Managing high demand and keeping the customer satisfied around Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Christmas, or any other peak time of year, can be a particularly stressful time for e-commerce and multichannel retailers.
And let’s not forget the warehouse personnel, the pickers, packers and despatchers who need increasing agility to keep in step with peaks either deliberately triggered by Marketing, or when reacting to seasonal demand from consumers. In the end, it is they who must ensure the right items are picked and shipped on time.
Fortunately SaaS and Android are combining to bring about a perfect storm in e-commerce and multichannel retailing. They are colluding to transform the efficiency of the vital warehouse fulfilment operations which must take place between the point of order and final delivery.
For many retailers, this is not before time. Constrained by the capabilities and costs of running legacy on premise warehouse management and fulfilment (WMS) systems, originally designed for a pre-ecommerce world, many are struggling to profitably scale their ecommerce operations. Unable to cope with the pace and complexities of e-commerce retailing or integrate with their other third party software systems, these inflexible legacy WMS platforms are putting retail businesses at increased risk.
Not only from the over- or under-selling of advertised stock items by not having clear up to the second views of their inventory. They are also too inefficient at accommodating growing customer expectations for greater fulfilment accuracy, later order cut off times for next and same day deliveries, and smoother returns management.
Call in the SaaS
While already proven in several other industry sectors, SaaS as a delivery model is finally coming of age in retailer warehouses. According to Forrester Research, e-commerce SaaS spending will nearly double in the U.S. by 2019. Retailers, including those exclusively online, are shifting from traditional legacy solutions in their warehouses to nimble and scalable platforms that can help them make the running of warehouse operations smoother.
This growing rate of adoption is being helped along by the increasing reliability of wireless internet, the availability of 4G, and in some cases, offline operating modes. These additional ‘comforts’ are providing extra peace of mind to those businesses still a little wary of business continuity issues when it comes to online Cloud-based systems.
SaaS is therefore making WMS more accessible and affordable to retailers which hitherto have made do with ‘pen and paper’ warehouse systems, the WMS modules of their Accounting/ERP software, or remained trapped within the costs and inflexibility of legacy WMS IT systems.
With these positive developments, the business benefits of a subscription-based SaaS software delivery model versus outright purchase, or re-engineering existing legacy systems, are being swiftly recognised. Among them, lower total cost of ownership, rapid deployment, scalability, software maintenance and updates performed remotely, minimal reliance on in-house IT staff - less risk altogether.
At the same time, with the end in sight for Windows Mobile and Windows C/E and the growing popularity of the Android operating system, a new breed of mobile-centric WMS systems is emerging.
Putting powerful WMS at the fingertips of operatives, supervisors and managers gives greater agility by placing them ‘at the point of activity’. Scanning, Picking, Packing and Shipping are prime examples. This is enabling faster and more accurate decision making by delivering live to the second inventory status, as well as allowing the selling of goods that have still to be stored away. Further benefits address the need for greater accuracy in shipping, increased productivity, faster fulfilment turnaround, and the maximising of sales opportunities.
Enhanced warehouse operative mobility also contributes to job satisfaction and optimised staffing levels, leading to a reduction in staff turnover and the incurring of unnecessary labour costs.
In addition to offering simplified, lower cost deployment and greater mobility, some of the new generation of WMS systems are easier to integrate with existing third party software. This means retailers can bring all their technology under one manageable system that is cost effective, agile and can scale.
It is all too easy for retailers to get bogged down with a lengthy list of tech specifications in order to run their warehouse operations. Each piece of tech is introduced into the warehouse eco-system should positively impact the bottom line so carefully evaluating each piece of tech and what it will do for the business and the likely ROI is essential when implementing any new platform.
Below are just some of the ways a modern WMS can work alongside retailers’ existing technology:
Connect to your e-commerce platform: Ensure the systems you have in place now - and ones that you might have in place in the future - integrate with your WMS is key. It enables real-time inventory updates, eliminates overselling, offers live despatch confirmations and tracking, and ultimately helps increase your bottom line.
Manage your sales channels: Managing inventory can be very time consuming, and even more so if you have to do it over several marketplaces. Having a WMS that can integrate with all your marketplaces can reduce the logistical challenges that this presents.
Shipping labels: On demand printing of shipping labels so you can pack and despatch quickly is essential. Choosing a WMS that integrates with delivery management systems - or lets you write your own delivery management system integrations - will fulfil this requirement, allowing you to streamline your packing and shipping process.
Retail software: Having up to date inventory data and being able to share that with every arm of your business is important. It means that you aren’t selling items that are out of stock and lets you know exactly what you have across your business and where. A WMS that integrates with these systems will make sure that you know exactly how much inventory you have or where you may need to replenish.
ERP: Some WMS integrate with Enterprise Resource Planning solutions, some of which have limited order functionality. By combining an ERP with a WMS you can automate the goods inbound process and check purchases against what has been received.
Accounting: There is only so much accounting software can do when you start scaling your business beyond the magic 200-500 orders per day mark. By implementing a WMS, your accounting software can work alongside your WMS to reduce the volume of transactions you run through it.
In summary, SaaS and Android are finally ringing the changes in WMS which is signalling the end of an era previously dominated by ageing, clunky and costly legacy WMS systems. The revolution has already begun, with e-commerce retail warehouses leading the charge. Warehouses of all descriptions will not be far behind them.
Jonathan Bellwood, founder and CEO of Peoplevox
Image source: Shutterstock/Kaspars Grinvalds