Shipping and Receiving Inventory
Shipping orders from your ecommerce sales channels is an everyday task in online retail. For many retail warehouses, so is receiving inventory and putting stock away. So you probably already have a routine in place for getting these jobs done. But how much time (and money) could you be saving by revising your workflow?
While third party fulfillment can be used in ecommerce, most retail orders are handled within the store's warehouse. These orders are processed, picked, packed, and shipped out through a strict workflow. This workflow is designed to ensure that orders are shipped efficiently and accurately. The main goals of order fulfillment are that all of the orders are shipped on time and for as low a cost as possible.
However, many retail businesses haven't revised their shipping and receiving workflow since they first started selling. The process may still be sufficient, and the main goals may be met, but there is still room for improvement. You can be saving hours of work every week by shipping and receiving more efficiently. Let's investigate a few ways you can improve your fulfillment workflow:
Order picking strategies
Before you pack and ship your ecommerce order, you'll need to pick the items from your inventory. The most common way that warehouse teams do this is with paper packing slips. They'll print a packing slip for each order, take a bin or cart into the warehouse, and retrieve items one at a time.
This system is called discrete fulfillment. Discrete order picking may get the job done, but there's a lot of room for improvement. The time spent picking each order can be reduced, and steps can be taken to reduce errors. Can you think of more efficient ways to pick orders?
One of the first steps that warehouses take to improve their fulfillment process is throw out the paper. Instead of packing slips, they'll use barcode scanners connected to a mobile device. This way, the picker can see what they need to pick on an electronic list. Instead of manually double-checking the items they pick, the picker can simply scan the product's barcode. Picking software can deliver instant feedback on whether or not that scan was correct.
For many order fulfillment scenarios, it's not necessary to only pick one order at a time. The amount of time spent picking orders can be significantly reduced by picking similar orders at the same time. This is called batch fulfillment, and has a number of advantages. Batch picking software can automatically group similar orders into batches. Then, the pickers can pick all of the items needed to fill that batch in one walk through the warehouse.
Shipping orders effectively
By now you have a good idea of how to improve your order picking methods. Of course, you know the order fulfillment process doesn't end there. You still need to pack orders and print shipping labels for each package going out the door. You should also be comparing postage rates from carriers like UPS, FedEx, and DHL.
Just as there are simple ways to improve order picking, so too are there ways to speed up order shipping. These tactics can solve problems like overpaying for postage, shipping orders to the wrong customers, and taking too long to process shipments.
You're probably using shipping software to print shipping labels. That software will ask you every time to enter your package dimensions, weight, and other settings like signature confirmation. Many of these settings can be set as defaults for future shipments. This way, they don't need to be manually entered every time you ship an order.
Batch fulfillment benefits not only picking, but shipping as well. You can save a lot of time by grouping similar orders together and ship them all at once. If many orders contain the same (or similar) items, they probably fit in the same package sizes and can be shipped via the same methods. With this in mind, shipping several packages with duplicated shipment settings can be a huge time-saver.
Receiving goods from suppliers is likely one of the most time-consuming tasks for your warehouse team. Everything that arrives must be counted, reported, and put away in the right locations. This is usually done by reading and marking the included packing slip or invoice, but that method comes with drawbacks.
If your inventory management software supports purchase orders, you can reference those orders when receiving inventory. Product quantities and prices should be checked for accuracy. Once the counts have been confirmed, inventory locations can be referenced electronically instead of by hand.
Barcode scanning can save a lot of time when receiving stock. Instead of verifying items and their locations manually, a barcode scanning solution will verify everything electronically. Simply scan the items that come in to tally the quantities received, then put them away and scan the locations they're stored in.