17 May 2017

Things are shifting in warehouse operations – are you ready?

Today’s modern shopping habits are driving up warehouse efficiencies, with more customers demanding speedier and more efficient deliveries. The impact of this means that businesses, logistics providers and warehouse operators alike need to get prepared to ensure their supply chains operate at peak efficiency.

But what role is technology playing in adapting to the growing presence of omni-channel, particularly when it comes to warehouse operations?

What’s the state of play?
Today, warehouse operations need to be seamless and technology will play an ever important role in achieving this goal. Logistics providers need to get their provisions right to ensure they are more efficient and flexible than ever before.

Automating of operational processes and equipping staff with technology within warehouse operations is expected to be one of the main areas of improvement. For instance, research from Motorola Solutions found that 66% of warehouses plan to expand technology investment by 2018. This report also cites increased inventory control, flexibility, speed and more accurate fulfilment as key assets for competitive differentiation. With the quantity of items carried by warehouses expected to grow by 54%, and the number of locations expected to also increase by 39%, the only way this can and will be achieved will be by streamlining processes, utilising cloud-based systems and by creating a single source of accurate information for improved visibility and control.

What happens if brands don’t keep up?
No matter what your industry, competition is rife, so businesses are continually looking for ways to show their point of difference to their customers. With delivery options and brand experience now a vital factor in both deciding to buy and repeat purchases, technology plays an integral role in meeting these expectations by improving service and, in turn, customer satisfaction. If a business fails to keep up, this could cause them to seriously fall behind in terms of both competitive advantage and future growth opportunities.

Advancements in tracking technology gives businesses greater access to information and will help them to improve their supply chains and manage their processes better. With real time information, businesses are not only able to use this for their own benefit, but also share relevant data with their customers too, giving them a better first-hand experience.

Commenting on Carousel’s own operation, Morton Griffiths – Chief Operating Officer – says: “At Carousel we have a technology-led approach to all our logistics solutions, but particularly when it comes to our warehouse operations. When businesses come to us initially, we have found the common issues relate to missing stock or high stock right downs, slow returns processes and lengthy administration time to keep everything on track. However, with the right technology and with stock information available to all those involved, we open up the lines of communication to give more transparency for a much more streamlined process. With greater control, our clients find they can plan much more effectively and customer satisfaction naturally increases as a result.”

The future is most certainly bright
For those that really harness the power of technology, the future is most certainly bright. And by looking at examples of its application at a granular level, we can really see what other benefits technology can bring.

A combination of location, barcode and tote scanning can optimise day to day activity by improving pick rates in the warehouse and reducing errors, subsequently improving both service delivery and overall efficiencies. The data the process gathers also gives the ability to forward-plan, problem solve and drive innovation bringing long-term benefits too.

Static scan and digital barcode technologies are also popular options for warehouse management currently, but we don’t expect this trend to last for long. With the continued development in GPS signal, logistics technology providers like Carousel are now able to monitor consignments from the warehouse right through to delivery.

Yet, it doesn’t end there. Soon we can expect to see a wider use of devices which can not only track, but also monitor for things like the temperature of a parcel. RFID technology for instance (already used widely by supermarkets for high value items), offers the ability to track a product at any point and even gives the ability to pinpoint a parcel or product to a specific warehouse location!

Is it just efficiencies?
Efficiencies are great, but they can only take you so far. With the right technologies applied however, businesses can also obtain the ability to scale, and quickly.
The popularity of both flash sales and social media driving demand of particular products or items at any given time, means that businesses now need to be able to respond to demand, day or night.

But in peak periods a technology-enabled warehouse really comes into its own. Sales like Black Friday or seasonal demands like harvest can be make or break for a business, and delivering seamless logistics is another vital part of gaining the competitive edge. Peak periods could worsen the reliability of the right order going out to the right person, but also cause delays in orders being delivered or even being registered when they come back in.

And yet delivery options, we know, are a key factor of a buying decision but so is delivering on time and keeping your promises to your customers. These are times when technology helps a business to be more fleet of foot, and empower those managing the supply chain to make decisions and really take control of their networks.

As Griffiths adds: “There’s nothing worse than receiving the wrong item. Not only is it an inconvenience, it could be the difference between a customer shopping with a business time and time again, or never again at all. Unfortunately, errors in a warehouse can happen, but at Carousel we use technology to validate every stage of our warehouse processes to ensure this risk is minimised as much as possible, even in peak periods.

“We also automate many of our admin processes so that these continue to run smoothly whether we’re in a sale period or not. This means our clients get the items they want, in a way they’re promised it, always on time. And, if they want to return it, they get a refund just as quickly whether it’s Black Friday or not.”

Are you prepared?
It’s clear to see the growing importance that warehouse operations are playing within a business’s supply chain. The question is, are you prepared?

If you’re running your operations in-house or if you have an outsourced provider, the question you need to ask yourself is whether you have the expertise required to ensure your business keeps up with the future of ecommerce.

Logistics and supply chain managers have undoubtedly had to become more creative in the way that they run and manage their warehouse operations. Automation and technology is a key part of this and that’s why you need not just the infrastructure, but also the talent to implement such technologies too.