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In the warehouse, bigger isn't always better

by Mary Rooney | Nov 06, 2018
In the warehouse, what goes on behind the doors of a facility is crucial for order fulfillment. How employees move about the warehouse, how items are picked and packed, and how machines work side-by-side with their human counterparts are all part of the challenge of optimizing order fulfillment.

The challenge is even greater in 2018 as eCommerce continues to grow, and the consumer demand on delivery time trends faster and faster. Fulfillment is now a complex assembly process. In any given warehouse, there are now thousands of different items that can make up a single order.

As a result, retailers and third-party logistics providers have been purchasing new equipment and testing technology that promises to boost a company’s speed and efficiency. By extension, warehouse design has changed to accommodate this new technology and faster turnaround times. However, as the demand for eCommerce grows, the size of the warehouse is often shrinking.

There’s no denying that two of the biggest factors affecting fulfillment today are options and speed. For newly established retailers and fulfillment businesses, the change has been about embracing technology. For example, a number of company’s are using cloud-based warehouse management systems that integrate directly with online stores.

The shift to direct-to-consumer fulfillment, plus the increased use of technology, means there is less need for traditional racking and forklifts. Instead, the industry is moving into an age of smaller pick bins on tighter aisles with commingled storage (multiple items in the same shelf location). This closeness in pick bins allows for a faster click-to-dispatch time.

The ideal for any retailer is to be as close to the end-point as possible. In other words: to reduce the last mile. With the reconfiguration of the warehouse, there can be substantially less walking from one end to the other in a giant space, ultimately saving time and cost.

The cost of setting up a warehouse can be quite high. These costs can be avoided with simple upgrades to existing spaces. 

Some brands are using their brick-and-mortar storefronts as fulfillment options. This allows for scale and support of in-store and online sales simultaneously, while working to meet customer expectations in a seamless shopping experience. 

Some companies are experimenting with order fulfillment methods such as in-store lockers and curbside grocery pick-up. While a convenient option for consumers, it’s also helping retailers minimize the costs that goes into shipping and delivery services.

Read more at Supply Chain Dive.

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