In the last few years we have seen a huge shift in consumer demand which has driven and continues to drive change throughout the entire supply chain. The way in which retailers are work with their legacy Warehouse Management Systems (WMS) has changed significantly.
The speed of change within the industry means that overhauling an entire WMS isn’t always going to be the most viable option - and not just because of cost. As Sébastien Sliski, General Manager Supply Chain Solutions at Zetes, explains, retailers are now looking to optimise their processes and this includes using an assortment of order picking solutions to enable them to fulfil the increasingly more complex orders within one single warehouse.
With increasing consumer demand for a truly omni-channel experience, retailers are having to be innovative; finding more efficient and cost effective ways of fulfilling orders that are far more complex than the traditional warehouse and Warehouse Management System’s (WMS) are used to handling.
Historically, the trend has been for larger retailers to focus on hypermarket and supermarket style stores – with a centralised warehouse and one picking process in place. Essentially, a one size fits all solution which allowed the warehouse to push stock to the store. Today, the supply chain is demand driven, with stores pulling stock that is in high demand and consumers are ordering what they need directly from the warehouse. This ’omni-channel effect’ is bringing a lot of different challenges into the warehouse and the orders aren’t as straightforward as they used to be.
Complicated orders aren’t the only things that are creating complexities within the order preparation operation; it’s also the types of store. Large retailers are now looking at having different types of store front – it’s possible that one retailer can now have an online store, a hypermarket, a supermarket and several convenience stores. The main take-away from these different kinds of store is that they aren’t ordering the same products and moreover, they aren’t ordering the same quantities. With more and more retailers working hard to provide an omni-channel experience for an ever-demanding consumer, what we’re now seeing is a single warehouse undertaking picking operations in three or four different ways.
In order to adopt this new way of working and to bring more innovative order picking solutions to the warehouse, many retailers may firstly try looking at upgrading the WMS. This can prove time consuming and costly – and in most cases, by the time they have implemented and got the ‘new’ technology up and running, they already need to be using something else, whether it’s Voice Picking, Pick-to-light or Artificial Intelligence (AI).
Take a retailer who has chosen to invest in an automated warehouse, as an example. Before installing the technology they’ll need to analyse order volumes. A warehouse may currently deal with 40,000 boxes and this is what they will base the automation on. But, what if they needed to move 60,000 boxes tomorrow? Quite simply, the warehouse wouldn’t be able to cope. Equally if they were to over-value and input 60,000 boxes and then it averaged out at 45,000, this would result in an investment issue. Undoubtedly, there is a space for more agile solutions that are sustainable and more importantly scalable.
Before a retailer commits to an automated warehouse there are things that can be looked at in order to build ‘best of class’ picking operations and these can include voice for those orders with limited travel time, but also, Pick to Light, which is good for slow moving orders. A single warehouse could also have Pick-to-Cart and vision technology to do things that historically may have been done with handheld devices. Creating advanced functionalities within legacy WMS solutions with a pick and mix of three or four process driven solutions allows retailers to unlock agility within their supply chain. Ultimately, meaning that if a more efficient technology became available tomorrow they would be capable of introducing it without overhauling their entire WMS.
Technology itself is very rarely agile; it’s the processes and systems in place which will allow for the required flexibility within the supply chain. If the right investment is made in the beginning and agile processes are created, introducing new and innovative technology should be easy. It is all well and good wanting to use the latest technology but, what’s great for today isn’t always going to be good for tomorrow.
When it comes to staying competitive retailers need to examine where small efficiencies can be made to allow them be successful in fulfilling a customer’s order. The best way to do this is to recognise that their choice in an order picking solution cannot be driven (and/or constrained) by their chosen technology, but, that the technology should enable them to carry out their processes.