Shipping and fulfillment needs vary from product type and business as well as personality type. But let’s face it: we often get in a rut. Just like weeding through the family garage, it often FEELS easier to leave the system you’ve had in place for years where it is. However, you should be examining what is working and where you may be losing speed and money.
Maybe the system you created when you started your business is breaking down as you grow, or perhaps your new employees aren’t familiar with the system you set up. Even if nothing seems wrong, it’s still a good idea to do a shipping and fulfillment audit at least once a year to maximize efficiency. Ask yourself the following questions:
1. How am I maximizing space and shipping supply ease for my top selling items? Can this be improved? Everyone has a few consistently top-selling items. Unless these are huge and unwieldy, they should be kept near your packing and shipping station for easy access and packing. Better yet, if these items sell all the time, find a way to pre-pack them. Even if you work through a drop shipper, it is still possible to have the drop shipper pre-pack some goods in your packaging, saving time as those orders come in.
2. Is my storage area clearly labeled and are the products easy to find? Remember the Scavenger Hunt? Give a friend or a person who has nothing to do with your shipping process simple directions to your coding system. Ask him to help locate a product in your storage area and get it to your shipping station as quickly as possible. If he disappears for too long into the bowels of the warehouse, calculate the time and ask him what the glitch was. You might decide on a whole new labeling and coding process to help any new employee quickly find your product.
3. Are my products stored in a way to maximize ease of access? Don’t load heavy items on top shelves. Put frequently bought items in the easiest to reach places. Do you have items that are frequently bought at the same time, like socks and belts? Keep them on the same shelves. Some businesses do well “kitting” those frequently bought together items and giving them a new SKU. Keep visibility clear. Do what works best, whether that means clear bins to see through or grouping items alphabetically for fast access. Use a labeling system on both the product bins and whatever shelving works best for you that perfectly matches whatever spreadsheet or system you keep on file.
4.Is my shipping station organized efficiently? Time yourself or a partner going through the process of packing a product for shipment. Are the scissors, packaging and tape materials all together in a bin for easy access? Are the FedEx boxes in the right place? Do you need to move the scale, or pre-build some boxes? Do you find there is a lot of physical backtracking through the process from start to final label, or are you able to have a streamlined assembly? Where can you cut steps, literally and figuratively, to save time and money?
5. Is my shipping station where it should be? This tip relates to the one above. Many of you started with businesses in a garage or your home office. If you are a few years into the business and your inventory is growing, ask if it is still wise to keep the product and the inventory in your home, or if you would gain efficiencies by renting a dedicated space.
6. Am I bookending the shipping process well? By bookending, we mean, do you have a dedicated space on the front end of your packing and shipping area to store goods that have been sold but not yet packed, AND, after packing, is there a clearly designated place for all packed goods to be stored until shipped? You don’t need any product lost or misplaced along the route. Clearly marked bins, shelves or color-coded carts, (green for sold but not packed, red for “ready for shipping,”) can make all the difference.
7. Does my shipping station have a clear documentation step in the process? No one enjoys the drama of upset customers clamoring for orders they never received. The stress is compounded when tracking is haphazard or hard to access quickly. Tax time is also massively easier when you have been diligent with your paper trails. What is your system for keeping track of notes regarding shipments and orders, receipts, invoices and more? Do you have a backup binder or print copy of recent orders if computers are down?
Reviewing your shipping and fulfillment space and process is worth the effort. Now is a great time to do this, so you can be ready before the holiday rush.