Conquering e-Commerce with an Advanced WMS – Part One
Conquering E-Commerce with an Advanced WMS – Part One
E-commerce fulfilment comes with its own set of challenges, not least the number of returns that you have to deal with. Efficient handling of these returns forms part and parcel of customer requirements and satisfaction, but at the same time, it’s absolutely mission critical when it comes to your profitability.
Challenges unique to e-commerce
Everything needs to be delivered almost as soon as it’s ordered. Often, delivery times are a deciding factor when it comes to consumer purchasing. Can they get it faster from someone else? And… what are you packaging it in? And how are you getting it to them? Because sustainability is a massive consideration too, never forget.
In an epoque of Amazon Prime, consumers have been trained to expect their stuff within 24 hours, and this has put a huge pressure on warehouses to speed up their processing, picking, packing and shipping.
Combine this with a dramatically higher number of orders than you would have previously processed – because orders used to come in multiples of pallets, not ones of eaches – and you only add to the complexity of picking and packing. And it’s not only to those particular operations that have become more pressurised – with the need to pick and pack at an each level comes the need to track and handle all of those items individually as well.
E-commerce has levelled the playing field too, allowing many more vendors into the market – no longer do you need be able to manufacture at scale in order to sell. And what this means is that alongside the rise of drop-shipping and print-to-order websites, we’ve seen an explosion of inventory range, and often each new SKU comes along with its new storage and handling requirements.
E-Commerce warehouses need to deal with omni-channel fulfilment too. Businesses often sell their products through multiple channels, and warehouses have had to adapt in order to manage the diverse requirements of each one of these different options – sometimes even needing to integrate offline and online operations.
And as the final icing on the cake, e-commerce warehouses are much more likely to need to take seasonal peaks – like Black Friday – and variable demand into consideration, meaning that their inventory (and labour) planning just got exponentially more complex.
The Supply Chain needs to adapt to survive
Today, flexibility and the ability to rapidly scale are just part of the landscape. But that’s progress for you, and the supply chain has had to adapt.
Luckily, as the star of e-commerce has risen, so has the technology required to manage its fulfilment.
In this series of articles, we’re going to talk about how deploying an advanced WMS in your warehouse will help you streamline operations. We’ll talk about how a properly deployed WMS, like Dispatcher WMS can save you time and money. Because let’s face it, that’s why you’re here, reading this.
We’ll start at the receipt dock, shall we? And then we’ll move through the process from there. For the sake of this example, let’s imagine that you’re in the apparel industry and you’re dealing with items of clothing.
If you’re in e-commerce, broadly speaking, you’re likely to have two different types of receipts. The majority of them (hopefully!) will be coming directly from your suppliers. A minority of them – although possibly still a significant number – will be customer returns.
If you’re not using a WMS, then likely, when stuff turns up at your dock door, you’ll have printed out a list of what you’ve bought, or what you are expecting to be delivered, and it’ll be someone’s job to take the list, read the labels on the pallets/boxes/etc and then check them off the list. Then they’ll hand that list to someone in the office, who will somehow add it to the list of inventory that you’ve got on hand.
Or maybe, you don’t know what’s arriving today, so instead of checking things off a list, you’ll have to make one.
If you are using a WMS, then as above, you may or may not know what’s coming in advance. A well-designed WMS can deal with all manner of different types of receiving – blind and pre-advised just to name a couple of them.
The difference is that if you’re receiving stuff blind, then your operators will be scanning inventory into the system using a barcode reader, and then as that inventory is received, they’ll likely be printing out a new label – this time with a unique tracking tag id on it and sticking it on the item received, ready to be put away.
If they are using blind receiving, then the system will be happily creating records for everything that’s being input, and as soon as it does, it’ll start looking for places to put your new stuff away.
If you’re using some kind of pre-advised receiving, then your WMS already knows what to expect. This is obviously very useful if you’ve already paid for what you’re receiving (or if it’s a customer return) – because as operators scan in the inventory coming through the door, your WMS is checking that it’s exactly what you’ve paid for/previously sold – down to the each. Is it the right SKU? Is it the right colour? Is it the right size? And that’s just to start off with – a good WMS can check dozens of other details that might matter to you.
If everything is present and correct, you’ll know. If it isn’t, you’ll know that too. And you’ll know exactly what’s missing. And you know because your WMS knows.
That Tag ID it printed out is a physical representation of the record that item of inventory has made in the system upon its receipt. Your WMS (if it’s an advanced one like Dispatcher WMS) now knows exactly what it’s got, and exactly where it is. And that inventory is waiting to take the next step.
The next step might be that it needs someone to examine it more carefully, because you suspect there’s something wrong with it. Or in the case of Customer Returns, maybe you just need to make sure it is what your customer says it is and that it can be resold. In either case, your receipt might start to go through a QA process. Or it might be that it simply needs putting away somewhere suitable for the next step. Your WMS will do whatever it is that you’ve told it to do, and it’ll create a task for you to allocate to one of your operators.
What happens next will depend on what kind of inventory you’ve just received (because rules can be configured down to not only SKU level, but also by those additional details we were talking about earlier). Maybe you want to put it away somewhere for later. Or maybe you want to Cross Dock it – the next step for what you’ve received might simply to be picked, packed and shipped. Or it might be that you need to take some action on it while it’s in your warehouse, which would be more typical of warehousing that employs operations like kitting to assemble new products out of the inventory that you’ve just received.
Either way, in order to make picking and shipping (or whatever else you might have going on) as efficient as possible, your Advanced WMS needs to look at the information you’ve given it, look at your orders and make a decision about what it’s going to suggest you do with your newly received inventory next.
OK, that’s it for this article, but if you’re interested in seeing what else you can do with an advanced WMS, you can read the next article in this series, which is going to explain how can start your inventory journey off just right.
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