The Art of Warehouse 'Tetris'

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.

Go vertical

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.

Consolidate inventory

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.

Preparing your Fulfillment Operations for 2018

A well-designed website and great products can draw customers in, but it's actually fulfillment that convinces them to stay. Recurring assessments and planning ahead are the keys for successful fulfillment operations. With that in mind, prepare for 2018 and beyond by looking for ways to improve your fulfillment performance. To start, focus on the following areas.

Resources & Staffing

From forklifts to scanners, warehouse equipment is critical for maintaining productivity and organization. Take stock of these resources and make sure there are enough to accommodate peak seasons and inventory growth. Of course, the staff using the equipment is even more important. Review your annual staffing needs and budget accordingly for anticipated increases. When the time comes to increase staff, evaluate the depth of their training to identify any gaps or common pain points.

Workflow

You can have the best equipment, resources, and facilities, but none of it will matter if your fulfillment processes and operations are inefficient. Make sure to take a close look into the following areas:

  • Receiving – Are incoming products properly labeled and packaged? Is there anything your suppliers can do to make restocking faster and easier for you?
  • Picking & Packing – Are there recurring tasks that are overly complex or time-consuming? Consult with your staff to identify common bottlenecks and come up with solutions.
  • Systems & Software – A robust fulfillment management system will give you the data you need to find inefficiencies and reduce the demand on your internal resources.

Inventory Optimization

Are you losing money from storing unpopular SKUs or from underestimating customer demand? Make sure your inventory management software and the data it provides is being used properly. You should be getting a robust picture of how inventory moves across all of your points of sale. By analyzing the order history from each channel, you can determine purchasing trends and adjust your inventory to avoid stockouts or over purchasing.

UPS & FedEx's Seasonal Surcharges for 2017

UPS and FedEx have both announced pricing changes for holiday season 2017. Typically, these two shipping providers adjust their pricing in tandem - when one announces a change to their shipping & handling rates, the other announces a similar strategy soon after. But this year, that's not the case.

Effective 11/20 through 12/24, FedEx's holiday season rates are pretty straightforward. Essentially, there will be no increased residential holiday season surcharges, except in the case of packages that are oversized (increased to $97.50 per package), unauthorized (increased to $415 per package), or that require additional handling (increased to $14 per package).

UPS on the other hand, is taking a very different approach by implementing peak season surge pricing for all packages. This pricing (+$0.27) goes into effect for Ground Residential packages from 11/19 to 12/2, stops for 2 weeks, then resumes from 12/17 to 12/23. Peak season pricing for Next-Day Air residential (+$0.81), 2nd Day Air residential (+$0.97), and 3-Day Select residential (+$0.97) will only be in effect from 12/17 to 12/23. On top of that, UPS plans to add peak surcharges to packages that exceed maximum size and weight limits.

The goal behind UPS' peak season pricing is to offset the costs of increasing their fleet's cargo capacity, opening temporary facilities, and hiring additional sorting and delivery staff. However, this strategy is not only different from FedEx - it's different from UPS' past tactics. Traditionally, UPS has handled seasonal cost overruns by negotiating the level of volume discounts with a limited number of major retail shippers. For 2017, UPS is basically passing these costs on to their clients by spreading general surge pricing across all shippers. We’ll be looking forward to hearing about the effectiveness of UPS’ pricing strategy once the holiday season ends.

Fulfillment Fundamentals for Ecommerce

Since order fulfillment is a "behind the scenes" process, newcomers to ecommerce don't usually have a strong strategy in place for efficient fulfillment processes. In this post, we'll cover some fulfillment fundamentals to help beginners avoid the costly mistakes of over-stretching or over-complicating their fulfillment operations.

Free shipping vs. fast shipping

Yes, offering free shipping is a surefire way to increase sales. However, it's not free for the seller – and the costs can add up. Fortunately, there are many strategies you can use to reduce or recoup the costs of free shipping. For example, increasing the transit time decreases the cost while still appealing to most customers. In their 2016 "Pulse of the Online Shopper" study, UPS reported that 85% of shoppers are willing to wait 5-7 days for delivery if shipping is free.

Larger orders give you better margins on shipping

Packaging and fulfillment expenses aside, it's cheaper to ship two units instead of one. The profit margin from selling an additional unit will offset the increased shipping costs that result from sending a bigger, heavier package. This is important to remember when adding new SKUs or running promotions. For example, it may be more cost effective to kit products together, rather than offering them for sale individually. When it comes to promotions, the above UPS survey also found that 52% of consumers added items to their cart to qualify for free shipping.

Too many SKUs can negatively impact fulfillment

It can be a great idea to provide flexibility for your customers by offering multiple SKUs containing variations of the same product. However, it’s important to strike a balance. While larger orders return higher margins, too much variety and volume can increase the costs and reduce the efficiency of your inventory management and order fulfillment processes. Before running a promotion, adding SKUs, or entering peak season, don't forget to account for the impact on your fulfillment operations.

How to make your Ecommerce Site more Useful

In order to please your ecommerce customers and maintain a competitive edge, it's important to have features on your website that make it easy to shop. To improve your ecommerce site’s user experience on mobile and desktop devices, here are four features you should have:

Robust search functionality

Site search is one of the main tools customers use to navigate your site and products. If your site search bar is hard to find, hard to use, or ineffective at finding products, they’re more likely to leave without buying. First, make sure your site's search tool is prominent within your site's navigation. Then, enhance its usefulness by adding features like autocomplete, category filters, and click/tap-friendly dropdown lists. In addition, make sure all searches return results. If you don’t have an item a user is searching for, let the user know and show results for “similar products” or “other products you might like” – which are much more useful than an “item not found” message.

Write useful product descriptions

Written descriptions educate shoppers about the product's functions and features, specs and measurements, and advantages over similar products. However, you don’t want to frustrate your users with a wall of text – so keep your product descriptions short and to the point. When possible, summarize the key selling points in a bulleted list and let your images and/or videos do the rest.

Curate user reviews

While product descriptions give shoppers essential information, user reviews give a better (and sometimes more convincing) picture what it’s like to actually own and use a product. By supporting product reviews on your site, you can appeal to the growing audience of consumers who make purchasing decisions based on reviews. To get more reviews for your site, send follow-up emails or push notifications to customers after they complete a purchase.  

One-click buying & single-page checkouts

A multi-step checkout process can cause shoppers to abandon their carts, so providing a speedy and simple checkout process is necessary. Make sure your site supports convenient features like guest checkout, mobile-friendly payments, and one-click payments technology.