Optimizing inventory, warehouse, and shipping processes can reduce order fulfillment time, improve customer satisfaction, and reduce costs. Here are some key practices to consider:
Inventory and Warehouse Management
Organizing warehouse space in a logical and systematic manner saves time by making the flow of work more logical and efficient. Specific areas should be designated for receiving, storage, picking, packing, and shipping.
Keeping track of and managing inventory is one of the most important steps. Many inventory management software systems or ERP systems are available to accomplish the following:
- Allow real-time visibility
- Monitor reorder points
- Automate purchase orders
It’s important to have updated counts adjusted when products are sold, moved, or received to streamline the replenishment process.
FIFO and FEFO
These are not the sounds made by the giant in the classic English fairy tale “Jack and the Beanstalk.” They refer instead to First-In, First-Out, and First-Expired, First-Out: inventory management methods ensuring proper product rotation and minimizing the risk of obsolescence. FIFO directs that the oldest stock should be sold first, while FEFO prioritizes the sale of items with the earliest expiration dates.
Barcode and RFID Technology
Product labels using these systems allow for much faster and more accurate data entry because each item has a unique identifier that can be scanned or read electronically. This information should be stored in a centralized database to avoid any duplication.
As mentioned in our blog, Smart Warehouses, Where People + Technology Equal Success, equipping warehouse staff with handheld mobile scanning devices allows for barcodes and RFID tags to be scanned for accurate updates during each part of the handling process.
Forecasting and Demand Planning
Another useful way to avoid any supply issues is to analyze historical sales data, look at market trends and seasonal demands, and forecast what products will be needed when, and in what quantities.
Physical Inventory Counts
Sometimes it makes sense to undertake a physical count. It’s more efficient to do this as a cyclical process rather than counting everything all at once. By systematically counting different sections at pre-determined times or cycles, it’s possible to identify and correct any discrepancies with more ease and frequency.
Reporting and Analytics
Reports can include inventory levels, stock movement history, aging inventory, and other key performance indicators. Analyzing these reports can help identify trends, optimize inventory levels, and better inform business decisions.
There’s a system and software for everything in business, and it’s critical they all talk to each other. Any inventory management system should be linked with sales, order management, and accounting to allow for seamless data flow and comprehensive visibility of inventory across different stages of the supply chain.
Training and Education
Make sure warehouse staff is fully trained on how to use the inventory management system. This includes proper scanning procedures, data entry, and understanding the importance of accurate inventory tracking. Regular training and education help maintain data integrity and maximize the benefits of the system.
Strict quality control processes will ensure accurate order fulfillment, crucial to minimizing errors, returns, and customer dissatisfaction.
Develop standard packaging and shipping procedures to ensure consistency and efficiency. Use appropriate packaging materials to protect products during transit and minimize the risk of damage. Implement standardized shipping labels and documentation to streamline the shipping process.
Utilize an order management system that integrates with the inventory management system to automate order processing and routing and ensure accurate fulfillment. As mentioned above for warehouse management, it’s always important to minimize unnecessary steps, reduce handling time, and eliminate any bottlenecks.
Specialized shipping software can provide shipping rate comparisons across a wide array of options to allow an informed cost and time-based decision for each customer. The selected software should integrate with multiple carriers and automate label generation, package tracking, and other needed documentation to save time and reduce manual errors.
Optimize packaging and dimensional weight to minimize dimensional weight charges. In other words, make sure the selected packaging is appropriately sized for the product to reduce any excess space and waste.
Partner with reliable carriers that offer competitive rates and a range of delivery options, and consider factors such as shipping speed, coverage area, and cost when making the selection. Whenever possible, negotiate shipping contacts for volume discounts. Here is one reputable delivery alliance directory as an example: https://ecadeliveryindustry.org/carrier-member-directory/
Shipping Application Programming Interfaces can be integrated into systems to directly access carrier services, rates, and tracking information. This allows real-time shipping calculations and automatic tracking updates for customers.
Remember, every warehouse and shipping operation is unique, so it’s essential to evaluate your specific needs and tailor the array of best practices listed above to suit your individual business requirements. Managing inventory and warehousing for efficient shipping is a complex challenge best solved with an interconnected web of tools and processes that can’t be left to chance. As many sales experts have said, including the character August Walker in 2018’s Mission Impossible – Fallout: “Hope is not a strategy.”