse.
Figure out how to make returns seamless, without delays or errors. Managing returns is a pain, but e-commerce has made it an essential part of fulfillment and the reverse supply chain. You must be able to perform quality checks and verifications, maximizing the number of returns that are restocked rather than liquidated or, worse, sent to landfill. You should be able to handle functions that were previously performed outside the realm of warehousing, such as return shipping, warranty documentation, or getting credits back to the consumer. The right WMS will also include online tools that involve the customer in the return process, allowing them to specify their preferred return protocols and receive updates on the process, even while the return is still in transit. Alternatively, if the return is processed through the store, the customer will be able to communicate directly with the store’s point-of-sale (POS) system to get all the information they need up front.
Rethink labor resources and deployment. A good WMS will allow you to analyze labor and task performance to optimize product mix and pricing, as well as minimize operational costs and speed to market. With a labor shortage biting in the U.S., and high warehouse wages affecting other countries such as Australia, it’s wise to consider alternative warehousing labor arrangements. One problem is rapid worker turnover — one Microlistics customer in the U.S. had 100% turnover in its warehouse labor every three months. But, as the gig economy has shown, many are open to more casual, part-time jobs. In the past, employing too many part-time workers created problems; it took a lot of time to get a worker up to speed in the increasingly complex task environment of a warehouse. The beauty of smart warehouse automation technology is that it presents the work as a series of step-by-step tasks and system-driven operational workflows. When the system is user-friendly enough for adoption by a new associate in a matter of hours, companies have the ability to get temporary and new workers up and running at 90% productivity after one day.
Adopt a responsive carrier selection strategy to manage last-mile fulfillment. With the increase of smaller individual deliveries from warehouses, the last mile can easily become a bottleneck. Now more than ever, it is important to arrange outward transport fast. There are many different carriers available (depending on dispatch location and destination) each with a variety of service offerings differentiated by speed, cost and deliver time. For this reason, optimally selecting carriers per order can become costly and time-consuming.
This is where the benefits of a WMS integrated with a multi-carrier management system comes into play. Wherever your company is based, a good WMS will streamline this process, seamlessly marrying carrier selection with fulfillment and dispatch functions. With this in place, you can quickly and deftly choose exactly which transportation services you need at a moment’s notice.
Microlistics Helps Companies Thrive
Microlistics offers world-class WMS solutions that are intelligent, robust, affordable, simple and easy to use. After 20 years of partnering with diverse clients to drive growth and greater efficiency, Microlistics is led by experts in the field. Its WMS systems are designed for an ever-changing, omnichannel environment, allowing customers to pivot more quickly, and become more focused on speed, efficiency and cost minimization. Microlistics’ customers get up and running quickly, resulting in a rapid ROI, and can evolve capacity and capability over time.
“It’s great for someone facing a rise in e-commerce and concerned about how to shift their business model to retain customers and capitalize on the opportunities of the shifting market,” said Martin Hespeler, Microlistics’ vice president of sales, Americas. Hespeler says there’s a new need for agility in responding to rapid market changes, but also an increased scrutiny of costs. “You need to have visibility into the cost to serve diverse customer requirements, especially in e-commerce, and you need to be able to handle volume while keeping costs down.” Microlistics enables its customers to make this shift seamlessly and without disruption, setting them up for success in an increasingly digitalized world.
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