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.
Online shoppers are hungry for selection and speed. They want a strip mall worth of products at their fingertips, ready for delivery by their next meal. In fact, a recent survey shows that 87 percent of online shoppers identified shipping speed as a crucial factor in whether they were going to shop with a brand again, and 47 percent of those surveyed said they would pay more money to get same-day delivery.
The high volumes of smaller, individual orders flooding out of warehouses as a result of these e-commerce trends has spurred changes throughout distribution networks that have real consequences for material handling systems. For example, as carriers and shippers look to make the most efficient use of available delivery capacity, automated equipment must handle a wide range of packaging types - such as polybags.
How do I prepare for polybags?
To cut costs that come with dimensional weight pricing, more companies are using polybags or envelopes to ship individual e-commerce orders. For many omnichannel distribution centers, this means handling a variety of packaging types - polybags, corrugated boxes, totes - in one operating space.
Polybags, with their tendency to bunch up on themselves, bring a unique set of handling challenges. They need to move along a conveyor system with minimal contact and catchpoints to avoid jams and keep product moving. Motor driven roller (MDR) conveyor is the conveyor system of choice.
What are the advantages of MDR?
With the growing pressure to quickly ship items ranging in size from pill bottles to bed frames, the material handling industry is facing new challenges. To keep up with e-commerce order fulfillment, ask yourself: Are my conveyors ready for e-commerce? If you're using conventional conveyor systems designed to handle only cases or totes, the answer is probably no.
No mattter the order size or packaging type, effective e-commerce order fulfillment requires moving high volumes of items through distribution processes quickly and efficiently - without damage. Zero-contact MDR technology enables individually-powered zones to instantly stop, maximizing product control, eliminating back pressure and reducing the risk of product damage.
This technology maximizes the amount of items on the conveyor, allowing operations to make the most of available space and optimize accumulation density. For e-commerce operations challenged to house an ever-expanding inventory, efficient use of space is critical, ultimately resulting in more orders fulfilled, greater customer satisfaction and a growing business.
MDR systems also use fewer conveyor parts, helping lower maintenance requirements and reducing the risk of downtime. Its modular design can scale as operational demand dictates and easily adapt to existing layouts and footprints for easy installation, along with providing the flexibility to change configurations as business needs (and online shopping patterns) shift.
But that's only part of the MDR story
The versatility of MDR conveyor means it is not just limited to e-commerce order fulfillment and polybag handling. An array of advanced features such as a full width belt, an array eye and more can take operations to the next level - to say nothing of MDR conveyor's essential role as part of sophisticated automated material handling solutions. Keep an eye out for these aspects and more in part two and three of Intelligrated's MDR conveyor blog series.
In the meantime, read the Intelligrated white paper, Selecting the right accumulation conveyor, for more information on making the right conveyor choice.