Best practices for managing E-Commerce Warehouse

E-Commerce business model is growing by leaps and bounds. New business first open online and then go for brick and mortar stores, if they want to. Opening online store is easy, fast and very cheap. However, it comes with it’s own challenge of distribution and storage. Storage in terms of warehouse, the place where inventory is stored. This is probably the only last brick and mortar link remaining in the ecommerce business model. Managing the warehouse efficiently is one of the few tricky things in running ecommerce business. Whether a 3PL or in house, the warehouse can either be a capital locking, uncontrollable monster or fast and efficient business differentiator. Here are some of the best practices to help run the warehouse more efficiently to get that edge.

 

  1. Invest in Technology: Invest in a good Warehouse Management System (WMS). A WMS is not just for tracking inventory levels and SKU locations. Today’s WMS can do lot more, with increased focus on automation, order streaming, picking order items etc. You can pick up items from one location for successive orders at one go, instead of coming back to same location for another order just after a few minutes. Define the batch size of orders and pick up all items from that SKU for all orders in that batch. Segregate them at order packing line. It’s much faster. Similarly integrate WMS with advanced Transport Management System (TMS). Get the two working together and reduce the time that you inventory spends waiting for the truck at load bay. Similarly invest in a good RFID solution. It should track the item from order line item to SKU location pickup to packing to dispatch. With thousands of items and thousands of orders, RFID solution becomes a necessity just to ensure a six sigma quality standard.
  2. Embrace Chaotic Warehousing: That’s how Amazon is doing it. With advanced warehouse management system in place, there is no need to spend hours planning and defining a logical process to decide where to stock the new SKU. Just dump it in the most easily accessible location and feed the location in the system.  When the order comes up for that SKU, WMS knows where to pick it from. Whether manual or automated, once you know the location, you just need to run and pick it up. If it’s a good warehouse management system, it will tell you to relocate the fast moving SKU closer to the packaging line to reduce pickup times. It should do this during routine maintenance period. That’s one more good reason to invest in WMS.
  3. On demand warehousing: World is moving towards on-demand strategy. That is the key to whole ecommerce business strategy. Warehousing for ecommerce can be no different. To stay competitive every cost must be variable. That includes warehousing cost. As the demand for different product changes, the requirement for warehouse space changes. Different warehouse facilities are needed in different area requirement depending on the changes in customer demand. It will vary with seasons, festival period, promotions and campaigns and other events. Warehouses can only stay relevant to their ecommerce clients by providing the service on as need basis. After all it’s just space that your competition can also provide quickly.
  4. Serve all needs under one roof: Historically, warehouses were divided by various verticals. Different warehouses were used for brick and mortar retail, ecommerce and for B2B. Separate shippers were operating for small packages, less than truckload shipment (smaller trucks) and full truck load shipments. However, with push towards lower cost products, lowering other associated costs such as storage and transportation has become essential to remain profitable. Utilizing warehouse space for all kinds of orders (which are not so different in reality) makes best utilization of space. Using same shipper for all your needs gets a better deal from the shipper, getting maximum bang for your buck. Remember, two half trucks can be combined to make a full truck load to get volume advantage in shipping. Most shippers are anyway combining various services to stay cost effective. There is no reason why a ecommerce business should not take advantage of this.
  5. Batch Picks instead of individual orders: For a large warehouse, that stocks thousands of small SKUs, doing rounds to pick individual order items takes significant time. Instead, club your orders in batches. Create a batch of similar orders, and make it a manageable batch. Pick the items for whole batch at once, in single go, in single cart. Sort the batch into individual order at packaging line. This will be a little tricky if you do it manually. But still doable if your operations are small. This becomes absolute must for large scale operations. With WMS and radio Frequency tracking, you virtually eliminate the possibility of missing an item for a particular order and save time for doing multiple frequent trips to same SKU location. WMS will also create a batch of similar orders to pick up order items in one go. That’s  one more case in favor of WMS.
  6. Use metrics: Time to dispatch from the receipt of order is well known metric. But everyone has got that to almost perfection. (if you are still struggling with this, leave everything else and get this in order first, if you even want to stay in business). Measure everything that you do. Accuracy of orders, returns due to various reasons, defective pieces shipped are first level of metrics. Dig deeper. Measure time to assemble an order, time to pack, revenue per unit of warehouse area, profits per unit of area, profit per employee etc. All these measures will help you not only in identifying the bottlenecks, but also highlight the areas of improvement that can improve your turnaround time and reduce costs. Warehouse business is high transaction, low value per transaction business. Every opportunity to increase efficiency and reduce cost must be grabbed. Metrics help you do that.

