It's no secret that for retailers, the e-commerce boom has been a mixed blessing. While no one's complaining about the influx of online orders, many are still struggling with the fulfillment end of the operation. That's largely because picking online orders, which typically contain just a few items, is both labor-intensive and time-consuming.
That's led many companies to turn to an outside fulfillment specialist to process these orders. One such company is Dotcom Distribution. Based in Edison, N.J., Dotcom specializes in fulfillment services for luxury brands, primarily in the electronics, beauty, and fashion markets. Its fulfillment center in Edison processes about 10,000 orders every day for retail companies looking for a high-value customer experience.
As a third-party logistics service provider, Dotcom has to be able to process orders swiftly and accurately—and do it for a number of customers simultaneously. That requires sophisticated software and a picking technology with the flexibility to accommodate a variety of client demands.
For Dotcom Distribution, the answer has been Lucas Systems' mobile work execution solution. Today, the Edison facility relies on the Lucas software to manage the entire picking process using voice-directed mobile applications.
"Dotcom sells flexibility," says Nick Pendrous, the company's chief operating officer. "We looked at voice and felt that it offered the improvements in accuracy and efficiency that we were seeking, while still maintaining flexibility for current and future business changes."
While the software behind the system is quite sophisticated, the mobile applications use technology that most of the employees are very comfortable with—Android smartphones, which are housed in ruggedized cases that fit in workers' pockets. Workers interact with Jennifer, the intelligent voice agent of the Lucas mobile software, using Bluetooth headsets. They listen to Jennifer's commands and respond verbally through their headsets to confirm their tasks. While the mobile application provides continuous step-by-step voice instructions to the work force, Lucas execution software on the back end orchestrates the picking process across more than 100 workers throughout the facility. The Lucas software allows Dotcom to configure different picking processes for different clients.
Many of the order selectors at Dotcom speak Spanish as their native language. The Lucas software gives workers the option of using Spanish or English, which cuts training time and assures that associates become fully productive quickly.
To fill orders, Jennifer directs picking into wheeled carts. The carts have multiple slots, each representing an order, which allows items for multiple customers to be picked at the same time. The execution system organizes selections to take the worker along an efficient pick path. It then directs him or her to the locations of the needed items and provides instructions on how many to select and where on the cart to place them (down to the exact slot position). Overall, the system has cut picking errors in half while also delivering double-digit gains in picking productivity.
"One of the advantages of the Lucas system is that it enables us to get more items shipped in a shorter period of time," says Pendrous. "That enables us to be more flexible, less reliant on labor, and better able to handle our clients' volume surges without the need for additional labor."