Is Warehouse Automation Right for you?

In every task for every industry, automation makes life easier. But in ecommerce fulfillment, incorporating automation equipment into your warehouse can be a lengthy and expensive process. It requires considerable expertise to know which types of equipment you need and how it should be laid out for maximum efficiency. Plus, if you want to make changes in the future, it can become very expensive to move, reinstall, or upgrade. Before you invest in warehouse automation, consider the following:
    

Your current capabilities

As your ecommerce business grows by entering new regional markets, adding new SKUs, and fulfilling more complex orders, manual warehouse operations become strained. Automation is only one possible solution to this challenge. It may be smarter to look into improving operational efficiencies in staffing, workflows, warehouse layout, or inventory storage.

Can you spare the time?

At the start, automated operations will take a few months to design and plan. Built-to-order automation and conveyance equipment may not be ready for 3-6 months, based on complexity. After installation, you still need time to train staff and fine tune the system. Depending on your needs, it may take 12 or more months to automate your warehouse.

Automation by proxy

With these issues in mind, you may not want to invest the money and time into the research that this type of expansion requires – at least not yet. However, a third-party fulfillment provider may better solution all-around. 3PL providers already have the infrastructure in place to help you improve your warehouse operations – for much less than the cost of investing in automation equipment.

At Fulfillment Works, we have helped ecommerce companies both large and small reach their goals for growth. Contact us today with your specific challenges to learn exactly how we can help.

Should you open more Distribution Centers?

Expanding your ecommerce business by opening more distribution centers (DCs) can be a beneficial strategy for reducing shipping costs and delivery times. However, more isn't always better. The expenses associated with opening, operating, and integrating additional DCs can easily negate the cost savings and logistical advantages they provide. To figure out if the numbers will work in your favor, you should consider the following variables.
    

Number of SKUs vs. Order Volume

In general, the more SKUs you have, the more it will cost to coordinate with your suppliers to maintain inventory levels across multiple DCs. However, those costs can be offset if your order volume is high enough. As we previously mentioned, a new DC can reduce shipping costs (assuming it's closer to your customers, of course). The greater your order volume, the greater your savings on shipping. When determining the cost-effectiveness of acquiring a new DC, you'll want those shipping savings to exceed the added inventory and warehousing expenses.

Average Shipping Weight

The average dim weight of your orders should also be included in your cost/benefit analysis. Heavy orders will generate bigger cost savings when shipping from multiple DCs. Conversely, you may see minimal or no cost savings on lightweight orders.

Technology Scaling

Multiple systems may need to interface in order to properly count and route orders to the right distribution center. Can your order management system incorporate a new distribution center?

Improving your distribution network's size and efficiency by opening new centers can be a solid strategy for maintaining a competitive edge - but only if the pros, cons, and costs have been thoroughly vetted. Alternatively, a third-party fulfillment provider may be a better solution. You can reduce transit times, cut shipping costs, and increase order volume without taking on the risk of opening and operating a whole other distribution center. At Fulfillment Works, we utilize customized solutions to provide clients with full-service fulfillment including logistics management, data solutions, warehouse services (with facilities strategically located in Nevada and Connecticut), and much more. Contact us to learn how we can help with your distribution goals.

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.