Online retailers are beginning to gear up for this year’s Christmas shopping. Most will be expecting to be picking, packing and shipping more orders than ever before and it will fall on the warehouse fulfilment team and warehouse systems to bear the load. For most, this will mean hiring more warehouse workers.
Third-party logistics companies that do the e-commerce fulfilment on behalf of companies like Boots and John Lewis have to take on thousands of temporary workers to help them increase their e-commerce warehouse fulfilment capacity.
So how do they manage? Well they have training academies and expensive systems in place which mean new workers can come in off the street and be up and running in a complicated warehouse in days.
But what for the online retailers who are doing it for themselves?
Well for a starter the challenges that arise from temporary warehouse workers are exacerbated for smaller online retailers with 2-25 people in their warehouse. Most will have little if any formal warehouse training in place. Systems and processes are often overly complex which means they require a certain amount of memory and skill to master. Finding the labour isn’t always straightforward. Many online retailers that I deal with are set up in remote parts of the country so getting people to them can be a challenge.
Temporary labour let loose in your warehouse at such a crucial time of the year is a potentially brand and reputation damaging combination.
The peaks in sales are when the investments that you make in your processes and warehouse systems will really pay off. Just as third-party logistics companies have done, investing in warehouse systems that help to guide best practice is paying dividends for the top online retailers.
Mispicks and mis-shipments result in disappointed customers. Whilst your regular warehouse team may be sharp to the errors that can occur, your temporary staff will not be (and often don’t care anyway). A warehouse system means that even if they are liable to making mistakes there is a safety net in place to save your blushes.
Whilst your temporary warehouse staff may be able to get orders out the door, if they have been making mistakes the e-commerce returns will stack up fast. By removing unnecessary processes, you are able to reallocate warehouse staff to more productive tasks. For example, using automatic data capture to ensure that the right items are picked first time allows you to remove the double-checking of sales orders at the packing bench.
What we are seeing is that if online retailer is big enough to be investing in extra warehouse workers and feeling these growing pains in order to meet the spikes in demand then they can equally make a case for investing in their warehouse systems.