 

Warehouse business has become very competitive business. With easy flow of capital and good connectivity and multiple transportation options offered by various shippers, the location of the warehouse has become almost irrelevant. It offers marginal advantage at best. This means that to stay competitive, the warehouse needs to improve its operations and offer real business benefits along with the cost advantage. Warehouse must invest in technology and take benefit of changing business environment to offer flexibility that e-commerce business needs of them.

10 Advantages of Private Label Branding

The products that are manufactured by the same company that sells them (usually a well established retailer) are called Private label brands. These products are made by small manufacturers with smaller batches specifically for a particular retailer. These products sell exclusively only at the retailer’s stores. Retailers sell these products along with other brands of same or similar products that are stocked in their stores. Private label products offer several advantages for the retailer. Here are some of the advantages.

 

  1. Exclusivity: Private label products are made only for a particular retailer on order. As they are unique to the retailer, they do not compete with national brands. The target segment for these products consists of customers who are already loyal to the retailer knowing they will get similar quality with products of retailer’s brand.
  2. Retailer deals directly with supplier and sources: National brands have multiple channels, routing their products. The supply chain is long. With Retailer’s own brand, he is dealing with his suppliers and sources directly. he can feed back the marketing intelligence, trends, customer preferences etc, directly to the suppliers and sources and quickly get update the products. The product updates are much quicker, to the liking of the customers.
  3. Own unique image of retailer. Strong customer recognition: The customers are already aware of retailer’s brand. They associate his brand and his service level with certain quality. With the product of retailer’s own brand, they know exactly what level of quality to expect. The purchase decisions are made quickly, resulting in quick turnaround of inventory. Retailer can further build his image from the quality of his private label products as well.private label, 3pl, packing
  4. Product and packaging tailored to meet retailer’s requirement: Most of the big brands will have standard product specification at least nationally, if not globally. But as every retailer knows, those specifications are not suitable for every location. For example, the population in a particular retailer’s catchment area may be more comfortable with larger waist jeans, rather than skinny narrow waist jeans, which is main target for most well known denim brands. Further the type of packaging may not be appealing to the customers in retailer’s catchment area. Not only that the packaging may not meet his requirements, as a retailer, to store the product, it may also not be suitable to deliver to retailer’s customers. With private label, retailer controls the design, specification, material and other aspects of the product. Retailer can also customize the packaging as per his unique needs.Packing,packaging, attarctive packaging, essential packaging
  5. More control over pricing, marketing, sales and distribution: As it is his own brand and own product, the retailer can decide what marketing strategy will work best for his target customer segment and adopt that. He can decide the price at which he wants to sell his products. He can change the price as he sees fit. He can launch his own promotions and campaigns to increase the sales. This kind of flexibility is usually not available with national level brands.
  6. More profitability: The supply chain for private label is smaller than national level brands. Products come directly from manufacturer to retailer’s store or warehouse. All the margin after manufacturing costs goes to the retailer as against a smaller percentage that is usually fixed by the company for national brands. Since the retailer can change the price, he also controls the margin and turnover, thus retaining greater flexibility on the profitability of the product.
  7. Faster update to products: Customers can be finicky. Their taste change quickly. They get bored of the same product over time. With larger brands the feedback loop, development of new product and rollout of new product takes time. However, since with private label the chain is smaller, the new trends can be quickly analyzed. New products are developed with faster speed and quickly brought to the market. The private labels can be more responsive to changing customer needs as compared to national brands. Since the market for private label is smaller, the production run are also smaller, leading to lesser unsold inventory, in case the product does not sell. That’s a win win for the retailer.
  8. Virtual monopoly: This is a unique advantage for the retailer. His own branded products will be available only at his store. If they take fancy of the customer, the retailer is guaranteed that customers will come back to his store for more, as they are available on at his store. This not only creates a virtual monopoly but also creates an opportunity to sell other products that are stocked in the store. Private label products can indirectly leads to increase in sales of other products and of overall store.
  9. Value extraction of the brand value: If the retailer’s brand is well known and well recognized for the quality of the products and the service it provides, it should be easier for him to sell his own branded product. This is the hidden strength of the brand. The promotion of product, by simply labeling it as his own product, is great way to exploit a retailer’s well established brand value. However, great care needs to be taken that the new product being labeled is of equal or higher quality, for which the retailer’s brand is known for. If not, then the product may actually push the customers away, leading to brand value erosion.
  10. Harder for competition to match the specification and price of product: With full control of the product, retailer get the direct feedback from customer and incorporate those into his product. Same goes for all aspects of pricing, packaging, marketing, quality etc. The final product is a unique fit for his target customer base. There will be very little in the way of differentiation that retailer’s competition can offer, to pull the customer away from the retailer. A good private label product is a great way to lock customers to retailer’s brand.

