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Managing the demands BOPIS puts on store labor

The advent of "buy online, pick up in store" (BOPIS, a.k.a, "click and collect") shopping is giving many brick-and-mortar retailers a way to reclaim precious market share, while at the same time driving up store visits. As more consumers embrace the opportunity to pick up online orders at the nearest store, retailers that can efficiently provide this emerging in-store fulfillment option gain a clear strategic advantage. But making good on the promise to fulfill BOPIS orders quickly is easier said than done. Customers who choose this option typically want to retrieve their purchases within a few hours after placing their order. To meet this service level expectation, retailers must be prepared to execute a new set of demanding tasks that are typically performed by existing store associates. 

The increased challenge to the labor force stems from the nature of the in-store fulfillment process. In the traditional shopping paradigm, customers traverse a store and fill their shopping carts with the products of their choice, and then proceed to a check-out line. In the click-and-collect scenario, it's the store associates who must now retrieve these items scattered throughout the store - without adding hours to their shift or hikes in the store's budget by hiring additional labor. This underlying change and the need for increased order fulfillment efficiencies are the reasons why retailers are seeking ways to optimize BOPIS order processing and fulfillment.

It's not enough to simply offer the option of click and collect; it must also be profitable for the retailer. Here are three tools that are proven to be effective in warehouse order fulfillment that will make in-store order fulfillment profitable by improving the efficiency and accuracy of existing labor resources:

  • Voice-based task engine - Voice solutions have a lot to offer stores moving to a BOPIS model. With very little time, new or temporary store associates can quickly be trained to use the system nearly as efficiently as an experienced associate. Voice direction allows eyes-up, hands-free operation, so staff can still provide in-store customer service as they fulfill BOPIS orders. Voice-directed task engines calculate the proper level of resources needed to fulfill existing orders, while capturing real-time transactional updates to ensure inventory accuracy by validating each item picked.
  • Optimized picking sequences / batching orders - With labor management software (LMS), optimal picking travel paths through the store are identified and used to direct store associates on the most efficient picking sequence. As orders come in, items can be batched to leverage economies of scale where appropriate. The result is greatly reduced foot-travel time and a more predictable order fulfillment process that ensures customer service level agreements are met. 
  • Labor planning - LMS also enables a more accurate planning process that evolves as your staff becomes more efficient. Retailers can precisely staff areas for optimized resource usage, deploying only the necessary workforce required to meet the demand. Ongoing labor performance data is captured and fed back into the system to improve forecasting and the predictability of the fulfillment process.

To learn more about how voice and LMS can combine to help retailers add BOPIS to their omnichannel fulfillment strategy, please visit the Store Solutions section of our website

Why assessments are the foundation of effective lifecycle management

Intelligrated's Lifecycle Support Services (LSS) understands the crucial role that assessments play in our abilities to predict and prevent issues before they occur. But for many plant managers in order fulfillment or manufacturing environments, the importance of performing regular assessments is often overlooked. And while some may think that planned preventive maintenance activities are enough to keep operations running at sufficient levels, the truth is they're often not equipped to identify unseen problems in mechanical structures or uncover issues that may lie dormant in material handling control systems. Unfortunately, when a piece of the system breaks, their parts inventories are often unorganized and understocked, preventing fast issue resolution and prolonging costly downtime.

These were the very scenarios our LSS team addressed in Intelligrated's most recent On The Move webinar, "Identifying minor issues before they become major problems." Joining me for this live webinar were Javiera Aguirre, assessment manager and Doug Bach, director of lifecycle sales. Together we discussed the importance of assessments and then answered many questions from attendees after the presentation.

We started the webinar by introducing the concept of assessments and discussing what's at stake for those who ignore this crucial step. In our first polling question, we asked attendees how many unplanned downtime events they had experienced in the past year. We weren't surprised to learn that 50 percent had experienced at least one unplanned downtime event. From our experience, we've found that these downtime events can cost anywhere from $10K to $200K per hour. Obviously, prolonged outages can have lasting operational and financial impacts.

