Making the Most of Material Handling Functions to Maximize Your Bottom Line
Typically, there is no middle ground when it comes to order fulfillment. If order fulfillment plays any role in your business, then it probably is one of the most important functions of your entire operation. So optimizing order prep, picking, packing, shipping, and other fulfillment procedures can have a significant impact on your bottom line.
E-Commerce Order Fulfillment from Start to Finish
Receiving & Storing Inventory
Let’s start with receiving and storing inventory. Many warehouse and distribution center operators run into problems here because they don’t realize how important this foundational step is.
Factors to consider in deciding how and where to store inventory include size of the item (preferably pick size, which may differ greatly from item size), velocity/turnaround time, type of item, and what else typically is picked with it. All these factors will help you figure out where to store items (e.g., close to the shipping bay) and with what kind of storage technology (which could be in anything from simple racks to vertical lift modules). Not only do different storage technologies provide different levels of efficiency, but they also vary by footprint, expandability, and ergonomic benefit.
Next up is order processing, which can include steps such as inventory management, order picking, inspection, packaging, labeling, and shipping.
Accurate data inventory that tracks not only the total number of items, but also which items are already earmarked for an order, how many items are inbound, and where every SKU is in the process can create optimal efficiencies.
What’s more, keep in mind that increased automation of any or all of the previous steps (including inventory storage) can result in long-term cost savings that easily outweigh initial investments. The right automation technology for your particular operation can have a very positive return on investment.
Once an item is delivered to your customer, the e-commerce cycle has not necessarily ended. How you handle returns is of paramount importance.
In our Amazon-disrupted world, people are looking for a simpler and easier return process than in the past – even if you run a B2B operation. And automating the return process can keep it fast and accurate.
What’s on the Horizon for E-Commerce?
As we look to the future for e-commerce, we see technology integration becoming a larger and larger part of the process. Artificial intelligence, machine learning, the Internet of Things (IoT), big data, augmented and virtual reality, gamification, digital wallet functionality, and more will continue to change the way you and your customers do business.
You may already be among the companies that have implemented AI and/or machine learning in your warehousing or material handling operation to collect and take advantage of big data (and if not, it’s likely you will soon). And big data generated through IoT is helping to track inventories and streamline order fulfillment.
On the consumer side, augmented and virtual reality are making it easier for your customers to imagine having your products. Digital wallets are making the purchase process simpler, while gamification is actually making it fun.
The bottom line? Keep up to date on which technologies to integrate into your operations … or risk future disruption.
Contact IndPro specialists. Our team of experts will analyze the top challenges you face with your supply chain operations and provide consultation to maintain long-term profitability.