In a growing ecommerce world, competition can be fierce. Ensuring your warehouse operations are running efficiently is more critical than ever for running a profitable business.
Fortunately, improving your warehouse operations is generally fairly simple and effective when you have the right tools available. Tools like a warehouse management company or a warehouse management system will surely allow you to have a warehouse running efficiently.
And when you’re finished reading this article, explore the other content in our ‘Warehouse software’ series:
- What is a shipping warehouse?
- How to improve warehouse operations
- Best warehouse management software systems
- Can I connect my warehouse management software to my TMS?
What Are Warehouse Operations?
Warehouse operations include the following main aspects:
- Receiving products
- Unloading and storing products
- Picking, packing, and shipping products
Efficient warehouse operations are imperative to running a profitable and successful business. Inefficiencies can come from all areas of your warehouse, from storage, shipping, and everything in between.
Inefficiencies in any area will affect your customers and your business. Running an efficient warehouse can ensure your orders are fulfilled correctly and on time which will keep your customers happy and returning.
How Does Warehouse Operations Work?
Warehouse operations work by handling the receiving, storage, fulfillment, and distribution of products. Once products are received, they are inventoried and stored.
Products can then be picked, packed, and shipped to fulfill your customer’s orders all out of one warehouse. Essentially, warehouses store products until your customers need them and are responsible for delivering them safely. The operations you have in place will determine how efficiently the products can be delivered to your customers.
16 Tips for Improving Warehouse Operations
Thanks to technology, improving your warehouse operations could potentially happen nearly overnight. Here are a few tips to help you run a more efficient operation in your warehouse.
Use Lean Warehouse Operations Practices
Lean warehouse operations involve utilizing your resources to improve efficiency. Doing more with less and improving productivity is the goal of using lean warehouse operational practices.
These practices can help to reduce your labor costs, improve order processing time, and eliminate unnecessary transportation. If you are looking to improve the operations in your warehouse, training on and implementing lean warehousing practices is a must.
Don’t Procrastinate When Receiving Shipments
Taking care of shipments as you receive them is the most efficient way to run your warehouse operation. Procrastinating and putting off unpacking and stocking your shipment will only cause more delays in the future.
If you unpack, stock, and break down your shipments as you receive them, you’ll always know what product you have and where it is located. No more wondering what happened to the missing shipment!
Make Employee Training a High Priority
Employee training is critical when it comes to running an efficient warehouse. You may have the best warehouse management software in the industry, but if your employees don’t know how to use it, it’s useless.
Proper training of every single employee will help you improve your operations and ensure your employees are most efficiently optimizing the technology meant to smooth out operations. Running a safe operation with trained and knowledgeable employees is imperative to keeping it running smoothly.
Look for Inefficiencies
Don’t always accept what is. Analyzing and reviewing your operations is important to ensure you are running as efficiently as possible. Finding inefficiencies doesn’t have to be detrimental so long as you work to improve them. Even one small inefficiency can snowball down the line and end up having a much larger impact on your entire operation. Be sure you keep an eye on your warehouse operations, audit yourself, and make the changes you need.
Implement a Warehouse Management System
A WMS, or warehouse management system, is an optimal solution for helping improve your operations. This software was designed to simplify warehouse management and the many aspects involved. Warehouse logistics are critical to your operation and with the right system, your operation can essentially run itself. Warehouse management systems will provide services to cover:
- Receiving products
- Keeping track of inventory
- Ensuring storage of products efficiently
- Picking, packing, and shipping products
- Reporting and data analyzation
The best warehouse management system will cover these and more, constantly helping you run an efficient warehouse.
Perform an Audit of Your Warehouse
As we stated earlier, reviewing your own operations is a necessary part of ensuring you’re operating optimally. Auditing your warehouse to find any inefficiencies will help you know what runs well and what doesn’t. Take what doesn’t and make a change. Are you continually dealing with back orders or overstocks on specific products? See where your hiccups are. Are things organized for efficient picking? Storing your products in an efficient manner is vital for proper picking, packing, and shipping of said products.
Any hang ups along the way will just continue to cause a delay in the operation. If you aren’t sure how to perform an audit, the right warehouse management company will be there to help.
Understand How to Organize Inventory
Organizing your warehouse and inventory to ensure picking can be done efficiently is another must when looking to improve your warehouse operations. The layout and organization of your warehouse matters. What equipment you have to pick your products with matters. Do you have equipment tall enough to reach your tallest shelves? What type of shelving do you have? Utilizing the same shelving system throughout an entire warehouse is often a mistake as the products inside will likely vary.
Don’t lose products on shelves, utilize bins and organize in a way that inventory and picking is never delayed. Use your space wisely, go vertical when you can. Sometimes, switching up how you organize your product is exactly what your warehouse needs to run a little more smoothly.
Use Warehouse Automation
Warehouse automation essentially takes repetitive tasks and allows automated systems to complete them. This reduces your demand for labor and generally in turn, reduces the potential for human error or added delays. Both digital and physical automation processes are available to help you run every aspect of your warehouse more efficiently.
A warehouse management software would be considered digital automation while automated guided vehicles are physical automation. A warehouse operation can be costly to operate, but where you used to need a body for every moving part, you can now pick and choose where they make the most sense. Allowing automated techniques to take over parts of your operation will allow you to ensure bodies are at the more valued tasks where they’re more beneficial.
