Ecommerce Warehouse

Quick Fixes for Your Biggest Shipping and Fulfilment Problems

Shipping and fulfilment seem easy. All you need to do is stick a label on the ordered product and hand it over to the shipper. It should it delivered to your customer, and world is a happy place. But anyone who has spent any time in the industry knows that it’s anything but that simple. It is one of the key components in the value chain and often can be a nightmare to manage. Imagine thousand of product going out in thousands of different orders in as many combinations, to thousands of locations with multiple shippers. Items will be out of stock, damaged, delayed, returned, sent to wrong addresses and sometimes, despite the best efforts not sent at all. The last one will do most damage to retailer’s reputation especially if he is new to business or has a small business. But all these problems can be handled. Let’s have a look at some of the top issues online businesses have with fulfilment.

 

 

  1. International Fulfilment: With internet the reach of businesses has crossed all oceans. It’s easier than ever before to get an order from across the border. But delivering your product across the border is not as simple as just packing and shipping. International deliveries involve tons of paperwork and rules that must be complied with. There are taxes and customs to be taken care of, which may be different for each country that you ship to. You need to account for extra time taken at the ports, customs and by other government agencies, both, foreign and domestic. But all is not lost. Build a repository of shippers for your most shipped to countries. These shippers should have experience in handling all the paperwork, taxes, customs and should be able to tell you the total cost and times involved, based on the product category. They also should be networked in those agencies and countries that can be leveraged, should a shipment be stuck somewhere. Use their services instead of handling everything on your own. They may charge you a little more for this, but it will save yourself tons of hassle.

 

  1. If you are shipping international, there is a very high likely hood that your product will be shipped in container, on a ship along with many other products, stacked somewhere in between them. This requires extra care while packing. Especially if you need to use ‘freight shipping’. You need to protect your product from damages and delayed shipping. Use durable packing material. This is needed so that products can handle extra stress put on it during international transport through sea. Remember, your box may not end up on the top of the stack and there’s nothing you can do about it. So make your packing extra strong. Use bubble wrap to fill up empty spaces and provide some cushion. Use proper pallets. You shipment should not exceed the weight restrictions of your pallet. The boxes should not be stacked beyond the edge of pallet. Use load protectors to prevent damage from chains, straps and other pallets. Remember, any money you spend on packing, adds to your reputation when product reaches the customer in mint condition, and it has come from abroad!
  2. Customer Trust: This one is a key success factor. If they trust you, they will come back to you and bring their friends and family along. To gain trust, you must reduce errors. Most errors can be attributed to administrative errors. These errors are spread along the supply chain. Wrong product, wrong order, wrong address, wrong delivery (missed delivery time) etc are most common. The error could be small, but may have a large impact. You made a promise to the customer about what he wanted, where he wanted and when he wanted. If you don’t deliver on it, you lose his trust, and potentially the customer too. Train your staff. Make them understand the true cost of errors. Let them understand how a small error can lead to losing customers and harm image of the company. Invest in automation and integrated systems. Correct use of technology can reduce a lot of errors. When the customer calls, be polite. Listen to him. He is calling because he has a problem. The problem is related to your product. Remember, you need the customer while he always has other options (your competitors) to go to.
  3. Customer communication: Once you have received the order, the customer expects the delivery on the right time. But that may be a few days away. Meanwhile, you are working on getting the product from manufacturing, assembling the order, packing the product, shipping and what not to ensure that customer has the delivery when promised. But customer has no communication about it. You should update the customer about status of his order at regular intervals. It could be periodic, or when the order crosses a stage. This is true especially during shipment. Customers like to track their orders. Provide them with tracking number. Make sure that correct shipment tracking code, provided by the shipper, is provided to correct customer. Wrong tracking codes create a lot of confusion when there shouldn’t be one. Test the code before you send it to the customer. It’s a simple thing, just check if the code shows the right address and right customer name.
  4. Stock management: You put up a product on your web store and promised delivery by certain date. You got the order, only to find out that product is out of stock. That is a very tricky situation to be in. Always ensure that you have adequate inventory for each product that you carry. Invest in a good inventory tracking system and automatic ordering system. Integrate your order acceptance system with inventory management system. If an item is not there in the inventory, the order should not be accepted, or at least inform the customer that order will be delayed.
  5. Communication with suppliers: Establish automatic communication lines with your suppliers. The product should be re ordered automatically when the stock quantity falls below a certain level. This is basic. However, it should be done automatically. Your supplier should be able to sense the speed at which your orders are moving and when you will need a refill, and be ready with a refill. Ideally you should never be out of stock for any item.

 

Establishing a fulfilment process with zero errors is impossible. However with careful planning and investment in technology and training, these errors can be reduced to a great extent. In a business world where 99.99% efficiency is not good enough, it is imperative that your processes are well designed to absorb errors before they reach the customer.

