Warehouse Management Solutions for Multi-Channel Retail Challenges

Meagan Douglas
Tue, Aug 25, 2015
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Retailers have to prepare inventory for online shoppers.

The modern retail industry forces the physical and the digital worlds to work together. To keep up with e-commerce merchants, brick-and-mortar stores offer shoppers the ability to purchase goods in-store and online. 

Warehouses must be ready to prepare orders coming from multiple channels. Different types of shoppers have unique needs, however, inventory managers have found workers must utilize certain strategies for each consumer channel. Software solutions provide the data collection features needed to balance modern customer order demands. 

The Multi-Channel Challenge

Warehouse workers can't use the same picking patterns for online orders as for physical shoppers. Supply Chain Digest said online platforms encourage certain behaviors from visitors.

Orders from e-commerce shoppers tend to be more frequent and call for fewer products than orders created by customers in-store. Online consumers also expect fast delivery times. They browse their options looking for retailers that offer the best distribution services.

Many older warehouses are not designed for this kind of order picking. Legacy strategies like batch preparation cost the company time and wasted manpower when not adapted correctly. Discrete order picking strategies introduced to warehouse management systems help fill online orders.

To Integrate or Not to Integrate

If a warehouse fills orders for online customers, in-store shoppers and business consumers, the inventory workers have to develop a plan for each type of shipment. Warehouse managers have to decide whether to train the entire warehouse on multiple procedures or segment operations. 

Logistics Viewpoint indicated it's not uncommon to see modern warehouse layouts divided into different areas for each customer platform. Certain groups of employees are sometimes responsible for filling orders coming in from e-commerce shoppers, while another set of workers are in charge of batch orders for larger clients. There are challenges associated with this model. Managers have to schedule picking paths and shipping dock times so employees don't run into each other. Although workers utilize different strategies, they must use the same tactics when it comes to shelving, facing inventory and using business equipment.

Inventory visibility can become difficult without standardized procedures. For example, if an employee filling orders for in-store clients is unaware of the e-commerce picker's activities, he or she won't know how many products are actually available. All customers should have access to accurate merchandise availability information, regardless of the channel they frequent. In-store sales reps and online sites have to advertise items available for purchase. If the information is incorrect, the retailer could lose the sale and a customer.

Fighting Fire with Fire

Retail customers using mobile devices and computing tools causes warehouse managers to employ similar solutions in daily operations so they can keep up with the modern world.

Cloud-deployed mobile devices can solve online shopper inventory management problems. Retail experts told MultiChannel Merchant modern warehouse management systems want to implement paperless operations, real-time inventory counts, flexible planning and client customization. The respondents plan to adopt mobile solutions to meet these goals.

Mobile devices help every step of the distribution process. Managers can create client specific orders in ERP software and send the information to the physical warehouse. Pickers can prepare shipments while reading customer details. As they pull items off shelves, mobile users report the new inventory level so every employee is aware of accurate counts. The software integrates with the overall retail system. Sales representatives, marketers and customer service agents can take warehouse performance into account when addressing consumers.

An RFgen white paper, "8 Signs You Need an Automated Data Collection Solution," lists numerous ways mobile enabled software can benefit a company. ERP data accessed by workers walking warehouse aisles facilitate accurate counts, workflow flexibility and customer satisfaction. Mobile devices give workers the automated data collection resources they need to provide service for every consumer channel.

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