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3 Steps for Evaluating Automated E-Commerce Sorters

3 Steps for Evaluating Automated E-Commerce Sorters

   Michelle Szylakowski

3 Steps for Evaluating Automated E-Commerce Sorters

Lured by the convenience of 24/7 shopping for anything, American consumers have increasingly put their money where the internet is. According to a recent NPR/Marist poll, 69 percent have purchased an item online, while 84 percent have bought clothes or shoes online. It’s a trend fueling continued e-commerce sales growth, finds the U.S. Census Bureau. Its most recent statistics, from the third quarter of 2019, show a 16.9 percent increase ($154.5 billion) over the same period in 2018 — a repeating pattern across the past decade. 

Factor in the battle among the big-name online retailers to win customers through same-day delivery services, and all distribution operations are feeling the pressure to keep up. Indeed, 70 percent of consumers say they choose which online retailer to buy from based on the number of delivery choices offered. Translation? In the world of e-commerce, companies must have the capacity to support an expanding, diverse inventory; error-free fulfillment; and fast, free delivery options.

That’s why, to remain competitive (and in business), e-commerce operations have to handle as many individual orders as possible, simultaneously. Fortunately, this is exactly where automated sortation solutions excel. 

Sorting out the E-Commerce Sortation Options

Automated sortation solutions consolidate, separate, and route items and orders to unique destinations at maximum throughput rates — and the market offers plenty of choices. To find the best fit, apply a three-step evaluation process:

  1. Gather key information about orders. This includes the total number of orders handled daily, the ratio of single- to multi-line orders, and sizes and types of outbound packaging. When selecting automated sortation, the shipping package is often the most critical factor. That’s because more operations use malleable packaging — envelopes, polybags and bubble mailers — which cut shipping costs, but increase the risk of a sorter jam.
  2. Determine the intended sort outcome. The process the sorter supports determines its optimal design and configuration. Consolidating multiple picks into single orders plays to the strengths of loop sorters (bomb bay, tilt-tray, push-tray or cross-belt). Routing order packages to outbound trailers is an ideal application for line sorters (sliding shoe, motor-driven roller, strip belt transfer, pop-up wheel or strip belt, or sweeper sorters).
  3. Establish the desired throughput rate. To right-size system capacity, understand the difference between order volumes during standard and peak periods. But don’t confuse throughput with speed; rate of travel means nothing without the proper product gapping, gentle handling and accuracy to facilitate the data capture that ensures items are sorted to their correct destinations. Recent innovations enable higher sorter throughput without faster speeds, reducing wear, energy usage and noise.

Leveraging an Experienced Perspective

Today’s e-commerce driven supply chains mean DCs must pick a sortation solution that accommodates relentless order fulfillment demands and intense competition pressures. Additional details about how partnering with an experienced provider ensures the successful selection, design and implementation of a sortation solution that matches your operational goals can be found in this On The Move article, Automation Helps Manage Productivity Continued E-Commerce Growth.

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