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4 Tips to Optimize Your eCommerce Warehouse for Faster Fulfillment

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Optimize your eCommerce warehouse for faster fulfillment with 4 essential tips. Discover the benefits of automation, AI, smart planning, and efficient returns.

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While most eCommerce companies are focused on the customer-facing aspects of their operations like the website and last-mile delivery, this can leave them with a bit of a blind spot when it comes to warehouse management.

If you’re keen not to let fulfillment fall short of expectations, then hold tight as we whisk you through the main ways you can optimize this behind-the-scenes process.

Automating Your Picking Process with Robotics

Amazon has been leading the way in robotics implementation, with their acquisition of Kiva back in 2012 positioning it to roll out mechanized automation across its fulfillment infrastructure in a major way, demonstrating huge gains in efficiency and accuracy. Today this eCommerce giant has more than 750,000 robots on warehouse floors worldwide, and this in turn has created more than 1 million new roles for human employees as well.

The good news is that smaller businesses now have access to similar tech thanks to affordable options from startups like Locus Robotics and 6 River Systems. The benefits of this tech include:

  • Speed and Efficiency: Robots zip around the warehouse faster than humans can. They reduce picking time, which speeds up order fulfillment.
  • Accuracy: With robots, errors plummet. Precise algorithms guide them to pick the correct items every time.
  • Scalability: Need to ramp up for peak season? Just add more robots without hiring extra staff or increasing overheads.
  • 24/7 Operation: Unlike human workers, robots don’t get tired. They work round-the-clock shifts seamlessly.

Integrating AI for Predictive Inventory Management

Combining emerging AI with your inventory management system makes it possible to predict stock needs with uncanny accuracy. And again, this is something that the major movers and shakers have been doing for years.

Take Walmart’s use of machine learning models – they’ve seen marked improvements in their supply chain efficiency by leveraging predictive analytics, and have spent in excess of $1 billion on a total tech overhaul in recent years. Up and coming online retailers can also get a piece of the action thanks to a variety of tools including Infor WMS and Atera.

This type of platform can do a few special things, such as:

  • Demand Forecasting: AI analyzes sales data, trends, and market signals to predict future demand. This ensures you’re never out of stock.
  • Optimized Stock Levels: By forecasting demand accurately, you maintain optimal stock levels, reducing excess inventory and storage costs.
  • Seasonal Adjustments: It adjusts for seasonality and special promotions, so you’re prepared whether it’s Black Friday or a summer sale.
  • Supplier Lead Time Optimization: AI considers supplier lead times when planning orders, ensuring timely restocking without rush fees.

Enhancing Warehouse Layout with Smart Planning Tools

Optimizing your warehouse layout is like organizing a toolbox – everything has its place, making operations smoother and faster.

Case in point, IKEA employs advanced layout optimization software that helps streamline their massive warehouses for efficient flow and accessibility – helping it to hit revenues of 47 billion Euros ($50.5 billion) last year. Up and coming eCommerce businesses can tap into tools like AutoCAD or Fishbowl Inventory’s planning features to achieve similar results. 

The benefits of doing so include:

  • Space Utilization: Use smart planning tools to maximize every inch of your warehouse. Pallet racking systems are a must for vertical space utilization, and with used pallet shelving available, this can also be an affordable upgrade.
  • Workflow Efficiency: Design the layout so that high-frequency items are closer to packing areas, reducing travel time for pickers.
  • Flexibility: Smart planning tools allow easy adjustments based on inventory changes or seasonal demand shifts.
  • Safety: Properly designed layouts reduce accidents by minimizing congestion and ensuring clear pathways. This is significant given that OSHA figures show a total of 205 forklift accidents in warehouses over the past year, of which over 50% led to at least one death.

Streamlining Returns Processing to Improve Workflow

Handling returns efficiently can turn a logistical nightmare into a smooth operation. And given that Shopify data shows that a typical eCommerce site will have a return rate of 17.6%, this really isn’t something you can sleep on.

Thankfully you can benefit from software like Returnly or Happy Returns, which automate many steps of the return process.

Here’s how to streamline this in your warehouse:

  • Dedicated Returns Area: Create a specific zone in your warehouse for processing returns. This keeps returned items from cluttering other areas.
  • Automated Sorting Systems: Use automated systems to quickly categorize and sort returned items, speeding up the restocking or disposal process.
  • Clear Return Policies: Implement straightforward return policies that minimize confusion and ensure quick processing once items arrive back at the warehouse.
  • Pallet Racking Integration: Organize returned goods using pallet racking, so they’re easily accessible for restocking or inspection.

Final Thoughts

There may be a lot to take in, from the importance of robotics in modern warehousing to how AI is reshaping the entire fulfillment arena once again, but don’t feel disheartened. All of this change and forward momentum is a positive thing for businesses that embrace it, and it’s what makes it possible for a small fry eCommerce firm to swim with the big fish, and win.

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