Javiera explained that assessments are analogous to the annual physicals individuals typically have performed by their doctors. Just as we have our skeletal, blood and neurological functions evaluated to check our overall well-being, manufacturing and distribution operations should have their MHE system mechanics and controls assessed at regular intervals to prevent costly and dangerous conditions and ensure optimum performance.

But assessments don't stop just at mechanical systems and controls. Javiera discussed the many types of technology, mechanical and maintenance assessments that LSS teams perform - from software, sorters, palletizers and conveyors to personnel safety, thermography, parts and computerized maintenance management systems. Simply put, these assessments can uncover "what's under the hood" and potentially prevent substantial productivity loss, accidents and expensive repairs.

Javiera walked through the key steps involved with the assessment process, starting with understanding the baseline system performance and culminating with taking necessary remediation steps to return the system to optimal operations and plan a system's lifecycle. She emphasized the importance of using assessments to not only take a proactive stance toward maintenance, but also to better prioritize repairs and align them with the capital planning process.

Finally, Doug demonstrated that assessments are integral for all types of facilities, regardless of their current phase in the system's lifecycle. Whether you're operating a brownfield site, sharing maintenance tasks with multiple vendors or starting up an all-new greenfield site, everyone should make assessments a mandatory part of their maintenance processes. 

To learn more about how assessments can help you formulate and execute an effective lifecycle management strategy, please view this webinar in its entirety. 

Wall-to-wall utility: Versatile put walls serve many purposes

Whether your DC relies on operator-to-goods batch-picking, zone-picking processes or an automated storage and retrieval system (ASRS), put walls drive order fulfillment efficiency by providing convenient demand consolidation points. But exactly where and how put walls should be integrated can vary widely, depending on the needs of your operation.

Typically, the upstream picking or sortation method used in a facility will determine the most efficient way to utilize a put wall. Here are four of the most common scenarios, organized by the level of throughput they provide.

1. Batch-pick

This scenario minimizes picking execution by allowing pickers to aggregate demand in batches. For example, 10 units might be picked, then distributed to 10 different put wall cubbies. Case picking, where cases of one SKU are picked and distributed to multiple orders, is enabled in the same way. 

2. Zone-picking

In facilities with designated product zones, this scenario allows batch or "eaches" picking to take place in each zone. Pickers send totes from their zones to the put wall, where items are then distributed and consolidated by the operator. While still a relatively simple process, picking efficiencies are maximized by breaking order line items into individual zone-picking tasks.

3. Mechanized picking

In this highly efficient scenario, picking is handled by automated storage and retrieval systems, shuttle, carousel or mini-load automation technologies, minimizing the amount of operator movement required. For example, if 25 percent of a retailer's SKUs come from an AS/RS system, these items are automatically batch-picked as needed and delivered to the put wall.

Put walls can also be integrated into the sortation automation process, allowing sorted goods to be conveyed to the designated put wall station.

4. Cross-dock (receiving to order fulfillment)

To expedite delivery of high-demand products, put walls can be deployed in the cross-dock receiving process. In this scenario, items are taken out of cases and distributed directly to the put wall. Orders are conveyed to a pack-out station once demand is filled at the put wall. 

What's next?

Most of today's put walls are designed with fixed, uniform cubby sizes. The next generation of put wall technology will enable customizable configurations to address the challenges of SKU proliferation and changing product and order profiles. 

By combining the ability to customize put wall cubby sizes (hardware) with user-friendly programming (software), integrated put wall and light solutions give operators the ability to modify cubby sizes to accommodate varying product and order profiles in the same put wall. 

Intelligrated is leading the development of these customizable put wall solutions. With user-friendly software that automatically configures the light-directed confirmations of the cubby sizes, our modular put walls allow DC managers to expand their operations without having to do major material rework to their facilities. 

To learn more about how Intelligrated's enabling put wall technologies can enhance your DC's efficiency, click here

New OTM webinar: Assessments - identify minor issues before they become major problems

Investments in material handling equipment (MHE) are among the most significant capital expenditures a company can make in its order fulfillment and manufacturing facilities. To maximize ROI and extend the longevity of these systems, facility operators must always be mindful of the working condition of their equipment. But too often that is not the case, and minor issues that could easily have been fixed are ignored until they become major problems.

