Emerging technologies are a hot topic in the world of distribution and fulfillment operations. From advancements in mechatronic picking to new types of cloud-based WMS software, it's easy to come away from an industry conference feeling awestruck at what the future might hold. However, the recent DC Measures Study from the Warehousing Education and Research Council (WERC) indicates that the actual adoption and integration of these technologies is slow, with little signs of popularizing any time soon.
According to WERC's survey of 549 industry professionals, more than two-thirds of warehouse managers said people (not technologies) are the most important assets in their operations. Reflective of that, 35% of the fulfillment centers surveyed said they currently do not use a warehouse management system (WMS) – instead relying on "manual means such as Excel and disparate modules" to handle typical WMS functions. When asked about technologies they expected to implement over the next 10 years, more than 25% of those surveyed said they were “not likely to incorporate” sensors (e.g. RFID) or robotics/automation equipment. More than 50% said they were not likely to incorporate 3D printing, blockchain, drones, or driverless vehicles.
So, what types of technology are warehouses using? According to WERC’s survey,
- 25.8% have installed voice-directed picking (up from 5.7% in 2008)
- 18.3% use radio frequency identification (RFID)
- 12% use pick-to-light
- 11.1% have installed automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS)
- 75% use some type of barcode and RF scanning system
- 42.7% plan to implement “some form of real-time data and analytics” in the next 1-2 years (it’s worth noting that certain types of WMS, like the one we offer, have these features built-in)
- 33% plan to implement mobile technology within 1-2 years
- 26.6% plan to implement Internet-of-Things (IoT) technology within 1-2 years
While warehouses’ adoption rate of technology has certainly not been fast, it may not be as slow as this report indicates. After all, technology that is growing, like WMS solutions and IoT technology, are prerequisites to successfully deploying more advanced systems like robotics and automation equipment. Perhaps this is a case of “learning to walk before you run.”
From the perspective of customers, the checkout process is the most tedious part of shopping online. With that mindset, it's no wonder that many ecommerce sites struggle with cart abandonment.
The less time and actions your checkout requires, the more likely users will be to complete their orders. While looking for ways to streamline the design of your cart and checkout pages can be very effective in this regard, there are other strategies you can deploy to improve your checkout process to make it more convenient for customers, such as:
Alternatives to account creation
If your ecommerce site requires account creation to complete a purchase, you may want to consider alternatives like Guest Checkout and/or social media login functionality. While account creation helps you collect information about your customer base, the process adds more steps to what should be the simplest part of your ecommerce site.
More convenient payment options
Alternative payment options are designed to shorten the checkout process by eliminating the multiple form fields required for credit card payments. Additionally, the more payment options you can accept, the more customers you can serve. However, there are many systems to choose from – so consider surveying your customers to find out which alternative payment options are most popular for your target audience.
Autofill form fields (even for coupons)
By streamlining the process of inputting information, you can speed up your checkout while demanding less effort from your customers. Incorporating autofill features into your forms accomplishes this while also reducing the amount of errors that come from manual user input. By autofilling the coupon field with your latest promotion, you instantly show customers your best deal so they don't have to shop around – perhaps the most common motivation for abandoning the cart.
Inventory that isn't carefully tracked and managed can create big problems down the road. Excess inventory occupies warehouse space and can tie up your working capital, while stockouts can contribute to a decrease in sales and an increase in dissatisfied customers. To keep the state of your inventory healthy and profitable, you should incorporate the following best practices into your day-to-day inventory management.
A.B.C. - Always Be Checking
In order to get the most robust picture of your inventory and how it moves, you should keep your data up to date with daily stock checks. Ideally, this should be an automated process executed through your inventory management software. By keeping close tabs on the changes in your inventory levels, you'll be able identify supply issues and solve them before they cause real damage to your bottom line.
Address the root causes of excess stock, ASAP
Overstock is an easy problem to fix via liquidation or donation. However, falling back on those strategies regularly without addressing the root cause of the excess inventory could cause you to lose out on profits in the long run. Take a serious approach to identifying what's causing excess inventory and develop a plan to 1) reduce the creation of new excess and 2) find ways to sell off the overstock more effectively.
Identify & prioritize your inventory's winners
Keeping a level inventory of all your products is a common inventory management strategy. However, it’s important to determine which products are your "winners" and focus on keeping those items in-stock, rather than just trying to maintain the same amount of product across the board. Running out of stock on a product that sells quickly is lost potential revenue.
Collaborate with your sales & operations teams
Inventory data is an important consideration when making logistical, purchasing, and fulfillment decisions. Of course, more data is better. Aligning your inventory management with your sales and operations teams can lead to more effective inventory forecasting – which involves estimating the quantity of a product or service that consumers will purchase based on data. 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.
In a busy fulfillment center, picking efficiency is a crucial element for shipping orders correctly and in a timely manner. Of course, fulfillment management systems, warehouse technology, and other innovations have done a lot to help pickers and reduce human error. However, there are some simple changes you can make to streamline your picking process even further. Below are some of our favorite low-tech tips for improving picking accuracy and efficiency.
Prominent Inventory IDs
Ensure that your entire inventory has clearly marked, easy to find identification (i.e. part numbers, barcodes, etc.) to reduce picking errors and time spent tracking down the correct products or product variations.
Kitting & Presorting
In kit assembly, or "kitting," you take individual items from your inventory and bundle them together as a unique SKU. The kits are then ready to ship when orders are placed – saving more time compared to picking all the products individually. Another strategy is to presort orders into groups so that orders requiring the same products are filled together – boosting picker efficiency.
Make sure that the most frequently ordered products are slotted in a layout that as close as possible to the pick/pack area to minimize travel time as the order picker fills orders. For year-round efficiency, periodically review your slotting assignments to account for changes in customer demand (especially for seasonal items).
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 – negatively impact in the speed and efficiency of your fulfillment operations. Before you reach that point, look for ways you can consolidate inventory, cut excess supplies, and really get the most out of your current warehouse space.
The number of users shopping around and completing purchases using smartphones and tablets is bigger than ever. An ecommerce site designed exclusively for desktops, no matter how well done, is no longer a viable strategy in ecommerce. For starters, the user interface for mobile devices (a small screen with touch-based inputs) makes it cumbersome for users to navigate desktop-only sites. This inconvenience alone contributes to increased bounce rates and abandoned carts. In addition, search engines now use “mobile-friendliness” as a factor in deciding how well a website ranks in search results (especially for searches done on a mobile device). In this post, we'll cover the most important changes you can make in order to provide your users with a convenient shopping experience that makes it easy to place an order from anywhere, on any device.
At the basic level, taking an existing desktop site and optimizing it for smartphones and tablets entails using existing sections of content from the desktop site and organizing them in a mobile-friendly layout by leveraging scan-able content (with large-size font for smaller screens), intuitive navigation (think: thumb-friendly), and clear calls to action.
Additionally, the conversion paths on your mobile site should be as short as possible. Generally – the fewer steps it takes to buy something online, the higher the chance of conversion from mobile users. Look for ways to declutter your site's navigation, consolidate product categories, streamline checkout forms, etc.
Finally, use A/B testing to test as many elements of your site as you can to determine which variables perform the most successfully. Part of doing well on the mobile front is collecting data and putting it to use on your mobile site. As mobile consumers engage with your ecommerce site, collect data and adjust your strategy accordingly:
- time spent on a page
- number of returns to that page
- average page views before making a purchase
Shifting your site’s focus to mobile will require time and resources. But, as the number of mobile shoppers inevitably grows, redesigning your site for mobile usability now may set you up for greater success in the future.