In the Christmas run in I really enjoy the amount of national press and news stories that focus in on the industry we spend all year obsessing over. The BBC Business website carried a feature on eCommerce businesses that are choosing to set up their fulfilment centres in self-storage warehouses. You can read the article here.
It was insightful for me because it opened up my eyes to a stage in an eCommerce business lifecycle that I’ve not been involved in before. However, we are used to seeing warehouses stacked to the ceiling and containers that came with deliveries and never left to create some extra square metres of storage capacity.
Where is the flow?
You don’t have to run a warehouse for long to realise that things go better when you don’t get in each others way. The main two types you’ll hear logistics experts muttering about are ‘U Flow’ and ‘Through flow’. The goods do exactly as the name suggests in both examples. This slideshare touches on both.
Find things quickly
If you’re seasonal and only selling a VERY limited number of skus maybe throwing everything in a room and trying to remember where it all is works. We’re finding that marketplace sellers are the early-adopters for advanced warehouse management because eBay and Amazon don’t care if you can’t find what you sold before Royal Mail turn-up. People often say it’s the last 10% of orders that take 50% of the time, because if you aren’t tracking stock locations and something is lost, it is exactly that.
The article draws an interesting contrast to the Panorama on Amazon we all watched a few weeks prior to the article being written. I’d sooner be on Amazon’s efulfilment books than part of a 20 person team shipping 12,000 items a day. The figures quoted are nigh on impossible unless you’re shipping the same thing and just slapping an address label on and putting it in an envelope. I must assume that is what they were doing.
The reality of eCommerce operations is that they are far more advanced than this in most cases. Whilst the use of warehouse management systems like ours is far from ubiquitous I’m starting to get a real sense that entrepreneurs are waking up to the challenge of Amazon. Operating an automated system and taking control isn’t as big or scary as it used to be.
Check out these images by photographer Ben Roberts, Amazon Unpacked if you've not seen them. One criticism of Amazon in the Panorama programme was that they are turning people into robots. Unfortunately we people aren't much good at picking, packing and despatching accurately it turns out. So yeah, we could all do with a bit of roboticism in us when we're working in efulfilment.
Some of the warehouse processes that I’ve read about on http://understandinge.com/ and heard from Linnworks and eSellerPro have been truly impressive. Not every company is ready for a fully-blown warehouse management system but I also think it is incredibly hard to know if you are.
Author: Oliver Rhodes, Peoplevox