The true costs of this inattention can be far-reaching, from unplanned downtime and lost productivity to expensive repairs and untimely equipment replacement. But these consequences can all be avoided - even prevented. By performing periodic assessments, facilities managers and maintenance teams can gain accurate knowledge of equipment status and plan accordingly. 

On Thursday, August 17 at 2 p.m. EDT / 11 a.m. PDT, three of Intelligrated's Lifecycle Support Services (LSS) team members will host the next On The Move webinar and discuss the importance of periodic MHE equipment and system evaluations. Javiera Aguirre, assessment manager; Doug Bach, director of lifecycle sales; and Dave Trice, senior director of business development, will explain how assessments not only give operators insights into the condition of their equipment, but also recommend how to mitigate imminent risks and potentially extend system lifecycles.

Webinar attendees will learn about diverse types of assessments and how they help solve numerous business challenges, including:

  • Prevent system downtime and productivity loss
  • Guide capital planning priorities (obsolescence, major projects, upgrades, changes in operational requirements)
  • Establish effective preventive maintenance plans
  • Identify gaps in the maintenance operation

Register now to join the LSS team on Thursday, August 17 and learn how assessments can help you identify minor issues before they become major problems. 

Single-source OEM parts strategy: The most efficient way to the right part at the right time

Unexpected downtime can accumulate significant costs, exceeding $20,000 per hour for some operations due to idle employees, delayed shipments and overtime expenses as operations recover. Avoiding these costs of downtime requires quick access to a well-managed stock of spares. Since fast-paced maintenance departments are often occupied attending to other service demands, speed and simplicity are paramount in the parts ordering process.

Using the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) as a single-source parts supplier provides several important benefits to keep equipment running with the right parts at the right time. The OEM offers access to the latest versions of parts, simplifies the ordering process, proactively extends system lifecycle and more efficiently leverages inventory. 

Long-term, trusted partnership

Automated systems can last decades, meaning that the OEM has a vested interest in client success that eclipses that of a third party simply fulfilling a parts order. Furthermore, using the OEM as a single source for parts can yield easier budget management, better parts value and quicker root-cause analysis in the event of an equipment issue.

In practice, this single-source parts relationship can be especially beneficial for multi-site enterprises. If a facility places a large parts order but the OEM knows the retailer already has a large stockpile of the same parts at another location, they advise the customer to source the parts from another site, rather than place a redundant order.

Reduce transaction costs, increase confidence

Ordering parts from multiple vendors dilutes accountability and increases overhead thanks to extra purchase orders, additional invoices and more time spent managing vendor relationships. Ordering all parts from a single source simplifies the process, saving time, providing clear accountability and inspiring confidence that the right parts are available when needed. 

Intelligrated offers a dedicated team of support specialists to not only provide information on lead time, parts availability and technical documentation, but also offer unique insight on how parts function within complex material handling systems - insight that third-party vendors simply cannot offer.

Enhanced support for complex systems

Spare parts usage can provide clues about overall system health, but only the OEM has the knowledge to turn this data into the most complete picture of system performance. OEMs know how each part should function within a system and can compare purchase activity with metrics like expected time-to-failure for each part. This analysis can be used to detect part usage anomalies that may indicate more serious problems elsewhere in the system.

Furthermore, OEMs often issue updates to existing equipment as technology advances. As they phase out older spare parts in favor of more efficient, longer-lasting designs, OEMs provide recommendations to match systems with the right alternatives. 

Using a third-party vendor provides neither access to ongoing system improvements, nor a singular, holistic view of the system. This lack of information can limit system performance, drive unnecessary parts costs and even lead to system failure.

Using the OEM as a single-source parts provider saves time, simplifies accountability and helps get the most out of long-term automation investments. For more information, visit Intelligrated's OnTimeParts.com parts procurement website or read the Intelligrated white paper, The value of OEM genuine parts vs. the cost of generic parts