Warehouse management is a crucial part of ecommerce operations. If you rely on well-designed processes and proven warehouse management software, it will likely positively affect the bottom line of your online store. However, if you neglect this part of the supply chain, the consequences may be severe. From unsatisfied customers to tons of money burnt on inefficient processes, it may turn out to be a fatal blow to your business. That’s why it’s crucial to carefully pick a good warehouse management system for your ecommerce.
Having worked with several large ecommerce retailers, we've learned a lot about different challenges companies face when they expand their business online. In this blog post, we'll share our experiences and show you how you can benefit from a warehouse management system (WMS).
Before we jump into the warehouse management system for ecommerce we particularly recommend, let's recap the most significant challenges of ecommerce warehousing.
Common challenges of ecommerce warehouse management
It may be the case that your company is not new to warehouse management as such. Perhaps, you've even managed to work out successful processes for handling orders efficiently.
Still, when you start selling products online, you'll probably see that your old ways won't work as well. Ecommerce warehouse management poses a unique set of challenges that you should address if you want to operate successfully.
Ecommerce supply chain management is quite unique: people may place large orders or just put single items in their shopping carts. On top of that, every client expects the shipping process to be as quick as possible. To answer this need, you have to align your processes with the delivery operations, for instance, scheduled pickups. As a result, your team will likely have to pick up their pace.
Your warehouse simply has to be well-managed, otherwise, you risk facing the following challenges:
Time-consuming picking sequences
A considerable difference between traditional warehouse management and ecommerce warehouse management is that, in an ecommerce business, your team members will often have to pick single items from different areas of your warehouse.
You can easily imagine that it's not efficient for your pickers to walk to the back of the warehouse to pick a single product from the shelf. Yet, it may easily happen when you plan to fulfill orders one by one. Things get even more complicated when you offer different types of products in your online store, varying in size and weight. In that case, your team members need a heads-up whether they should use a forklift to pick up a certain item, or that a basket will do.
As you can see, picking path optimization is essential when managing a retail business. A warehouse management system can help you make sure that your staff works efficiently and orders get picked in an optimal way.
Eliminating order fulfillment errors
Of course, maintaining high quality standards is important for any ecommerce business. Unfortunately, once you start getting a lot of orders and your staff needs to prepare many packages, it's relatively easy to make mistakes.
Can you eliminate such errors completely? Robust warehouse management systems can definitely help you make sure the right products end up in the right packages thanks to portable barcode scanners, scales, and cameras. You can read more on them in the next part of this blog post. Now, let's move on to the next challenge ecommerce retailers face when they don't have WMS software.
Packaging and shipping area
Having to design a packaging and shipping zone might be a completely new concept for businesses that have, until this point, dealt only with offline transactions. However, when it comes to ecommerce platforms, it's an essential element of effective warehouse management.
Once the order is picked from the shelves, someone has to confirm that the appropriate items have been prepared, select the right box and cushioning to protect the inventory, print the receipt and generate shipping documents. The packages should also be photographed, which will be useful to handle return requests and quality issues. A warehouse management system will help your staff tremendously to efficiently process and ship the orders without mistakes.
Monitoring inventory levels
Naturally, when something is taken off the shelf, it should be replaced soon. Otherwise, you face the risk of running out of inventory and slowing down the fulfillment process. Real-time inventory management features offered by warehouse management systems will enable you to track inventory levels with ease.
What are the main benefits of implementing an ecommerce warehouse management system?
Given the unique supply chain challenges of ecommerce, you have to find a tool that will enable you to run your business efficiently. This is why your WMS should be prepared to meet the specific needs of your team, an out-of-the-box system will probably not be enough. The good news is that a solid ecommerce warehouse management system with custom features can bring your organization tangible benefits that will outweigh the cost and effort of implementing it.
First of all, you will be able to significantly improve your company's inventory management from organizing products on shelves to monitoring inventory levels. Such optimizations will have a positive effect on the cost of running your warehouse, you will be able to save a lot of money that is currently lost due to inefficient processes.
Yet another important upside of effective warehouse management is better customer service. Running an online store, you know that a great shopping experience is of the utmost importance for your sales. This experience doesn't end when a customer clicks "buy". A swift shipping process, no order mistakes, or even a good visual presentation of your package are likely to win you loyal customers.
On top of that, introducing a powerful WMS solution will distinctly improve your team's work environment. All of the challenges we described in the previous part of this blog post are obviously bad for the business, but they also negatively affect employee morale. With software that not only makes their work easier but also helps them avoid costly mistakes, your team should feel better in their workplace.
Finally, as a manager, you will have access to accurate information about your team's productivity and the status of your customers' orders. Having access to these insights, you can make informed decisions about further optimizations.
Our approach to ecommerce warehouse management
When we started working with online retailers, we quickly noticed that many warehouse management systems available on the market are better suited for traditional retail models. For instance, they will help you with inventory management and picking large orders in your warehouse, but won't offer features supporting typical ecommerce needs, e.g., packaging different types of orders.
In order to address this issue, we went on the lookout for a reliable cloud-based WMS that could be easily customized for ecommerce purposes. We ended up with a process that covers three key areas of ecommerce order fulfillment: picking, packing, and returns management.
The base warehouse management software we recommend to our clients is Odoo, an app that's well-suited for online businesses. It can be used as both an ERP and WMS system for your company, but if you already have an ERP tool you're happy about, we can simply implement the warehouse management features.
Keep in mind, that your WMS app will always have to be customized to fit your organization's processes. Odoo's flexibility allows us to introduce elements that prove to be game-changers for ecommerce warehousing, including:
- Barcode scanners - portable devices allow your warehouse staff to scan products on the go. We prepare the software that guides your employees through optimal picking paths. Such a solution is not only great for warehouse productivity. It also helps to eliminate fulfillment mistakes, as pickers receive real-time feedback about what should be picked and where.
- Touchscreen terminals located in different spots of the warehouse - such terminals enable your team members to monitor their overall effectiveness and record some operations, for instance, order returns.
- Robust packaging area - it's a spot where a warehouse employee can access software integrated with third-party systems of the delivery companies, manage pre-shipping package photographs, and generate necessary documents. The system can also recommend appropriate types of packaging and cushioning based on the products in your customers' shopping carts.
- API integration with shipping companies like DHL, DPD, UPS etc.
- Label printing
All in all, a warehouse management system consisting of Odoo's base features and our custom additions can be a great way to enhance your team's productivity and make sure that the whole process, from organizing your warehouse to shipping packages, is efficient.
Do you want to learn more about optimizing the operations of your online store? Book a consultation with our team. We've already helped many businesses design and implement custom WMS solutions. Among our clients, you'll find One Day More - a producer of muesli, which exports its products all over Europe or a producer of high quality energy recovery systems: Swiss Rotors. Let us know how we can support your business!