It may be a few more months before we start seeing the festive decorations pop up in local communities, but holiday merchandise is already hitting the shelves in some seasonally driven stores. And shoppers will likely start searching for the perfect gift sooner than you think. Though many areas around the globe are currently offering more in-store shopping options this year compared to last, the online commerce landscape is also growing, and ecommerce will not be slowing down in the slightest. As a result, we expect demands will skyrocket for warehouse operators.
Whether your warehouse is primarily fulfilling brick-and-mortar store orders or shipping directly to consumers, it’s critical to make the right preparation now, before the chaos starts, to keep this year’s peak season from becoming impossibly long and grueling. And, if you’re a small business that is working ten times as hard to keep up with the same order volume as larger warehouse operators, there are a few extra steps you should take to scale your operations – or at least streamline your workflows – to level the playing field.
Rethink Your Tech Strategy
There are several tech-related changes you can implement across your warehouse to make your front-line workers’ jobs much easier during peak season. However, the two that we and our warehousing customers have found to be the most impactful and least disruptive are mobility and automation. Capturing data in real time and giving warehouse workers greater insight into what’s happening within the four walls, in the supply chain, and in the market can make a meaningful difference in the ease and success of inventory management and fulfillment – two things that underpin customer satisfaction which is most important of all.
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all mobility or automation strategy for every business, but it’s important to note that the solutions which often prove best for smaller warehouses aren’t far off from what you’ll find in a larger warehouse. Every warehouse staff member needs a mobile device that can put a map of inventory whereabouts and step-by-step task instructions in the palm of their hands. And at some point during the day, almost every front-line worker will need to scan a barcode for some reason – typically to confirm or report they have picked, packed, and shipped the right items.
That leads me to my next recommendation, which is to automate what you can.
There are several different ways you can generate data without worker intervention: radio frequency identification (RFID), sensors, even fixed industrial scanning. But these can take time to implement, and they may not even be realistic options for your small warehouse right now. So, first look at how to automate the distribution of data from one device or system to the next. Your team must be able to make the right decisions in the face of various situations. The only way that’s possible is if all of your team members can see what is happening beyond their direct line of sight and how things directly impact their roles.
Syncing mobile devices to the warehouse management system (WMS) and other data sources is a good place to start. From there, consider integrating prescriptive analytics into the mix. It uses machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms to automatically answer questions such as “what’s happening and why?”, “what needs to be done about it?” and “who is the best person to take that action right now?” It then prescribes certain tasks to specific people, essentially automating the decision-making process based on the data captured in the warehouse and across the supply chain.
Having all the key information needed to get through each task – and even multitask – efficiently right there on their mobile device gives each team member an advantage during rushed times when goods are running out of stock, inventory is going missing, and orders are overflowing. They can move faster and more efficiently while minimizing task errors that could cost your business an overwhelming amount of time and money.
Dig in This Pre-Season
If you don’t want to be caught like a reindeer in the headlights once the stampede of holiday shoppers arrives, then dig in this pre-season to get your logistics strategy locked down and technology systems in place. Embrace mobility and automation solutions to improve your business and broader market visibility – and your ability to act on the issues and opportunities you see before they get away from you. Size doesn’t matter when it comes to fulfillment, but speed and accuracy do.
I also recommend you think about what your team needs to execute with precision, in alignment with best practices. What does it need to come together when the pressure is on? What will it take to win this holiday season and position yourself for even more success next season? What changes can you make to ensure your team members don’t feel defeated when they’re falling behind? Or to keep them from falling behind in the first place?
In my experience, warehouse employees do their best and feel most empowered when they have the right mobile devices – and a detailed task list – in hand. They don’t have to second guess if they’re making the right call because they are being guided every step of the way. So, spend the next few months gifting your workers with the tech tools on their wish lists. In doing so, you’ll make their jobs a lot easier, help ensure every customer gets the gifts they want, and deliver an unforgettable holiday season to all.