If you've played (or still play) the iconic puzzle video game Tetris, you've probably noticed how similar the game is to working in an ecommerce warehouse. The basic goal of the game is to pack a non-stop flow of various geometric pieces into a finite space. Packing the pieces together neatly and efficiently filling empty spaces grants a high score, while the opposite reduces the size of the playing field and limits the options you have for setting new pieces. As the game goes on, the pieces need to be set faster and faster. Once you run out of space, it's game over. Sound familiar?
As ecommerce businesses gain more customers and add more SKUs to their inventories, some begin to struggle with the physical limitations of their warehouse facilities. Of course, growth is certainly a good problem to have. But running out of space can negatively impact in the speed and efficiency of your fulfillment operations – quickly undoing that growth. Unlike Tetris, you have many more options for utilizing your warehouse's "playing field." Before you decide to start a "New Game" by opening another distribution center, try these tips for optimizing your warehouse space.
Vertical stacking is bad in Tetris, but great for warehouses! Look up and check if you’re using all the vertical space available. If you can expand upward, ensure that your pallet racks can handle the extra top-weight. Assessing your vertical space is also a good time to consider installing mezzanines.
Width & depth
Redesign your aisles to be just wide enough to accommodate material handling equipment and personnel. Even a small reduction, multiplied across several aisles, can make a big difference. Similarly, consider “double-depth” racking to increase your depth of storage.
If you store the same product in multiple locations, consider merging the locations to utilize space more efficiently. But before you do, make sure that the merger won’t create a bottleneck of multiple pickers heading back and forth to the same spot.
Cut excess supplies
Reduce the amount of dunnage, boxes, and other packing materials you keep on site. Work with your suppliers to see if it makes more sense to get smaller, but more frequent deliveries of supplies.
Get help from an expert
When you get stuck in a video game, asking for help is the fastest path to progress! Fulfillment Works provides warehousing services out of our FDA-registered, climate-controlled, state-of-the-art managed warehouse facilities in Nevada and Connecticut. Contact us to learn more about the specifications, capabilities, and warehousing services of our East and West coast fulfillment centers.
Most omnichannel retailers take an ad hoc approach to selecting fulfillment management software; opting for solutions designed to suit the needs of each sales channel. For example, you may utilize POS software for brick-and-mortar locations and an ecommerce platform (such as Shopify or Magento) for your ecommerce site.
Ideally, a 3PL provider should have no problem integrating your current technology and software solutions to keep everything working seamlessly. But if your expansion into omnichannel is recent, you may not know what features you need or which vendor to go with. In this post, we'll go over some tips for selecting fulfillment operations software and providers that will enable you to give your customers the best possible experience – no matter which channel they purchase through.
Brick-and-mortar Point-of-Sale Systems
There are many inventory management features you should look for in a POS. From an omnichannel perspective, it's critical to have real-time product availability from all store locations, and the ability to receive orders from your other sales channels (like your ecommerce site). This level of inventory oversight confers numerous advantages: store personnel can see inventory status across the chain, customers can buy online and pick up in store, and overall product availability is much clearer.
Shoppers rely on various types of product information in their purchasing decisions. Therefore, you need an ecommerce platform that allows you to easily manage lots of merchandizing attributes like photos, product features, etc. The goal is to have detailed, searchable product information on your ecommerce site so customers can comfortably "add to cart" without needing to leave your site and find the information elsewhere – possibly from a competitor.
Choosing a vendor
Ideally, you'll want a software vendor that specializes in working with omnichannel clients. In addition to providing robust support for omnichannel processes (such as inventory synchronization), an important thing to look for is a commitment to building software with free and open APIs that allow your sales channels to share data and work together. At Fulfillment Works, our fulfillment management system has a fully-supported, real-time SOAP XML API that allows a client's programming team to write their own code for custom features and functionality.
Accurate tracking, measuring, and forecasting of inventory is crucial for seamless order fulfillment, financial decision-making, customer satisfaction, brand perception, and other aspects that drive the success of an ecommerce company. That is why even if your sales are through the roof, your success will be short-lived without capable inventory management. These guiding principles can help ensure that your inventory management stays successful and contributes to the growth of your business.
Inventory data is an important consideration when making logistical, purchasing, and fulfillment decisions. Inaccurate or unclear data negatively impacts these areas - so it's critical to have inventory data that is clear, accessible, and up-to-date (ideally, in real-time).
Inventory velocity is the time it takes to sell each individual item in stock. When you need to predict when inventory will need to be replenished, or decide if a product line should be liquidated, inventory velocity is a useful metric to have. It may not be tracked by your inventory management system, but it's something you should keep an eye on.
Compare your inventory management metrics with industry benchmarks on a regular basis. If your inventory performance falls behind industry averages, it’s time to reevaluate your approach to inventory management and create a plan for improvement. Outside perspective can prove invaluable in such a situation; by collaborating with the right 3PL provider, you can get the expertise required to fix issues, and even improve growth and stability.
The more retailers that you sell your products through, the more challenging it is to manage that inventory - and the costs of sub-optimal B2B inventory management can be steep. In 2015, CNBC reported that stockouts accounted for $634.1 billion in lost retail sales for the year. Those losses can easily pass on to you. If retailers are not confident in your product availability, they will find other suppliers.
Preventing stockouts with well-done B2B inventory tracking goes beyond keeping an accurate SKU count. Ideally, your inventory management software and staff should have the following capabilities.
Detailed tracking information
Your inventory feeds should provide your retailers with as much information as possible, such as:
- Available inventory by location – not only can this free your retailers from being bound to a single inventory source, it can also be useful for shipping calculations
- Restock dates – for low or out-of-stock units, provide both the amount and date by which the inventory will be replenished.
- Real-time data
Comprehensive inventory management
Go beyond the management of in-stock inventory with more proactive services, like:
- Stock alerts – actively communicate when products become out-of-stock, low stock, or back-in-stock
- Allocated stock – allocating inventory for individual retailers helps to manage their expectations is very useful for preventing stockout issues
- Internal backorder management – if it doesn’t take long for you to resupply stock, you may have the bandwidth to handle backorders on behalf of your retailers (or adjust their allocated stock accordingly)
- Shipment notifications – automated shipment notifications with delivery timeframe estimates saves retailers the trouble of calling you, and gives them the information they need to reassure their customers.
If these upgrades to your inventory tracking sound too complex, Fulfillment Works can help! Our Client Access Center technology is customizable and lets you manage all aspects of your inventory from any internet connection (including mobile devices).
In addition to struggling with issues related to logistics management expertise and software, many ecommerce businesses are stymied by the physical limitations of their facilities – so much so that the demand for major warehouse improvements is on the rise.
A recent survey from Zebra Technologies Corp, which polled 1,400 warehouse IT and operations management professionals, indicated that the worldwide demand for warehouse space and inventory management solutions is increasing. According to the study, 48% of participants said that they are currently working to increase their number of warehouses - while 76% plan to increase warehouses by the year 2020. Other interesting takeaways from the survey include:
Another study from CRBE also found an increasing demand for warehouse space, mostly due to a desire to improve reverse logistics efficiency.
In ecommerce, the sale often goes to whoever has faster, cheaper, and easier shipping options – and improving your distribution network through size and efficiency is a solid strategy for maintaining a competitive edge. If you haven’t done like the respondents to Zebra Tech’s survey and imagined what your warehouse needs will be in 5 years, you may get left behind. If you’re not sure where to start or what factors to consider, we’re always happy to help.