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The line between distributors and retailers is blurry. Imagine a distributor that imports goods in bulk from China, then ships to retailers who handle the sell transaction. With the rise of e-commerce, that warehouse is now shipping directly to customers as well. This omnichannel distribution is forcing warehouse directors and supply chain managers to reconsider how to optimize the warehouse so it meets the supply chain distribution strategy they choose.
Part of the challenge for warehouses is the fiercely competitive landscape surrounding e-commerce. Customers expect an Amazon-like experience with tracking, order customization and a shorter fulfillment cycle.
With all the craziness going on right now, it’s essential to get that warehouse planning sorted out and take care of the actual facility so it’s ready for whatever distribution strategy you’re going to implement. Technology is the key enabler behind this, since it empowers you to build automated processes to carry out your distribution strategy.
Since your supply chain distribution strategy may change, warehouse processes need to be adaptable. They need to be prepared to accommodate future expansion, changes in the way the warehouse is fulfilling orders and unexpected events like the current pandemic insanity.
Direct e-commerce customers have a high level of service expectation, adding another level of complexity to the warehouse. These customers expect fast shipments, so warehouses need to shorten the fulfillment cycle to less than 24 hours. Since buying patterns sharply increase during holiday periods, warehouses need to prepare to handle spikes on the order of 10-50x, while keeping orders straight and shipping accurate. Warehouses also need to add value by packaging and labelling material the way customers want.
The only way to prepare warehouses to adapt for the future is to plan each aspect of the warehouse processes. These plans should include taking care of the actual facility and understanding the cost of the facility and the people.
The only way of doing that is to start at the beginning. Understand the processes, what you have and what you have going on. Then, plan how everything is going to flow from start to finish: what you’re going to be picking and using for the entire fulfillment process.
Automation is an essential part of the optimized warehouse. From collaborative robots in the warehouse, to automatic picking technologies, to automated packaging, where stuff comes out of the warehouse automatically boxed with labels, automation ensures your warehouse is operating at peak efficiency and accuracy.
A fluid, error-free warehouse management solution (WMS) allows you to match the strategy you have in the warehouse with whatever supply chain distribution strategy you choose to implement. A WMS delivers support services for the supply chain, including workflow, planning, inventory, allocation and warehouse automation. It helps keep orders straight so you can ramp up in volume and still ship accurately. It allows you to optimize pick paths, so you can pick up orders and sort them into waves far more rapidly.
It’s important to be open to adapting and manipulating your warehouse environment to match whatever the distribution is doing in terms of expansion or changes in the way you’re fulfilling orders. In the current pandemic environment, the only way to plan for that is taking a very understood approach by collecting the data, getting a sense of where customers are moving, and thereby knowing what you need to do.