When we think of automation and technology in the warehouse, we likely think about Kiva Robots, or the better known: ‘Amazon Robots’. After all, it was big news when Amazon started using 30,000 of these robots to help automate their picking processes. Consistently striving ahead with automation in retail, it can seem tough to keep up with big brands like this. But it doesn’t have to be.
If modern SMEs quit trying to compare themselves with large scale operations like this, and instead focus on what is conceivably possible right now, then omnichannel growth and success is going to be much more achievable.
So, I suspect you’re wondering: how can you use automation and technology in the warehouse, right now, for operational efficiency? And how do you know if the methods you are using are effective? Let’s discuss…
Bluetooth Barcode Scanners
Gone are the days when you should have to either use pen and paper in the warehouse, or use corded devices. By using bluetooth barcode scanners in your picking and packing processes, you reduce the possibilities of human error from mistyping numbers, as well as speeding up the entire process. Which means that using this type of technology alone could drastically improve your perfect order rate, whilst reducing your costs and processing times.
In aid of further reducing order processing time and costs, consider the use of automation bots throughout your despatch process. Consider this workflow:
- An order downloads from your online sales channel (e.g. BigCommerce, Magento, Shopify, eBay, Amazon), into your central retail management system.
- This order is instantly allocated and fulfilled due to enough inventory being available.
- The order status is automatically changed to “Ready for despatch”, based on a clear set of rules for things like payment, allocation and fulfillment status.
- The order is automatically sent to your warehouse team.
- Your warehouse team pick, pack and ship the order.
Notice how in this workflow, a middle man (or woman) is cut out. This middle person would have initially been checking the order, whilst manually marking it as allocated, fulfilled and ready for despatch.
By using automation bots (and managing by exception) to speed up your order processing, your warehouse team can get on with what they do best - picking, packing and shipping orders quickly, to increase customer satisfaction and ultimately, drive more sales.
Electronic Data Interchange
According to EDI Basics, Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) is “the computer-to-computer exchange of documents in a standard electronic format between business partners”, and we know that it is becoming increasingly popular with retailers of all sizes.
By implementing EDI, you can:
- Prevent double selling
- Reduce the amount of incorrect shipping documents created
- Prevent mispicks and incorrect items being sent out
- Reduce the number of missed delivery deadlines
- Track, monitor and chase supplier delays
- Send tracking information to customers automatically
To help streamline and automate your shipping workflows, consider using recommended systems that integrate with well-known carriers, including DPD, UPS and Fedex.
Your warehouse team should be able to instantly print shipping labels when they need to, and have carriers automatically know when a shipment needs to be charged for. This kind of automation should also ensure the orders are updated in your central management system to reflect the current status of the package.
This helps reduce order processing times by eliminating hours spent on manual processes, whilst ensuring the order is sent out to the correct customer address using the appropriate shipping method, based on things like value, weight, volume or delivery location.
Integrated Warehouse Management Systems (WMS)
On the surface, this one seems pretty simple. But you may be surprised to hear that 43% of businesses surveyed in the US are either still using pen and paper in the warehouse, or not tracking inventory automatically at all. If you're included in that percentage, then listen up...
Consider the amount of hours your team is spending on checking inventory, writing figures down and then updating your systems manually afterwards.
Instead, you and your team could be using an efficient Warehouse Management System (WMS), which will allow your team to easily scan goods in and out of the warehouse, update inventory levels and perform inventory counts quickly using a barcode scanner.
With this in place, you will instantly cut admin time and reduce mispicks, which will ultimately improve both your order fulfillment latency and your perfect order rate.
There are a number of systems available for you to choose from. But our advice will always be to ensure the WMS is built for your industry, is cloud-based and that it integrates well with the rest of your business.
An integrated solution means your WMS will share the same database and workflows as your order management, inventory and accounting. How these processes join together will greatly influence just how powerful the WMS can be, whilst ensuring there’s a co-ordinated approach across your team and business.
We’ve recently launched our own integrated WMS, Warewolf. Get in touch with us to find out more!
If you’ve opted to implement any of these automations and technologies within your own warehouse, how do you then report on how effective things are? Consider these questions:
- What is the percentage of your orders that are sent out and returned per month?
- How many of these are due to incorrect items being sent?
- On average, how long does it take for your warehouse staff to print, pick, pack and ship products?
- What is the average time delay between a customer ordering an item and receiving it from you?
- How long does your team spend on updating inventory levels manually in your central retail management system? Consider measurements for per day, week, month and quarter.
- How many items have you oversold in the past 3 months?
By using real time reports and asking yourself these questions, you can start to map out how effective each of your processes are, especially since adopting a new technology or automation solution. Remember: the more you can report on the success of these technologies, the more likely you are to be able to prove the ROI to your boss and secure funding for even more improvements within the warehouse.