Zone skipping has emerged as a logistics strategy with great potential for e-commerce operations, for its ability to reduce shipping costs and increase delivery speed. But how exactly does it generate these returns?
The first step in building a successful zone skipping operation is understanding the fundamentals. This initial installment of a three-part blog series on zone skipping introduces the basics of the strategy and how it drives benefit for e-commerce fulfillment operations.
What is zone skipping?
Zone skipping is a sortation strategy that involves the retailer or e-commerce fulfillment operation taking on sortation steps traditionally reserved for the parcel carrier. Packages are pre-sorted at the fulfillment center rather than by carriers. In a traditional workflow, all shipments are picked up by a carrier, sorted at a local facility, again at a regional hub and once more at the destination facility before final delivery. Zone skipping effectively "skips" several stops between the fulfillment center and delivery to the customer. It involves pre-sorting orders at the fulfillment center, thus avoiding sortation steps by parcel carriers; routing orders directly to a later phase in the shipping process for final delivery to the customer.
How is it a competitive asset for e-commerce operations?
Shipping operations are complex, so why would retailers want to get involved? Simply put, efficient delivery plays such a critical role in meeting customer service expectations and protecting margins that any efficiency gains are very much worth the effort. According to the 2016 UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper study, of the more than 90 percent of buyers who reported abandoning shopping carts, at least half cited unexpectedly high shipping costs as the reason for doing so. Further confirmation that in today's demanding e-commerce climate, speed and low shipping costs are critical to success.
Therefore, every supply chain process must be conducted as efficiently as possible. Otherwise, they cost businesses time and money. Much of the cost savings driven by zone skipping come thanks to reduced transportation costs, as the pre-sorting enables orders to bypass parcel carrier sortation and the associated transportation between carrier hubs. As operations face dimensional weight (DIM) and other pricing pressures, finding ways to reduce dependence on parcel carriers can help keep shipping costs in check.
Zone skipping also saves time, simply by reducing the number of steps required to move an order from the fulfillment center to the final destination. As Amazon, Walmart and other giants battle it out over free two-day shipping and consumers become accustomed to fast and free delivery, cost-effectively saving time is critical to keeping up and protecting margins.
ROI: How do the savings add up?
Operations can expect a savings range of 25-75 percent per parcel with zone skipping. Of course, no two operations are the same, so exact ROI figures vary but a company can completely recoup $1 million spent on a sortation system in less than a year. Assuming a conservative savings estimate of $0.20 per item in shipping costs, multiplied by 200,000 to 500,000 order per week, operations can generate between $40,000 and $100,000 in weekly savings. Furthermore, the benefits of zone skipping extend beyond shipping costs. Faster shipping times can improve customer retention and even help win new online business as consumers comparison shop for the best combination of speed and total cost.
For tips on getting a successful zone skipping operation off the ground, stay tuned for part two of the blog series that will cover implementation. In the meantime, check out the Intelligrated white paper, Zone skipping strategies to reduce e-commerce shipping costs.
Accuracy plays a critical role in the success of any modern distribution center (DC). In fact, for some businesses such as pharmaceuticals, accuracy outweighs every other aspect of the DC, including cost. No matter what the product, accuracy can help to build a loyal client base, while even one incorrect pick can cost you a valuable customer.
Yet as crucial as it is to any business, ensuring order accuracy has become an even bigger challenge as the complexities of omnichannel fulfillment have multiplied in recent years. To make matters worse, many pick- and put-to-light systems aren't designed with the ability to assist pickers in making sure every order is accurate. Too often, order fillers can't even ask the system basic questions about SKU numbers or order IDs, while managers can't easily trace errors to particular workers.
Here are four key ways modern pick-to-light systems give pickers and DC managers the tools they need to ensure order accuracy:
1. Empowering pickers - Order fillers can query the system to determine the correct SKU, order ID, store ID and last put location. They can also report important conditions back to the system, such as out-of-stock items, damaged merchandise or requests to suspend stock locations.
