Overcoming the 3 Biggest Challenges in Ecommerce Warehouse Operations
Written by Mike Glover
4th September 2017 • 10 min read
Running high performing ecommerce warehouse operations can be tricky. And if it’s not done right, it can result in time, money and customer satisfaction going down the drain.
Sure, it’s tempting to put your focus on the next big marketing strategy. Or opening up another sales channel. Or coming up with master tweaks to win the Amazon Buy Box and drive more sales.
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But if those sales aren’t backed up with a solid warehouse operation, it’s like trying to fill a leaky bucket. More sales, means more orders for a sub-optimal warehouse to deal with, means more wasted time and money.
Here at Veeqo, we talk to dozens of online retailers every single month. So we thought it would be useful to discuss the three biggest warehouse challenges in ecommerce warehouse operations we hear about on a regular basis. And, of course, how to deal with these as well.
1. Booking in stock
When first thinking about it, booking in new stock may seem like a pretty straightforward process. You receive the stock and then put it away in the warehouse, right?
But dealing with multiple deliveries of multiple products can become an extremely challenging and time consuming task.
The typical way of going about doing this may look something like:
- Stock gets delivered to your warehouse.
- Paper print out of the order is used to check off each item.
- Individual products are manually searched for in your computer system and their inventory updated according to the delivery.
- Depending on which software you use, it may then be required that you update inventory across your sales channels as well.
- Items are then taken to their respective place in the warehouse to be stored.
However, this results in a lot of wasted time and resources.
Someone needs to print off the delivery list, go through to ensure it’s all there and then manually find each item in a computer system to update its inventory level.
Consequently, if one person does all this it’s a waste of time. If you set several people to do it then it’s a waste of manpower and resources. Either way, it’s pulling warehouse staff away from completing other tasks (like ensuring your orders go out quicker).
For example, you can do things such as…
- Putting workflows and systems in place
- Ensuring the same person books in new stock every time
- Using inventory management software that automatically updates across all your sales channels
But this still leaves a lot of time-consuming data entry work to do.
This is where a good quality barcode scanner can be invaluable. With a good scanner, you can quickly check in stock and update inventory levels all on the screen.
So there’s no need for paper lists or searching databases to update inventory. Don’t forget, the quicker you book stock into inventory, the sooner it’s available to be sold.
2. Ensuring accurate order picking
As your business grows and order numbers rise, it becomes more challenging to ensure accurate picking of those orders.
A typical picking process may be:
- Print a picking list.
- Print all relevant order invoices.
- Walk to first warehouse location and pick items in that location.
- Place items in picking trolley with their relevant invoices.
- Walk to next location and repeat until all orders are picked and ready for packing.
This may look like a relatively simple procedure. But when someone is picking hundreds of orders a day, it leaves vast potential for human error.
An order can contain missing items. Or items intended for other orders in that pick. Or even entirely incorrectly picked items.
The point is that the more often inaccurate picking happens…
the more unsatisfied customers you have…
and the more money this ends up costing you to fix.
One way you can improve picking accuracy is by ensuring you’re using the most effective method for your business.
So, there are four main methods typically used by medium to large ecommerce businesses:
- Single order picking
- Batch picking
- Zone picking
- Wave picking
See the ‘Speedy Slideshow’ below for more information on each and to see which one might be right for your business.
However, the value of using a barcode scanner deserves a mention again here. A good quality scanner will tell a picker:
- What and how many items need to be picked.
- Where the items are located.
- Confirmation that all items have been picked correctly.
This subsequently eliminates human error and results in reduced costs with fewer unsatisfied customers.
3. Completing regular stock takes
Regular stock takes are part and parcel of running ecommerce warehouse operations. You need to keep on top of exact product quantities to prevent over or under selling.
But they can be vastly time and resource consuming.
A typical stock take may involve:
- Printing off huge product lists.
- Assigning certain products or warehouse locations to different staff.
- Finding time to go ahead and do this.
- Manually updating any discrepancies in the system.
Just organising and planning a stock take can be time consuming. That’s before even completing the actual task itself.
Additionally, there’s the problem of (again) human error creeping in. Manually counting, checking off and updating discrepancies for many different products will no doubt see errors in there somewhere.
It’s always beneficial to ensure you have things such as:
- A strong system in place that everyone involved knows.
- Sharing the workload out so one person is doing a lot of counting.
- Having set days and times in the calendar.
Once again, though, a barcode scanner can be a Godsend in situations like this.
With a scanner, there’s usually no need to print anything off. Assign a staff member to a warehouse location and they can count, scan and verify or update as needed right in the scanner.
Looking for more top tips on how to manage your warehouse and fulfil orders in the most efficient way? Right this way…
Written by Mike Glover
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