Retailers Turn to Voice Picking Technology to Manage Warehouses

Meagan Douglas
Wed, Aug 12, 2015
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Retailers use voice-picking in large warehouses.

The modern market demands faster inventory solutions. The current retail world is operating in an omnichannel culture. Multiple online options and businesses offering services through a variety of channels have created a higher focus on meeting individual customer satisfaction. Logistics Manager said "little and often" is the new creed for companies that deliver products to customers. 

Smaller picks have to be prepared for specific customer needs, and increasing business leads to more orders filled. Retail warehouses must facilitate a smooth flow of materials. To maintain visibility and keep up with consumer demand, more companies have started to adopt data-reporting tools.

Voice picking is a warehouse management system strategy gaining traction in the modern world. Hands-free and eyes-free equipment that improves accuracy and speeds up operations is sought by retailers that want to satisfy the modern customer.

Data Tools
Retailers still using pen and paper for reporting information are at a severe disadvantage. 

Mobile data collection solutions are the easiest way to supply warehouse management systems with the information they need to improve operations and provide supply chain visibility. Warehouse workers can use equipment to report information as soon as it is detected. This allows for frequent inventory counts and a constant report of distribution practices. Warehouse processes displayed on the retailer's central platform supply accurate information to management, sales and customer service agents.

While some companies use barcode scanners or smartphones, the ease and efficiency of voice picking technology is great for retail workers who need flexibility and mobility.  Business2Community described most voice picking technology as a wearable computer attached to a headset. The system allows for constant communication and hands-free operation. Most technology is durable and provides clear sound in busy warehouses.

Speeding Up Processes
Retailers need to push products through their warehouses quickly. Merchandise has to be prepared for customer orders and shelved according to seasonal demand. As a company becomes successful, the size and speed of inventory operations increase.

Voice picking technology gives warehouse workers voice-directed commands that enable them to move faster while performing picking tasks. Hands-free equipment means employees are reporting data while they are performing tasks, as opposed to just doing one or the other. Managers, or other employees, can communicate information to the headset and give updates as needed. It creates a constant dialogue between supervisors and workers so all warehouse performance is integrated into the retail infrastructure.

The strategy is designed to increase productivity. The RFgen white paper titled "Using Voice-Directed Work in the Supply Chain" shared the story of how the famous Pep Boys auto aftermarket retailer adopted voice picking technology to speed up operations. The new inventory system increased the business's productivity 16 percent over the previous system in just six months. Voice picking also improved data accuracy and saved the company about $3 million annually.

The technology improves speed of operations without sacrificing safety. In fact, the equipment allows workers to free up their hands and focus their eyes on specific tasks. Warehouse workers have to drive heavy machinery, move large objects and climb to high shelves. Tools that facilitate mobility and dexterity eliminate some common causes of workplace accidents.

Implementation in Unique Warehouses
Every retailer is different, so while most companies can benefit from the accuracy and convenience of voice picking technologies, implementation should be designed to suit a warehouse's unique functions.

Some businesses operate perfectly fine by relying solely on voice picking equipment; others use a voice picking and barcode scanner hybrid system. Retailers should seek out a software partner willing to work one on one with a company implementation team to find the best strategy.

Data is reported based on the unique criteria of each company; luckily, voice-recognition software is flexible. Quality Digest highlighted examples of toy stores, clothing retailers and housewares suppliers that all utilized the technology successfully. Items are differentiated by size, color, weight, date or any other piece of information that leads to clear communication and data diversification. It is important to communicate to a voice picking implementation strategist what details about each product must be reported.

When implementing the new strategy, warehouse workers can communicate current procedures to find what practices have shown the greatest impact and where improvement could be made. By implementing voice picking gradually and checking results with all invested parties, retailers should see a measurable ROI within a few months.

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