Analyze Picking Method
Analyze and review. You’ve heard us say this before. Analyzing the picking method for your warehouse is necessary. If there is a delay in picking, every other piece will be delayed as well.
A hang up in picking will be felt across the board. There may even be more than one picking method required to ensure your entire warehouse can be efficiently picked. Searching for a product for an unnecessary amount of time is a waste of time and in turn, money. The right warehouse management software can help you improve your picking method and ensure you are using the right one.
There are different types of picking methods and a few of the most commonly used ones are:
- Basic or Single Picking: Picker moves throughout the entire warehouse and picks product(s) to fulfill a single order. This method is typically not ideal for larger warehouses as time can be wasted walking the warehouse.
- Batch Picking: Picker moves throughout the entire warehouse and picks products in bulk by SKUs to fulfill multiple orders. While still walking the warehouse, the picker is fulfilling multiple orders at one time.
- Zone (Pick & Pass) Picking: Pickers are assigned to varying zones that have been predetermined in the warehouse. Pickers retrieve the products that are in their zone and when finished, pass them along to another zone. This avoids unnecessary travel in warehouses as pickers stay in their zone. This can be ideal for larger warehouses, but can be set up for smaller warehouses as well.
- Wave Picking: Using both batch and zone picking methods, wave picking groups orders into “waves”. These are based on different factors such as order type & frequency, picking zone(s), shipment location, delivery date, and more. Pickers are able to pick SKUs in bulk from multiple zones.
Remember, implementing multiple picking methods for your warehouse may be the solution to helping improve its efficiency.
Improve Customer Service
While technology can automate many aspects of eCommerce businesses, customer service is one area that should always remain with physical human bodies. When you know you can pick up the phone and call a person, or open your computer and chat with a human, not a robot, there’s something comforting and therefore relieving about it.
Having a customer service support team is generally a good move as your customers will always know they have a dependable team when they’re in need. Installing chat widgets on your website is a quick and effective way for your customers to get a hold of you. Being available when your customers are in need is a business move that will never fail. Happy customers will help your business run successfully.
Provide Worker Incentives
Productivity among your warehouse employees will directly affect the efficiency of your warehouse operations. The more motivated your employees are, the more productive they’re likely to be. The more productive your employees are, the more efficient your operations can run. It’s cyclical and it can be easy to repeat with incentives to help motivate your employees. With the right rewards and incentives, your employees will generally get the job done without errors and less delays.
Implement Custom Kitting
In warehouse operations, kitting involves combining different products into one single package. This means the pickers retrieve multiple products with different SKUs and then pack them together for easier picking for later orders.
With custom kitting solutions, you can maximize the storage space in your warehouse as well as drastically reduce the picking time on certain orders. This can help reduce errors and delays in picking.
Invest in High Quality Equipment
Without the proper equipment, a warehouse will be unable to operate efficiently. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about forklifts, pallet jacks, packing tables, or storage shelves. Equipment is used throughout the warehouse for every task. Storage equipment, packing equipment, lifting equipment, you name it, these are all items you’ll want to ensure are high quality and can be relied on for daily use.
If machines aren’t running properly, they’ll typically cause unnecessary delays. If shelves aren’t adequate for your inventory storage, picking times could be delayed. Investing in your warehouse equipment will generally pay off in time saved soon down the road. Don’t forget to be sure anyone using equipment will be properly trained on it.
Regularly Schedule Maintenance Plans
Even high quality equipment and machines require maintenance. If you stay ahead of this maintenance, unexpected hiccups are less likely to occur leaving you to run as planned.
If a machine or piece of equipment breaks down unexpectedly, it could shut down your operation for an unknown period of time. Unexpected repairs are generally more expensive and time consuming than planned maintenance and service.
Use Up to Date Technology
Using the best warehouse management software can help you stay ahead of factors you didn’t even know existed. Data analysis is available for a wide range of factors in warehouse management. From making adjustments to your existing supply chain to optimizing your inventory storage, the technology is there, you just need to utilize it. Giving you a different insight into your business, you can let the technology and the data work for you.
Utilize Cross Docking
Cross docking is a form of lean warehouse practices. It involves transferring products from the suppliers to the customers without storing the products in your warehouse. For example, a suppliers’ truck may stop at your warehouse with a shipment, but it can be immediately placed onto another truck without having to be stored in your warehouse. Avoiding the hassles of dealing with storage and inventory, cross docking can help expedite shipping for many warehouse operations.
Review Your Operations To Maximize Efficiency
The best way to improve your warehouse operations is to know where the inefficiencies are. Without this, you have no idea where to make changes and you could end up making the wrong ones. Thankfully, technology is here to work for you and warehouse management software gives you the data you need. With data galore, you can review and optimize the operations in your warehouse. If one process is hanging up the rest, you can see that and make the required changes. It is that simple with the right tools working for you.
Rewards and incentives are a great way to motivate your employees. Motivated employees are generally happier and more productive leading to a better work environment.
Utilizing a warehouse management software will help you ensure you are using the best picking method and picking orders efficiently in your warehouse operation.
Efficiency is the name of the game in warehouse management. The right warehouse management software will help you run your operation efficiently.
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