Darren DeMatas has an MBA in Internet Marketing, but hangs his hat on a decade of experience making retail brands profitable. He’s marketed global Fortune 500 companies and small 1-man ecommerce niche brands.
A warehouse is an essential part of the ecommerce supply chain. Maintaining a warehouse for your inventory is another whole business. You’re dealing with managing inventory, loading and shipping, and more. It takes a lot of time and effort, and it’s not an easy task; you wouldn’t want to hit a brick wall.
There’s a ton of considerations when you develop your ecommerce site. You may not need to know much about ecommerce warehouse management especially if you have about 50 orders in a week.
However, the more you grow, the more orders you have to fulfill, and the more stressed out you’ll be if you don’t have a warehouse to work your business.
I’m sharing a few practices that will scale up your warehouse management and beat down some brick walls.
Explore On-Demand Warehousing To Scale Your Needs To Your Budget
As your ecommerce business grows out of your garage and your need for a warehouse becomes apparent, you’ll realize that warehouses don’t come cheap.
Most warehouses come with long-term contracts and high upfront fees for a space that may end up being too big or too small as the year goes. Ecommerce order volumes may swell suddenly or dip inconsistently then the extra space or need for more space becomes an issue. That’s where on-demand warehousing comes in.
It’s a gamechanger for the supply chain as it makes a flexible option to store inventory in a complete or partial space for a period. You already know one – Amazon FBA. They do the picking, packing, shipping, and customer service.
That’s not the only way to on-demand warehousing though.
One method is partnering with other businesses to store inventory in a shared warehouse and fulfill orders across a private network. Another option is Third-Party Logistics providers (3PLs). You can choose to have them either store inventory or handle order fulfillment, or both. Many of them have flexible pricing models.
You’ll need a software that connects your store with 3PLs. Shopify works in this aspect. They have some resourceful partners for connecting a third-party provider. Some other platforms like X-Cart also have extensions for integrating 3PLs.
If you want to handle warehousing yourself, then the other practical tips here will save you big time.
Have A Consistent Quality Control Process To Increase Goodwill And Dominate Your Market
When it comes to order management, packers typically don’t inspect products before they package them. It’s more about the speed at that point. While speed is essential, quality is absolute. Have a quality control process that is tight; assign QC personnel to your pickers to inspect items as they select them from shelves. If your budget doesn’t allow that, then ensure that those who pick check quality to make sure that every packed and shipped product passed QC.
Regardless of the QC you have before packing, there should be one or two ways to ensure that products aren’t damaged in between packing and the customer. Doing this removes most fulfillment roadblocks that might negatively affect your reputation.
The QC process also needs to be fast and updated real time. The faster you are aware of damaged goods, the quicker you can resolve them. If they are not updated real-time, your system will show products as available on the shelves when they are not good enough to move.
Use Slotting To Organize Your Inventory And Reduce Picking Time
Organization is a big deal in ecommerce warehouse management. If you fail here, you will fail with everything else, because pickers will have to run back and forth to pick orders when they come in. That will create even more problems.
Organize your warehouse right, and you’ll see good results. I like to use slotting. Slotting is a tested method to escape unnecessary stress. It’s when you put similar products together.
You can base the slots on the frequency of picking the same products together in an order, seasonality, or product type. The best way to go about this is to analyze your past sales to understand your buyers’ behavior, in-demand products, and combinations. With that, you can create a plan that simplifies restocking and picking.
You can place frequently ordered bundle products in one location. You could also try product categories so pickers wouldn’t go to the leather bag aisle if they are looking for summer dresses. This provides better accuracy levels when they need to pick items and when you are restocking inventory.
Also, ensure that each classification area doesn’t mingle with another to avoid errors and clutter.
Optimize The Pick Process With Cluster Picking And Lists
The picking process that can quickly become a massive time waster, but it doesn’t have to be so. Even with an organized shelf, there can still be a loophole if workers do not have a smooth direction. You’d save time and money if you have lists that flow seamlessly from one product location to the end, rather than haphazardly.
Then, when picking, employ a cluster-picking strategy by selecting into multiple order containers so that you can pick numerous orders at the same time in one cart.
Of course, you can’t do that if you still use 2 X 2-foot carts to pick up items when you have so many orders. Get a bigger, say a 5 X 2 foot. With a bigger pallet, you can accommodate more boxes at a time, pick in clusters and scale up your pick rates with one trip instead of 20 for 20 small orders.
Design An Omnichannel Warehouse That Delivers A Unified Customer Experience
Omnichannel delivery systems create a unified customer experience regardless of if the buyer is a consumer or ecommerce merchant dropshipping or wholesaling your products. You can’t expect that a retailer wouldn’t one day order one item as against their usual bulk orders.
You need to have a system that is quick and moves without chaos regardless of who your customer is. You can have sections that handle small orders, medium orders, and large orders, that’s consumer, retail, and wholesale. The most important thing is that these sections speak to one another to deliver the same experience across order type.
Kick Up Your Inventory Management With The Cloud
Accurately assessing and measuring how much you have in stock can get difficult. No ecommerce business owner hopes to have excess inventory that ties up cash or too little stock that leaves pickers running around and bad experience for customers.
There’s info on how to evaluate inventory, calculate how much you need and all that online but why not make it simpler with technology? It’s astonishing to see some people still write down long numbers by hand or type them into a computer when it can be simple with cloud inventory management and barcode.
With RF barcode and RFID systems, inventory tracking errors are lesser. Integrate that into a cloud system to automate every calculation. This gives you real time stock information thus making it easier to plan order fulfillment.
Utilize A Warehouse Management System For Precision And Efficiency
Warehouse Management System (WMS) is famous for tracking inventory levels and identifying stock locations, but they do way more than that. Most management software today can update inward registers, send alerts when stock levels are low, create combined shipping for multiple orders from one customer, create a planogram based on forecasted stock movement and more. The whole thing about them is simplifying selling and warehousing.
You can sync them with your cloud Inventory Management Software (IMS) and your ecommerce store to iron out any wrinkles. Thankfully, most ecommerce store platforms and IMS have extensions and apps that connect to WMS.
Ecommerce warehousing management is not complete without mentioning safety. Over 20,000 workers are seriously injured every year in the US from warehousing-related injuries. Having a warehouse that isn’t well-lit, stock up with safety apparel, and consistent training is breeding your pockets for lawsuits. That’s toxic to business, and when the public gets wind of it, your sales will plummet faster than you can blink.
Safety is a priority and after that, efficiency; a safe warehouse is an engine for efficiency, an unsafe warehouse breeds failure. About that, always keep track of any pick and pack errors in your warehouse. Doing so gives you genuine insight into areas that need improvement.