 

Private label branding offers many more advantages. In a nutshell, private label branding helps retailer address the requirements of his customers with his own product offering which is tailored to their specific requirement and increases his profits. If the label (the brand) succeeds, it may even grow to a national brand.

Explaining Micro-Reduction and Processing

Seeds are great food. They are great additives to salads and other food items. They are not only a great source of nutrition; they also add a great flavour and crunchy texture to the food they are added to. But seeds are difficult to process from supply chain point of view. They are live. They are the source of life of new plant and contain the essentials for growth and nutrition of seedlings. They are designed by nature to sustain harsh conditions and yet grow into a plant when conditions are right.  However, this very advantage of theirs is the reason that they are favourite of bacteria (such as salmonella) and fungus as well. Seeds can develop pathogens at any time during their transportation and storage. The long duration of storage before they are consumed, makes them susceptible to develop pathogens at any time during their journey from the plant to the table. Not only that, during their journey there is a risk that the seed may die, losing essential enzymes and proteins and thus changing its taste. Because of these reasons seed processing and packaging requires a special setup for their supply chain management. An experienced 3PL would have a separate processing for seeds and grains to ensure high yield and high viability of the seeds, when it reaches to the table of the end consumer.

 

Seeds are grown and transported across thousands of kilometres. They move from the places where nature intended them to reproduce to places where human intend to consume them. The transportation to the place of consumption and place of consumption itself are harsh for the seeds and full of pathogens that seeds are not designed to sustain. Not only that, seeds collect waste, stones and sometimes metal pieces while being processed by machines. The net effect is that the yield of useful, edible, high quality seed is very low. There are numerous incidents when the whole batch of seeds has been rejected due to health considerations. The sterilization process controls the pathogens in the seed and enables the batch to meet the health and safety standards by following the below mentioned steps.

 

Large screening: The heavy contamination particles (stones, metal, droppings) are easier to remove. Filtering the seed through right mesh size and passing through a metal screen usual does a great work of removing these. However, for finer contamination, such as bird droppings, feathers, light weed seeds etc. the process is little tricky. The blow air technique is used to filter these. The seeds are passed through of flow of air. The air pressure is just right so that everything except the seed is blown away and just the seeds drop in the collection bin or for very light seeds, just the seeds are blown and collected and everything else drops in the waste collection.

 

Sterilization: There are various processes that reduce the bacteria, mould and general infectious substances in the seed. For example, fumigation is passing antibacterial fumes through the seed. While it kills the bacteria, it leaves small amount of chemical on the seed. These can be cleaned with water, but that brings its own challenges.  Dry heat processing kills the germs very effectively. Process the seed through very high heat for little time. However, this process is known to alter the taste of the seed. The seeds tend to retain the heat and get cooked (even if by a very small amount). Some seeds even die and change the texture completely due to heat. Dry steam processing is another technique that claims to give good results, but suffers from drawback of exposing the seed to very high temperatures and it also leaves some residual water on the seed. Though all the techniques are excellent, none of them offer high yield assurance with little or no change to the flavour and texture of the seed. Pasteurization, fumigation, irradiation etc. have not really met the expectation that customers have from a sterilization process.

A newer technique of organic micro reduction which involves using oxygen to kill bacteria like salmonella has much higher yield. The seed is coated with a liquid solution. The solution harnesses the power of oxygen to neutralize the pathogens and provides total coverage. The liquid then biodegrades leaving the seed unaltered. The seed is completely safe, sterilized, organic, raw and viable, just as nature intended it to be. The validated intervention system ensures application to every individual seed. The complete commercial system such as NEO PURE also includes the option of a dryer, where the seeds are coated with solutions that dry off faster to ensure completely dry consistent seeds, leaving a completely dry and viable seed. The process is used by many suppliers for almost any kind of non-sprouted grain and non-sprouted seed.

Repackaging and screening: The processed seeds are then packed into small quantity packing as required for retail. The care must be taken that the packing material is itself sterilized and free of all micro bacterial culture, and does not allow any water or air to pass into the packing, to the seeds during shipping and storage. The retail packs are then passed through a final metal screening to ensure that there is no metal piece that has escaped into the final outgoing product. This screening is usually done using x-ray technique which is harmless to the seeds.

 

 

So, as we see that seeds and grains are gaining popularity as food toppings, right from breads to salads; it is imperative that vendors adapt to newer sterilization techniques for better business results. With newer techniques of sterilization, the vendor can ensure that his seeds are safe, healthy and nutritious, when they reach the consumer and we all know that Happy Customers mean Happy Business!

