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A break with tradition inevitable

19 November 2020

Of all the unknowns surrounding Covid-19 one thing is certain, its effects and legacy have changed the way people work, live and play, says Tony Dobson.

Bricks-and-mortar retail and hospitality outlets, apart from supermarkets, have suffered greatly during the pandemic and the ensuing chaos has travelled swiftly up the supply chain – especially with the many challenges of bulk-shipped goods entering a distribution network for further dispersal to individual locations.

Little wonder then that, rather than persisting with the costly and fragmented distribution of vast pallet quantities to various physical sites, there’s been a rapid and accelerated transition to eComm purchasing and delivery to homes.

With traditional business models being turned upside down, a direct to consumer (D2C) logistics evolution is tackling the pandemic head on, with leading brands like Heinz, PepsiCo and Cadbury all capitalising. Customers are now able to buy products directly from them, as opposed to purchasing through third-party retailers, and restaurants such as French brasserie chain Côte are following suit with home delivery.

The demand for Côte At Home has led to the business converting a recently acquired and sizeable space into a refrigerated order fulfilment warehouse solely to cope with the volume of orders.

This clearly illustrates how it’s more critical than ever to consider the warehousing and logistics part of the supply chain – with digital technology central to tackling sudden challenges, satisfying more demand, staying competitive, plus managing labour efficiency and productivity.

The financial and brand benefits of this B2C approach can be substantial, yet requires a dramatic retooling of operational expertise and efficiencies – from customer service and experience to optimised returns management, direct merchandising and  delivery, plus of course, warehousing and logistics.

Control via a fully integrated and advanced WMS is vital, because the cost of such systems can be high and fit-for-purpose software needs to bring it all together. The return on investment is fantastic in terms of staff and space saving, but getting it wrong can be an expensive mistake. It must be able to react accordingly to customer and business change – and that has never been more important. 

It should come as no surprise, therefore, that large distribution centres, organised and equipped for bulk ‘pallet in, pallet out’ operations have seen a new problem emerge: how to support smaller, incremental orders in the thousands with the same technology that supports large bulk orders in the dozens or scores daily. 

With many warehouses traditionally B2B and optimised for the wholesale market this transition just isn’t viable, because carriers change (a greater reliance on parcel versus LTL/FTL), order profiles change, order volume increases and, consequently, so does the actual process of working efficiently to satisfy demand.

Simply trying to pick small orders in the same way as previously picked multiple-pallet orders will quickly prove inefficient, because without changes to process that take account of the lower order size, the cost of picking will be disproportionate to the order value.

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It’s at this stage that the features and capabilities of traditional, on premise WMS systems are revealed to be lacking and not even configurable, because they don’t lend themselves to a quick, responsive set of changes easily delivered to multiple distribution centres. They come with the most recent version or release at the time of installation, but frequently require significant time and investment to modify that version in the face of new challenges.

Advanced, cloud based WMS like SnapFulfil, which is B2C engineered, are swiftly and efficiently implemented – even remotely –with application design based on flexibility and functionality one of the strongest options. Just as important when change is needed immediately, a centrally and cloud hosted application allows for quick tweaks and updates to configuration.

Such cloud based systems also offer feature parity with both LTL/FTL orders and having been specifically designed to satisfy e-commerce order fulfilment as a core competency, can quickly allow businesses to pivot and take advantage of changes in customer purchasing methods.

This has proved a game changer for SnapFulfil during the pandemic, which has pioneered the technology for remote implementation and self-configuration that save customers valuable time, resource and money. 

More nimble, configuration-based applications don’t restrict creative solutions either and support change management by allowing the flow of data and order of operations within the application to be modified accordingly – empowering management to easily store, organise, deliver and track the accomplishment of work throughout a facility.

What’s more, the increasingly transactional nature of modern warehouse management requires on-demand scalability and reliable performance. Therefore, the flexibility of a resource-based pricing structure, such as that offered by SnapFulfil, is a necessity so that businesses avoid having to over invest in cloud capacity that could remain unused.

Therefore, in the new world driven by fast moving e-commerce and ever shifting customer demands, at SnapFulfil we’re advocating a ‘triple A’ approach, centred on agility, adaptability and alignment.

Agility: An advanced WMS gives your warehouse the agility it needs to forecast demand, employ temporary workers and meet peak season and even pandemic challenges head on. It also allows you to maintain more detailed insight into inventory levels, so you can provide customers with deeper order visibility throughout the fulfilment process. 

You can streamline operations to make quick order fulfilment a reality, without sacrificing precision, and more easily identify areas for improvement. This in turn can help you delight your customers and keep them coming back. 

From smarter inventory management and optimising your picking and packing processes, to the last mile of the customer experience,  a WMS can ensure your warehouse serves as an asset in the quest to meet consumers’ ever increasing fulfilment desires – rather than  a stumbling block.

Adaptability: can apply to a wide range of areas within the warehouse, but it’s difficult to adjust without first understanding where your warehouse lags – so make sure to get your data in order before looking to meet today’s trends. It’s critical for gaining visibility into the numbers underlying your operations, whether that’s during replenishment, picking, shipping or returns.

You’ll additionally be able to make more educated decisions concerning which technologies or solutions – robots, extra staff, or additional locations – are worth investing in for the likes of reorganising stock location, speeding up packing and improving order accuracy. 

A best-of-breed WMS will also help you reach the necessary level of efficiency quicker – and when you’re able to scale it will be ready to meet your new demands. Bigger businesses often try to match Amazon and its continuous roll out of innovations, but you can adapt your operations with more cost effective and appropriate technology to become a leader in your own space and keep ahead of the curve.

Alignment: Real time data is also key when evaluating efficiencies throughout the business, so with deeper visibility into company processes, individual performance and team benchmarks, you can ensure the warehouse is fully in alignment with both company and customer expectations.

Goals and objectives can be better tailored to specific operations than ever before, plus the drilled down and universally accessible data provided by  a WMS helps strengthen relationships with internal departments and create a truly synergistic environment – which in turn means the organisation as a whole can better address problem areas and adjust operations to compensate. 

Customer alignment is imperative too and WMS software helps determine which products are selling when and where, so businesses have the data they need to adjust inventory levels and priorities accordingly. Additionally, this heightened visibility accurately pinpoints consumer buying habits and helps prepare for unexpected sales spikes, as well as granting much quicker intake of returns and a better understanding of why a product was sent back.

So, with the business landscape perpetually shifting and supply chains reinventing themselves, change is no longer a luxury –it is a necessity in order to survive and thrive. Quite simply, it is firms that properly embrace this change and make smarter technology investments now who will reap the ongoing benefits.

Tony Dobson, CEO, SnapFulfil UK & Europe

For more information, visit www.snapfulfil.com