Despite its importance to the distributive trades, and its potential to support strategic growth, the warehouse is the part of the business that is most likely to have legacy manual and paper based processes. A 2014 study shows that 35% of prospective buyers of Warehouse Management Systems (WMS) are still using manual methods. This can be time consuming and create inefficiencies, and it may also be risky; human error can lead to mistakes in picking, shipping, or replenishment, which can result in failed deliveries, payment disputes and, ultimately, unhappy customers.
And it’s not just manual warehouse systems that need updating. The same study showed that:
- A further 17% of businesses were struggling with existing proprietary systems that were not scalable, or couldn’t be updated.
- 17% more were using non-specialist software, that was missing the features they needed, or couldn’t be configured to meet business needs.
So it is no surprise that warehousing is changing fast. A report by Motorola predicts increasing automation and mechanisation in warehousing in coming years:
- Warehouses using manual inventory counts will drop from 41% in 2013 to just 13% in 2018.
- Use of WMS on real-time mobile devices will increase from 32% in 2013 to 65% in 2018.
How to stock efficiently
Warehousing is complex and there are many ways things can go wrong. All too often, supplies arrive with poor labelling, products are put away incorrectly, operations are disrupted by manual cycle counts, and carriers wait idly for shipments that aren’t ready. However, the focus for warehouse operations has traditionally been on efficiencies and error reduction in order picking, which overlooks the potential to make improvements throughout the process, from receiving through to shipping. As such, many current systems don’t meet the challenges faced by a modern distributive business, which requires:
- Control of inventory, end-to-end, and across multiple locations or branches. This enables you to manage stock levels and ensure delivery to customers, whilst also keeping control of margins.
- Tracking of items from receiving from suppliers, through sales and order processing, picking, delivery, returns and accounting. This will reduce manual processing, and the associated risk of error and enable you to keep customers accurately informed about their orders.
- Management of the space of the warehouse, to ensure stock can be put away, found and picked most efficiently, and to maximise operatives’ time.
- Visibility of management information to understand where problems are arising, implement improvement initiatives and track the success of changes. This will enable you to progressively and continually improve your processes and to get more from your existing resources and your investments in warehouse technology.
Efficient stocking solutions
Forward-thinking companies now consider that the warehouse has the potential to be transformed from a cost centre to a growth centre. The first step in this revolution is to get your warehouse in order with an up-to-date, specialist, trading and business management system, which will ensure that you are competing with the best in the business. The technology that is driving change does not stand still. With 1 in 5 bigger companies already using RFID (radio-frequency identification), and the use of drones in inventory management just around the corner, you need to ensure that you are ready to face the future of warehousing.
If you know how to update your warehouse and stock efficiently, your business will be on a very good footing in order to have a profitable future.
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