Amazon’s warehouse capabilities can boggle the mind when it comes to speed, scale, accuracy, and coverage. Nearly every other eCommerce market and store in the game wants to mirror those achievements because of how well they meet customer demands while also controlling costs.
Thankfully, those levels of accuracy and speed are within your grasp. The trick is knowing where to focus and reallocate revenue. A robust warehouse will require investments in people, processes, and technology, but the returns will speed rapidly toward positive territory. To help you start thinking about that investment and areas to prioritize, we’ve put together five thoughts on how your warehouse can achieve Amazon-like results.
- Refresh your tech around metrics
Project managers and process owners often say that you can’t work on problems when you don’t have data.
Measurements are needed and, in the warehouse, the best way to collect accurate information is to use revamped systems. Warehouse management tools are generally the most robust, though many ERP modules also have some warehouse capabilities.
Start by using or upgrading systems to collect data on every aspect of your fulfillment and inventory management. Track every step inventory takes and the prep work to achieve each item, from inbound processing and outbound orders to managing returns and inventory counts.
Build your operation around this data and relevant metrics. Gather your data and then start to make changes based on it after you update statuses and discuss elements with leadership and teams.
- Optimize your space
Your most commonly sold or used items should be closest to the use points, such as packing stations or assembly lines.
Modern WMS tools can help you track this data and ensure that you’ve got the right products in the correct locations.
If you find yourself needing more space, such as diversifying or adding new SKUs, look for ways to build your storage upward or narrow your aisles. Whenever you change aisles themselves, always test to verify people and equipment can get through them safely. Restrict traffic to one direction to further keep your team and goods safe.
The right space allocation will keep people moving quickly and avoids miscounts, spoilage, and other risks to inventory planning.
- Update picking routes
Amazon’s warehouses rely on a mix of people and robotics to meet their high demand volume. While you might not need warehouse-wide conveyor systems, you can still implement some of Amazon’s better people tactics.
Review the routes your people take for picking and verify that your pickers aren’t backtracking or having to walk excess miles because products commonly bought together are stored far apart. If you have a large warehouse, consider wave and batch picking methods that allow multiple people to pick parts of many orders at once, so they work in a zone and move quickly through every order they need.
Optimized walking paths vary in each warehouse, and sometimes they can vary by season or event. Review your data continuously and look for times when you need to adapt.
- Mobile tech is necessary
To make many of these changes work – especially dynamic shifts such as updating picking routes – your warehouse team will need some mobile tech. You can use a mix of smartphones and handheld scanners as well as wearables. Look at the broad set of equipment your WMS or warehouse tools support.
Mobile devices allow your team to get instructions and stay on the right path, maintaining accuracy after a change. You may shift what’s on aisle 12 but likely won’t physically move aisle 12. So, the picking instructions that highlight aisle and bin locations can help teams get the right goods no matter what’s in the bin this week, last week, or next.
Barcode scanning is also a smart way to double-check orders as your pickers pick. It can verify that they have the correct item and quantity before displaying the order’s next part. If you’re working with just-in-time (JIT) inventory, mobile tech is a lifesaver. It can link with inventory tools to ensure pickers use the right goods that you’re accurately calculating what’s in stock or use and totals for what came in the door and how large reorders need to be.
Many companies find JIT fulfillment to be especially useful when they’re in a growth phase and need to maintain control of overhead spending or optimize warehouse space but aren’t ready to expand to a new location. It can also help you control inventory spending to protect cash flow, but it does require robust technology and great people to be done correctly.
- Treat your people well
When it comes to prioritizing efficiency and instilling change in your warehouse, you need to have the right team and ensure they’re willing to grow with you. We believe the core element of having a talented team is treating them well. This means creating realistic requirements and rewarding teams that go the extra mile.
If you need to push harder to meet spikes in orders, or if you’re changing a significant process such as using a new WMS, reward your team when they step up and deliver. Incentive pay and bonuses based on order accuracy is just one way to celebrate your people. Don’t forget about offering breaks and benefits, a nice space to eat lunch, and public thanks or congratulations throughout the year.
No matter what tip you hear from us or anyone else, the best advice you’ll ever get is to treat your people well. That makes everything else on our list possible. And after what 2020 has thrown at us all, we should all be thanking our warehouse staff daily for impossible tasks they’ve completed.