Nearly half of today’s online shoppers expect their orders to arrive within two to three days. Another 45% say they’re unlikely to continue ordering from a company if it delivers a package late. Therefore, in order to please — and keep — customers, warehouses must prioritize and improve efficiency. Doing so will ensure quick processing, handling and distribution so that packages arrive on or before the estimated delivery date.
Here are just a few ways businesses can successfully improve efficiency within their warehouses to expedite fulfillment and facilitate growth.
1. Audit Your Current Arrangement
To know where you’re going, you have to know where you’ve been or, in this case, where you are currently. What organizational systems do warehouse staff use right now? What does the current floor plan look like?
Hire an auditor or find an in-house expert who can assess your arrangement and identify potential inefficiencies. During the audit, they’ll likely take a manual inventory count, conduct personal interviews and gather data relating to warehouse process, efficiency and adherence to safety policies so you know what you’re working with.
2. Use a Clear Labeling System
Once you have an accurate inventory count, you’ll want to maintain good records by using a clear labeling system to scan and track products.
Placing a label on each product will also improve warehouse organization and help employees find what they need faster so they can fulfill more orders in less time. Staff should be able to easily read labels, so make sure they’re bright, large and legible before slapping them on the packaging.
3. Remove Dead Inventory
Even in well-run warehouses, anywhere from 20% to 30% of inventory is dead or obsolete, taking up valuable space that could go to in-demand items. These extra items also make it more difficult for pickers to find what they need, thereby reducing efficiency and slowing down the fulfillment process.
Therefore, it’s crucial that companies remove dead inventory. Asking suppliers to deliver smaller quantities more frequently may also help you maximize space by stocking only what you need.
4. Rethink the Layout
Improving your layout can be as simple as moving high-demand items to the front of the warehouse and low-demand items to the back. This system ensures that more popular products are more accessible for pickers.
You must also optimize the flow of traffic to avoid cross-flow interference. In other words, incoming and outgoing orders shouldn’t cross paths and, if they do, the aisle should be wide enough to allow for two-way traffic.
5. Cross-Dock Specific Products
Taking high-demand, fast-moving products to their shelves only to have dozens of employees come searching for them later is a monumental waste of time and energy. Subsequently, many companies have adopted cross-docking strategies that allow them to deliver products from manufacturing facilities to customers with little to no material handling in between.
This process involves sending high-demand items to a temporary staging area close to the loading dock. When the products are ready for the next leg of their journey, employees can quickly retrieve, package and send them on their way, cutting precious minutes — or hours — off their delivery time.
6. Invest in Better Lighting
Sometimes, it isn’t a lack of organization that slows fulfillment down, but a lack of proper lighting. How are pickers supposed to find and retrieve products when the entire facility is too dim to locate storage racks and read labels?
In this case, switching incandescent bulbs for LEDs can make all the difference. This type of lighting is much brighter and will last 25 times longer than incandescent lighting. Thus, investing in better bulbs can increase efficiency and save energy, both of which can increase your bottom line.
Embracing Continuous Improvement
Of course, the best way to improve efficiency throughout the fulfillment process is to constantly reassess your strategies, solutions and systems. Ask yourself if there’s a way to do things faster. Better yet, ask your employees.
Because they’re involved in the day-to-day processes, they won’t hesitate to point out problems and offer solutions. If you listen and respond accordingly, you’ll end up with a happier team and even happier customers.