With more people demanding ecommerce and home delivery, stores have become quasi-warehouses and distribution centres for goods going out for delivery. For many retailers this is a new paradigm and they need to get their staff picking and packing. Rob Shaw outlines how retailers can do this
In response to huge swings in consumer demand and mandated store closures over the last few months, retailers have had to drive online sales - using their store footprint to roll out Ship from Store and Click and Collect offerings faster than ever.
However, unlike distribution centres, stores weren’t designed to optimise the pick and pack process. Instead, they’re laid out to maximise in-store sales, and store staff, who don’t have detailed knowledge of shipping and logistics, face a similar challenge.
Unfortunately, this can make store fulfillment expensive and slow, meaning many retailers are trying to work out how to reduce the time it takes to pick and pack each order. Here are five ways to optimise key parts of the process to help improve efficiency and customer satisfaction:
For busy store associates, speed matters, but If there aren’t any dedicated pickers it’s crucial to expedite the process to help them maximise efficiency. The first challenge is to get inventory off the sales floor fast so it’s not accidentally sold (resulting in a canceled order). This also gives associates more time to juggle the responsibility of helping store customers.
One way to approach this is to skip the scanning of items (or entry of a pick quantity for each line item) during the pick process. Instead, staff should enter data for the short picks - orders which will be shipped with less than the quantity of the item ordered, for which billing needs to be adjusted.
This reduces the time it takes for each pick and lets them spend more time helping customers. What’s more, analysis of short pick data can be extremely useful for fine-tuning replenishment strategy, analysing demand trends, and can also improve stock accuracy.
Another option is to consider picking during off hours before the store opens to give staff more time to complete pick tasks. That way, they can pull inventory quickly and pack it later and the risk of overselling stock is removed.
There are two ways to help teams optimise their pick tasks to reduce travel time. The first is to automate location picks by grouping together line items from different orders, so a single pick task may include just one item, or multiple items from a single area of the store.
Pick tasks can also be split across multiple team members - for example, according to their department. In addition, for larger picks, pick-run optimisation can be used to sort the pick list so it guides the picker from one location to another using the most efficient path through the store.
The second optimisation method is manual location picks. For smaller store formats, automation may not be necessary and instead the location of each item on the picklist can be displayed so store staff can see which items are in the same aisle or section of the store. But whether stores choose to automate the grouping of pick tasks or manage them manually, all the time staff save can be used to help make another sale.
Staff that work on the sales floor have intimate knowledge of products and where to find them. As such, they are ideally suited to picking because they are more efficient and less likely to make errors, especially if a product is displayed in multiple locations.
Packing, however, represents a different challenge in that staff need to be trained in how to package products to minimise the risk of damage during shipment. What’s more, a dedicated packer will be able to get orders ready for shipment or collection much faster than a staff member who is switching between the backroom and the sales floor.
In an efficient, modern warehouse, every inventory move is tracked and warehouse workers follow strict processes and often scan inventory in and out of each location. Stores are different because inventory locations in a retail store don’t have barcodes. In particular, smaller stores (and quite often large ones too) have staging locations for different types of orders such as Click and Collect and Ship from Store that are well known and clearly labeled.
Therefore, once staff have finished picking and packing an order, or group of orders, the staging system should be flexible enough that they don’t need to scan or enter a staging location for parcels that are ready for collection. All the system needs to recognise is that the orders are packed so a status notification can be sent to the customer.
Pick and pack efficiency requires a high level of coordination, organisation and attention to detail. Staff need to know where to look for items or it may take them longer to complete a pick task. While aisle and shelf numbers are pretty standard in a store environment, stock can be in other locations too, such as in a featured display area, on a mannequin or in a backroom.
As a result, any store planning to implement a Ship from Store service should think about how staff will find items in non-standard locations. This might need special codes that can be displayed on a picklist that indicate where items can be located, even if they’re not on a typical shelf. This helps to increase picking efficiency and reduce the chance of a short pick.
As innovation and changing consumer habits continue to re-shape the high street, those stores that can implement agile processes such as these to enable efficient pick and pack will remain in a strong position to meet customer needs and keep fulfilment costs down.
Rob Shaw is MD EMEA, Fluent Commerce