Improving Inventory Management: Best Strategies for Optimal Fulfillment

Inventory Management

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Companies like Amazon have set the bar high for fulfillment. When customers place an order, they expect it to arrive on time every time.

But creating a fulfillment function with that type of predictability isn’t as easy as it looks. Even minor disruptions in the supply chain can have cascading effects. One delayed delivery can permanently damage the relationship between a company and its customers.

Luckily, a well-planned order management strategy can reduce errors while increasing the number of on-time deliveries. Here are a few critical components to include in your plans.

1.  Integrate Your Ordering and Warehouse Management Software Systems

 Software integrability drives modern business. When different systems are capable of exchanging data with one another, businesses can operate much more efficiently.

Integration between a company’s ordering and warehouse management systems (WMS) is essential. Whenever a customer or employee places an order, the request immediately populates in a company’s WMS. From there, the warehouse staff can easily pick items from shelves, pack them into boxes, and ship them.

It’s vital to have order management and WMS that talk to one another if your company operates an online store using an e-commerce platform such as Shopify or eBay. Customers who visit the site can easily see which items are in stock. After placing an order, they can track its status until it arrives on their doorstep.

This seamless integration between systems pays off. It reduces human error while shortening the time for a delivery to arrive after an order is placed. At the same time, it provides everyone—including managers, customers, and the warehouse staff—visibility into the status of an order with only a few clicks.

2.  Plan your Warehouse Facility Layout with Efficiency in Mind

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Automation is making fulfillment a much less labor-intensive process. But even the most cutting-edge order management technology cannot overcome a poorly-planned facility.

Generally speaking, there are three layout options for warehouse facilities, including:

  • U-Shaped: Receiving and shipping are at both ends of the “U” while storage is in the middle.
  • I-Shaped: A straight-line layout in which receiving is at one end, and shipping is at the other, with storage in the middle. Under this layout, a warehouse operates similar to an assembly line.
  • L-Shaped: Receiving and shipping are at each end of the “L” with storage in the middle. This is an ideal layout for businesses that must often ship items that recently arrived.

You should choose the layout of your warehouse space based on the needs of your company. But regardless of the layout you choose, it’s critical to make the aisles as visible and accessible as possible while constantly working to ensure aisles remain free of clutter.

3.  Invest in Automation

Not long ago, operating a warehouse required a significant amount of manpower. Humans were responsible for reading incoming orders and then either fulfilling it themselves or having another staff member handle it.

While there is certainly still a human element to managing a warehouse, many of the repetitive tasks have been turned over to machines in recent years. Some of the forms of automation are relatively simple. For example, some warehouses use conveyor belts to carry items from one section of the warehouse to another. In recent years, however, warehouse operators have begun to implement more advanced warehouse management technology, including robotics and smart sensors.

Nearly every warehouse process can be automated. If your company is beginning to explore warehouse automation, be sure to focus on some of the following processes:

  • Receiving: Receiving technology allows warehouse operators to create records of every item that arrives at the facility.
  • Picking: Picking, or the retrieval of items from shelves, is one of the most time-consuming steps in the fulfillment process. Many warehouse operators now use mobile robots to perform the activity.
  • Packaging: Choosing the optimal packaging for an order and then packing items into the packaging is a task ripe for errors. Some warehouses now use packaging and containerization software to determine the right packaging for each order.

4.  Protect the Integrity of Orders During the Shipping Process

Fulfillment doesn’t end when items leave a warehouse. The order still needs to arrive on-time and in perfect condition.

While en route from a warehouse to the point of delivery, items face exposure to conditions that can cause them to spoil or withstand damage. Temperatures can get too high or too low. Items can also get damaged from the movement that inevitably occurs when transported.

Whether you’re evaluating shipping vendors or contemplating adding new trucks to your existing fleet, consider the following:

  • Does the fleet include refrigerated trucks capable of carrying perishable goods?
  • Are there set standards for hygiene?
  • Are the trucks equipped with equipment to minimize item movement during shipping?
  • What technology does the fleet leverage to ensure efficient routes and maximize the number of timely deliveries?

Fulfillment: The Art of Getting the Right Product to the Right Place at the Right Time

Mastering fulfillment isn’t easy. It can be even more difficult if your business is growing and experiencing a growing number of orders every quarter. You can feel confident your business will be prepared by being proactive and implementing the systems needed to support a seamless fulfillment process.

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