 

 

KPI for Warehouse

Why Are KPIs Important in Warehousing & Fulfillment?

Warehouse business is a back-end operations business. You don’t control sales, only deliveries. The efficiency of the operations is the key to extracting maximum profits from a warehouse. So you need to know that you are getting maximum return on your investment in this business, just like any other business. But since most of it is a fixed model, B2B business with caveats of B2C (retail deliveries), you need to understand and measure the nitty gritty of the warehouse operations and fine tune them. That’s where the KPI or Key Performance Indicators come in.

A right det of KPIs tells you the detailed performance of your warehouse. Couple it with past indicators, your forecast of business growth and you can figure out where you are heading in future. For example if you are already at maximum space utilization, you cannot expand. A client whose business is growing very fast will need more space. If you can not offer him more space, he will go to someone who has more space. That will reduce you space utilization and also your revenue. Not to mention, you now need to get your sales to run and find a client who can utilize the now freed up space. So while on the face of it a full utilization of warehouse space sounds good, it is not good for a growing business. That is why, it is not only important to have the right KPI, but you also needs to set the right standards for those KPIs. Standards should be the ones that work for you. (Is 80% space utilization good for you, or you prefer 95%?)

Similarly, KPI also help you in benchmarking. benchmarking tells you how good you are doing as compared to others in the same industry. If your KPI is below the industry standard, that means you are not utilizing your warehouse to the best possible extent. You might be making money, but lower KPI means that you are leaving money on the table. You could get more profits by improving those KPIs. On the other hand if you are beating industry KPI but still not making money, something else is wrong somewhere. A well designed set of KPI itself would direct you to where to look. If you are beating the KPI and making money, it looks like a good sign. But it can also mean you are stretching yourself. If you are extracting higher productivity from your machines and spending less on maintenance, you might have to bear a high depreciation and replace the machines faster. If your order cycle time is very less, you might not have any contingency built into the process. That is risky.

Whether you want to stay with the industry benchmarks or set your own benchmark standards, is entirely up to you. While industry benchmarks are there for a good reason, (most of the industry works at those levels) you don’t have to be bound by them. Your KPIs will vary depending on your niche value proposition and your operating model. For example if you specialize in handling delicate products that need more space for storage, your floor utilization will be lower. Also, the KPIs for 2PL warehouse will be very different from the KPIs for 3PL warehouse.

The Supply Chain Operational Reference Model (the SCOR Model), created by Supply Chain Council, provides for over 200 KPIs for monitoring the overall performance of a supply chain. These are broken into various levels to get more granular picture of the business. Some of these could be used for measuring performance of a warehouse as well. Research them to identify which one are suitable for you. Now that we understand what KPIs means and why we should measure them, let’s look at some of the key KPIs for warehousing business.

The main KPIs for a warehouse should focus on Receiving, put away, storage, pick and pack and shipping.

Inventory Accuracy: What is the accuracy of the workers when preparing the product (or order). It is measured by taking the headcount of the items in the stock and comparing it with what’s recorded in the books. This one has direct impact on your working capital and order fulfilment capacity.

Perfect Order Rate: This measures the number of orders shipped to the customer without any incident. The incident could be damaged goods, inaccurate orders, late shipment etc. Needless to say, this one tells you how well is your warehouse operating where it matters the most, the final fulfilment of order, shipped out of the warehouse.

Productivity: This measure tells how many orders are ready to be picked up by the shipper, per hour. Depending on your warehouse business model, it could the number of orders per hour, or total line items per house or it could be the total dollar value of the orders per hour.

Equipment utilization: This one tells about how well your equipment is being utilized. Underutilization of the equipment means you should stretch it more and achieve more. Overutilization mean higher maintenance and replacement costs. Idle equipment depreciates without giving any return. Over utilized equipment can lead to breakdowns and stop the whole chain, leading to higher losses. Your equipment must be running at the optimum rated utilization to extract maximum value from it.

Cycle time: This KPI measures the total time taken since the material came in as inventory and was picked up by the shipper for delivery, as a part of the order. The shorter the cycle time, the lesser the money tied up in working capital. An end to end cycle time would include the transit and transportation time taken by the shippers for the final delivery to the customer’s premises.

Average cost per order: This KPI measures how much are you spending in running the warehouse. It is calculated as total orders fulfilled divided by the total cost incurred for the warehousing operations. The costs include the manpower costs, cost of rejects and returns absorbed by warehouse, cost of damaged products that are absorbed by warehouse, variable costs for running the warehouse (utilities, taxes, rents, insurance,), equipment cost (consumables and depreciation for large equipment) and all other costs. This should be always be as low as possible, as it eats straight into your profits.

There are many other KPI that you can measure to understand the efficiency of your warehouse operations. The finer the KPI, the deeper the control it can provide. However, at a bare minimum, you must keep an eye out for the top line (revenue), the bottom line (profits) and ROI (return on Investment).