The Future of Supply Chain, Logistics & Manufacturing: How Technology Is Transforming Industries

Technology is changing fast. It is evolving at breakneck speed. There is no aspect of business that technology has not impacted. However, so far we have used technology for just a little more that some fancy automation. That is just scratching the surface when it comes to use of technology. With the pace at which the technology is progressing, we are going to see some major advances in the way whole business, right from production to delivery, is done. The new technologies will lead to faster, cheaper, more reliable business practices that will look very different from the practices of today. Let’s take a look at a few advances that have the potential to completely change the way we do the business.

  1. 3D Manufacturing: 3D manufacturing is not new. It’s been around for more than 2 decades. However it has really picked up in last few years. While it is still confined to mostly prototyping shops, 3D manufacturing offers a lot of agility to production process for many kinds of products. 3D manufacturing will shift the point of production to the very end of supply chain, just before the last mile delivery. If fact, with 3D manufacturing, the whole supply chain will become just a raw material supply chain. As 3D printing is customizable, the 3PL providers will offer it as a service, with product owners supplying the designs and preferred raw material sources. this will make them more lean and capital efficient.
  2. RFID use is set to proliferate in big way: It allows the manufacturer to track each and every unit of product and in many cases even the components of product, at any point in whole cycle, without intervention of any human with the system. RFIDs are being used in manufacturing and in Logistics as well, to track the movement of the product. So far the RFID use is still in early stages. They will be used for many other things such as validating the order, to ensure order has all the correct items and anomalies in the order are corrected as soon as they occur. They will help in improving the quality of products, and increase the effectiveness of whole supply chain and not just track and trace products.
  3. Delivery Drones: Few companies such as Amazon are experimenting with delivery drones right now. There are still some legal hurdles before drones are cleared to fly and make commercial deliveries. However once they take to the skies, the last mile delivery will change completely. The deliveries will be faster, more cost effective and less prone to error. The largest benefit will be seen in deliveries to remote, rural areas where the cost of single delivery by motor vehicle compared to the product being delivered, is quite high. Drones will also add to security and reduce the damage to the product as there is no human interaction involved in carrying the product.
  4. Self driving vehicles/Smart Vehicles: While self driving vehicles are yet to arrive, they are just around the corner. There is little doubt about the benefits they will offer. Benefits such as increased overall speed of delivery (with no mandatory breaks for drivers), increased reliability and efficiency of the vehicle will have positive changes to the supply chain and logistics. For example, the JIT manufacturing may get a whole new meaning. Smart vehicles are already here and are being used by logistics providers. Technologies such as tyre pressure sensors help the company in determining the fuel efficiency of the vehicle and make necessary adjustments not only to the load and vehicle but also to their cost calculations. GPS tracking provides exact location of the trucks and estimated time to reach the pickup location, providing the time remaining to have their shipment ready at the loading bay.
  5. Internet of Things (IoT): with IoT everything connects to everything. That’s what internet of things promises to be. In fact Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is where the excitement for businesses is high. Through simple IoT, the customer’s equipment places an order, which runs down the chain and enter manufacturer’s system. The system automatically checks for inventory , which is all tracked and verified by RFID and places the order for components that are not available in inventory. It gets the expected delivery date of these sub components for vendors, calculates the production times and delivery times and gives a rather accurate date of delivery to customer. The system schedules the production run and schedules the vehicles for delivery, which are tracked by GPS. If there is delay in arrival of components, the system triggers the alarm to the human user and to the vendor. All the while, the product is tracked and traced using RFID and order status updated to the customer, along with exact location of the product, if required. Once on board the truck, again exact location of the delivery is tracked. The traffic delays, if any, are adjust in delivery schedule and made available to the customer on his mobile phone. Get the picture?
  6. Big Data: With so much tracking, tracing and sensing, there will be a huge amount of data available for business scientist to play and come up with better solutions to business problems. Two key areas where this huge amount of data will be analyzed and used in business are maintenance and business analytics.
    1. Predictive maintenance. With so much of data available from the sensors, it will be possible to predict the time and point of failure of machine. The machine learning algorithms are already developed to use the sensor data and predict when the machine or component will fail. Add this with IoT, when the system will order the component just before its predicted failure, so that it is available just when the machine fails. This will reduce the machine downtime to bare minimum time required for replacement, while extracting maximum value from the failing component.
    2. When does the business expect large order volumes? What are the main causes of returns? Which warehouse gets most returns? Which shipper provides best value for every dollar of product delivered? These just few basic questions that big data can answer. Add to this all the information from social media, which is unstructured and advancements in machine learning and cognitive analytics. Pretty soon, you will be asking your computer “how much of my product will sell during this Christmas” and it will reply with a number with high level of confidence. It will speak to you just like Siri does today.

We have just touched upon a few technologies that will change the game when it comes to business of manufacturing and logistics. There are more technologies that will continue to deliver efficiencies and cost savings. The technology assisted future of business world looks very different and very exciting.