2. Management insight - Managers investigating the sources of order inaccuracies can trace errors back to specific order fillers. Labor locations, pick rates and accuracy rates are available 24/7 via virtually any type of digital display device, from smartphones to tablets and laptops. This gives managers the ability to find the sources of any problems through labor management software and, if necessary, provide additional coaching or training to individual order fillers.
3. Checking the weight - For an additional quality measure, Intelligrated's pick-to-light systems can perform a weight check, comparing an order's actual weight to its expected weight. This simple step can identify mismatches before an order is shipped to the buyer, giving the DC a valuable backup strategy to ensure the order is correct.
4. Adapting to variable product sizes - Modern pick-to-light systems include trays designed to accurately handle a wide variety of product sizes and shapes, increasing picking and putting accuracy in high-velocity, high-SKU omnichannel and e-commerce fulfillment environments. This allows retailers to optimize shelving and racking allocations to accommodate different product profiles throughout the year, always keeping relevant items within a picker's reach.
Whether your business is focused on e-commerce, store replenishment, retail, omnichannel fulfillment, manufacturing or route distribution, advanced pick- and put-to-light technology provides scalable, flexible solutions that drive maximum throughput and order accuracy. To learn more about how Intelligrated's intelligent pick-to-light systems can make your DC's fulfillment more accurate, click here.
I recently presented an On The Move webinar where I discussed the retail trends for 2017 and beyond. After compiling the data from various industry sources, what struck me was how much these trends have evolved in a relatively short period of time. In the last 10 years, traditional retailers and e-tailers alike have lived through a dynamic transition in the marketplace. As consumer expectations, demographic changes and the growth of e-commerce drive distribution and fulfillment strategies, our industry will need to continue to adapt.
What follows are the top 10 retail trends for 2017 that are impacting retailers now - and which most likely will affect their operations well into the future.
1. Population densities concentrated in major cities. With 82 percent of the U.S. population living in and around major cities, retailers must adapt to consumer behaviors by offering urban store formats and updating distribution and fulfillment strategies that enable direct-to-consumer deliveries.
2. Continued e-commerce growth. E-commerce is here to stay. Over the last decade, the calculated annual growth rate of e-commerce vs. total retail sales is 14.5 percent. Year over year, e-commerce sales continue to outpace traditional retail sales by significant margins.
3. Brick-and-mortar retailers struggle online. Traditional retailers aren't necessarily capitalizing on e-commerce opportunities. Although retail sectors are impacted differently, overall e-commerce growth for these retailers is on the decline.
4. Amazon continues to dominate e-commerce. In 2016, 4 out of every 10 U.S. dollars spent online were with Amazon. The rest of the top internet retailers are growing at a lesser rate than Amazon, with each segment requiring specific fulfillment strategies to accommodate their product profiles and customer service level agreements.
5. E-commerce SKU proliferation. For typical retailers, the number of products available online greatly outnumber those stocked in their outlets. This reality creates complexities in the distribution and fulfillment process: as more individual items are ordered, picking requirements increase in the warehouse.
6. Cross-channel shopping is the new norm. 38 percent of shoppers utilize multiple channels (omnichannel) in their shopping process. Of those who use a single channel, 42 percent search and buy online, while 20 percent search and buy in stores.
7. Generation Z is going back to stores. 98 percent of Gen Z (younger than 18 years of age) prefer to shop in stores. Product quality is most important to them, so the opportunity to inspect these products first-hand is imperative. Retailers will have to closely monitor their buying preferences as they mature.
8. More consumers buy online and pick up in stores (BOPIS). To offset shipping costs and add convenience to the buying process, consumers are increasingly utilizing stores to pick up online orders. Of the 50 percent who have done this, 46 percent make additional purchases at the store.
9. Dimensional weight (DIM) pricing changes packaging profiles. To increase the density of parcel carrier trucks and improve last-mile shipping efficiencies, DIM pricing continues to drive the packaging profiles away from traditional cartons to polybags.
10. Labor challenges persist. With the retail industry labor market at nearly full employment in 2016, warehouse operations are challenged with recruiting, training and retaining talented employees.
It's clear that everyone must have an e-presence to drive and achieve their sales targets moving forward. To do so, retailers will need to develop omnichannel distribution and fulfillment strategies to delight customers and meet challenging service level agreements.
