In order to survive, online retailers need to streamline the order picking and shipping processes. Efficiency is always an important factor — regardless of the size of the operation — and while the largest distribution centers may rely on automated goods-to-picker systems, this technology isn’t cost efficient for small to mid-sized stores.
The Internet provides these smaller retailers with ample opportunities to compete, and with the recent rise of omni-channel logistics, many brick-and-mortar retailers are entering e-commerce for the first time. By shipping directly from their existing stores, omni-channel retailers can serve their customers more efficiently than centralized distribution centers. This approach can improve cash flow during down periods while allowing retailers to offer a more diverse set of products. However, in order to turn a profit, they need to adapt to the challenges of online marketplaces, and that’s where order picking becomes important.
The most successful omni-channel retailers draw on the established practices used by smaller warehouses, employing high-quality equipment to stay productive — even when facing a sudden influx in orders.
If your operation is trying to compete as an omni-channel retailer, these tips will help you improve the efficiency of your order picking practices:
Choose a picking method that makes sense for your business.
When your store enters the online space, you’ll need to choose between batch picking and a pick-to-order system for retrieving SKUs.
In a pick-to-order system, pickers travel the aisles with an order picking cart, pulling every item that goes into an individual order. This is an ideal method for many retailers, and brick-and-mortar stores making the leap into omni-channel distribution often choose pick-to-order for an easy transition.
Batch picking involves pulling items to fill multiple orders, then sorting them out at centralized work station. This method can drastically increase efficiency, and when orders reach a certain volume, many facilities switch to batch picking. Smaller shops may not want to start here, however — batch picking systems can be prohibitively expensive for organizations that are trying to gain a foothold in online marketplaces.
Provide ergonomic workstations and order picking equipment.
Peak efficiency depends on a healthy, productive workforce, and material handling comes with its own set of ergonomic risks.Prevent injuries with equipment that eliminates ergonomic hazards, such as frequent reaching, leaning, and lifting. Implement adjustable workstations like the BHS Shipping/Receiving Desk, which offers optional cutouts to keep work positioned ergonomically, as well as adjustable mounts for keyboards and monitors.
Use space efficiently.
Traditional warehouses are designed for forklift traffic; in most cases, brick-and-mortar stores are not, so they need to use different material handling equipment. BHS Order Picking Carts enhance efficiency by providing dependable transportation for all types of SKUs.
Plan your pick routes.
Establishing routes for order pickers can provide significant productivity gains. This task is particularly important for omni-channel retailers that pick orders from store shelves; in these scenarios, retailers will need to avoid disrupting customers while filling online orders. The least disruptive picking strategy is to leave an order picking cart at the end of aisles, manually retrieve items, and walk them back to the cart for transport to the shipping/receiving desk.
Of course, the large-scale distribution centers of established online retailers will benefit from many of these suggestions as well. A single solution is rarely sufficient for high-capacity distribution networks, and an army of order pickers with reliable carts can often provide more precision than automated goods-to-picker systems.
As more and more retailers adopt ship-from-store strategies within the omni-channel distribution framework, efficiency in shipping and order picking will play a greater role in determining market share. It’s all a matter of strategy — and with the right equipment, any retailer can compete on a global stage.
Baker, Peter, Phil Croucher, and Alan Rushton. The Handbook Of Logistics & Distribution Management. London: Kogan Page, 2010.eBook Collection (EBSCOhost). Web. 8 July 2015.
Banker, Steve. “Amazon Vs. Walmart: E-Commerce Vs. Omni-Channel Logistics.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 4 Oct. 2013. Web. 08 July 2015.
Harps, Leslie H. “Best Practices in Today’s Distribution Center.” Inbound Logistics. Thomas Publishing Company, May 2005. Web. 08 July 2015.