Case study

The Promise of Speed: Can Your Warehouse Deliver?

Jul 29, 2022 | Pallet Racking

A decade ago, waiting a week for an order to be delivered was the norm and very much expected, but today just 48 hours to a few days is the standard waiting time for order placement delivery. When we look at online reviews it’s evident that a timely delivery is just as important to customers as the quality of the goods and many are even happy to pay a little bit extra just to ensure a fast delivery.

A negative review highlighting a poor delivery timescale can be off-putting to the potential customer reading the review. They may come to the conclusion that they don’t want to risk a delayed delivery and turn to another retailer whose customers boast about their fast delivery timescales, so, in a few words, prolonged delivery can cost your business dearly through loss of sales.

The key to keeping your promise of speed to customers is to ensure your operation is set up to achieve productive inventory picking. If feedback from your customers sounds more like ‘where is my item, I ordered it over a week ago?” Rather than, ‘thank you for the fast delivery! I am pleased with your service!” then it may be time to assess your current processes.

What could be delaying your processes?

On finalising the order, the customer anticipates a timely delivery and your task is to fulfil the order, ensuring it arrives as expected by the customer.

If good are taking longer than expected to arrive, it is likely that the issues lie somewhere within the order fulfilment process. A thorough assessment may determine that pickers are often unable to locate stock or they could be travelling farther than what should be necessary.  Whatever the issue, this is a perfect opportunity to realign your processes and meet customer expectations every time.

Steps to improving you order fulfilment process

infograchic 5 steps to improving order processing

Step 1: Assess your current layout

A warehouse operation is made up of various functions which band together to form the overall operation. These include the management of inventory as it is received, put away, stored, picked, sorted, packed, despatched and in some instances, returned. Where and how these activities are positioned in the facility will have a direct impact on order fulfilment speed and efficiency. An optimal layout will position each activity so it can seamlessly progress onto the next without reciprocal motion in order to minimise travel time and enhance operational speed. If your inventory is moving in multiple directions and along repeated routes as it travels through your warehouse, it may indicate a disordered layout. A carefully thought-out reconfiguration can instantly save time and enhance order fulfilment process, making a timely delivery much more likely. This may entail the repositioning of departments to ensure a streamlined process. For expert assistance WSL have a technical team whose expertise in warehouse design can help you discover the most optimal layout for your warehouse operation.

Inventory directional flow diagrams

Step 2: Store goods according to demand

It’s not unusual for some operations to have seasonal peaks. A reshuffle of where certain items are stored in preparation of seasonal peaks can save your operatives a huge amount of time. Keeping high turnover items close to the packing areas will mean travel is minimised and the picking process becomes much more efficient. Items that are out of season can be placed in the top racks or the shelves positioned at the back of the warehouse to ensure they are still accessible but not taking up primary space. Another tip to save travel time when demand adds pressure to the picking process is to store items which are normally ordered together in close proximity to each other. This could mean keeping cups near to its matching saucers for example.

Step 3: Implement effective stock control

Do you have an efficient method in place which allows you to track your stock? Your knowledge of quantities, what you have coming into the warehouse and what you have leaving the warehouse, allows you to commit to a realistic delivery time-scale. Delaying delivery because the warehouse has unexpectedly run out of stock will only disappoint your customers, which is why inventory management control is crucial. There are a number of different stock management methods you could adopt:

  • Demand Forecasting – For each product type, set the regular quantity needed to meet regular demand whilst making peak season adjustments when required. If quantities fall below the set level, it will need to be heightened accordingly, however it is also important not to over-order stock and risk waste.
  • Code Tracking – Coded stock labels make it easier to track stock and this can be done electronically or manually. The code can be used to log the item as having entered the facility, its storage location and when it leaves the facility. This will give early indication of when to re-order the items to minimise the risk of the item going out of stock.
  • Quality Check – On entry, a thorough quality check to ensure stock is as expected will help prevent customer disappointment. To discover that stock arrived in the wrong quantities, damaged or in the wrong size, just at the point of order fulfilment is likely to delay the process and leave customers feeling let down by this.
  • Simplify stock rotation – Stock rotation is a priority for many operations, however manual stock rotation can be time consuming and is open to human error. The First-in First-out (FIFO) method adopted by numerous storage solutions can reduce the need to carry out the task manually allowing pickers to focus on product retrieval rather than dates.
  • Periodic stocktaking – Depending on the size of your operation, stocktaking can take place weekly, monthly, quarterly or annually. The process which involves the counting of each item in the warehouse helps you keep track of stock and will highlight areas for concern such as theft or damage whilst helping you to establish your best and worst sellers. This information can help guide your decisions on stock replenishment, security and storage adjustments.

Warehouse stock management

Step 4: Minimise Health and Safety Hazards

When an accident occurs in the warehouse, the priority becomes the wellbeing of any persons involved and operational activity is temporarily halted, impacting the order fulfilment process. In some cases accidental damage can be caused to stock which again will add strain to the ability to meet customer expectations. Accidents within the warehouse can be a huge and costly burden on the business, which is why the following preventable measures should be prioritised. These include:

  • The fitting of safety and protection equipment – these include protection barriers positioned at high risk areas to prevent accidental collisions between moving handling equipment and storage structures. Examples include end of rack barriers and upright protectors which are designed and implemented to take the impact of a collision. Mesh caging can be used to segregate high danger zones to ensure unauthorised persons remain outside the area whilst railings can be placed to separate access for operative on foot and on moving handling equipment.
  • Staff training – Effective order processing can only be achieved by properly trained staff whose awareness of health and safety enable them to complete the task effectively and safely. This can include fork lift truck training with regular refresher training to ensure continual competency. As well as the safe use of equipment, operators must undergo warehouse safety awareness training alerting them to the dangers of moving equipment and danger zones. This will help increase their ability to remain safe whilst undertaking their daily tasks.
  • Good house-keeping – To ensure your warehouse floor is clear of packaging, loose boxes or pallets, dust and debris a daily cleaning rotor could be introduced. This can entail a daily walk-around to ensure nothing is causing an obstruction to activities and the risk of a trip or fall is eliminated.

Step 5: Ensure effective storage structures and equipment

As the backbone of an effective order fulfilment process, its important to ensure your storage systems and equipment remain effective as your operation evolves. Changes in demand as a business grows can be difficult to manage without effective storage solutions in place and the picking process can be hindered as a result. When it comes to storage structures, a bespoke design based entirely on your operational needs will boost productivity and enhance your order fulfilment process. For the WSL design team, the processes of implementing the most effective storage solutions begin with a free site survey. This enables the designer to assess the space and gather information about inventory and operational needs before using computer assisted design software to create a completely bespoke solution.

Increasing the effectiveness of your storage solutions doesn’t necessarily mean a whole new system, it may just mean adding a few more rows to your pallet racking or shelving system to keep up with increased inventory volume and maintain warehouse efficiency. Or it may be that you’re looking to introduce synchronised movement through a dynamic solution to help keep order fulfilment at the required speed.

Whatever your needs, WSL have a team of Technical Designers, Fabrication Engineers and Project Managers with extensive knowledge and experience that will lead you to the most optimal solution for your operation. Call WSL today on 0113 2045350 or email sales@wslmail.co.uk

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