To learn more about trends in the retail space, please view this webinar in its entirety.
Followers of the On The Move webinar series know that we often address a handful of trends that are dramatically reshaping the retail and order fulfillment landscape. Whether we're discussing sortation technologies, put walls, vertical conveyance or labor management, these trends are driving many of the operational decisions that store and distribution center managers must make to survive in today's ultra-competitive retail markets.
This list of retail megatrends includes: the continued growth of e-commerce; the proliferation of SKUs for online order fulfillment; consumer preference for omnichannel integration; and the changing role of the retail store. For more than a decade, retailers have watched these trends evolve and tried to adapt their fulfillment operations to meet changing consumer demands. And as online growth continues to outpace non-web growth, favorable demographic tailwinds are poised to continue this evolution.
In our next On The Move webinar, "Retail trends for 2017 and beyond", we will report on the state of e-commerce and other key retail trends. Hosted by Jerry Koch, Intelligrated's vice president, product management, the webinar will take place on Wednesday, May 31, from 2 - 3 p.m. EDT / 11 a.m. - 12 p.m. PDT. Jerry will explain how the increasing complexity of the flow of goods is creating a disruption in traditional retailer supply chains. He'll also examine the near- and long-term implications of the latest trend data, including:
- From 2013 - 2018, online growth is projected to outpace non-web growth: 13 percent vs. 3 percent
- 2015 e-commerce sales grew 14.6 percent to $341B; projected to eclipse $530B by 2020
- Omnichannel consumers are driving the investment in fulfillment operations by brick-and-mortar and e-commerce retailers
- Retail and manufacturing distribution strategies are evolving to serve consumers in population centers (megacities)
Register now for this important On The Move webinar and make sure you're prepared to adapt to the changing retail environment.
The challenge of delivering e-commerce, direct-to-consumer orders has introduced new levels of complexity in fulfillment centers. Wide variances in order profiles, the proliferation of SKUs and items with varying pick velocities are all highlighting the importance of effective order consolidation processes. Although many fulfillment centers are deploying automated systems in strategic areas of the facility to improve picking, sortation and putting efficiencies, order consolidation - which requires an effective way to aggregate this demand from disparate areas of the facility - often suffers. Regardless of the picking and sortation method used, put walls are becoming an indispensable tool for adapting to modern fulfillment demands and providing efficient order consolidation.
The premise behind put wall utilization is to bring together items gathered from disparate picking activities into one place. By consolidating this demand at one or more put walls throughout the facility, fulfillment centers see efficiency gains in upstream picking processes and, more importantly, increases in order fulfillment throughput and accuracy.
Traditional put walls are designed with fixed compartment sizes (or cubbies) and typically rely on lights, voice or RF technology to automate the confirmation process as an operator puts items into cubbies for specific orders. While effective, these fixed put wall designs may limit a retailer's ability to adapt these cubby sizes in response to changing order and product profiles, thus resulting in poor space utilization in the warehouse. The recent introduction of modular put wall designs, which allow the warehouse manager to change the configuration of cubby sizes (hardware) and light confirmation sequences (software) - provides the flexibility and space utilization that high-density fulfillment centers demand.
Our next On The Move webinar, titled, "Concerns about changing order profiles? 'Put' them to rest!" will explore these concepts and the increasing use of put walls in omnichannel fulfillment centers. The webinar will take place on Thursday, April 27, 2 p.m. EDT / 11 a.m. PDT, and be presented by Doug Mefford, product manager for order fulfillment with Intelligrated Software. With two decades of hands-on experience in driving throughput and accuracy in warehouse workflows and automation technologies, Doug will explain how put walls are improving order fulfillment productivity. Attendees will learn:
- The emerging role of the put wall and its order consolidation benefits
- Several key scenarios where put walls are effective
- How to recognize when order volume thresholds warrant put wall integration
- Why the need for flexibility led to new put wall hardware and software that enables user-driven customization
To learn more about put wall best practices and tips for integrating them in order fulfillment operations, register now for our upcoming On The Move webinar on Thursday, April 27, 2 p.m. EDT / 11 a.m. PDT.