5 Common Warehouse Challenges (and the Solutions)
In an ideal world, your warehouse would run like a well-orchestrated dance. Inventory would flow without interruption, both into stock and out to customers—with perfect accuracy, of course. No delays, no bottlenecks, and definitely no missing products.
However, reality looks a little different (especially in a manual, traditional warehouse). We’ve identified some of today’s most common warehouse challenges, not only to highlight issues that can hold your business back, but also to reveal alternative ways forward.
1. Inefficient use of space.
Traditional warehouses store more air than inventory. Aisles and shelving barely fill out the cavernous structures and tall ceilings of warehouses, leaving massive amounts of wasted space. Poor layouts and inefficient designs create challenges in inventory management, and require unnecessary time to search for items. And the more time a picker spends in finding and retrieving a product, the slower they will be in fulfilling an order.
Solving this issue isn’t always straightforward. You can move to a smaller warehouse, if you find that you’re not using your current space to full capacity. You can also maximize space usage by extending racks vertically, installing mezzanines, or minimizing space between aisles. Or, you can explore new warehouse solutions that involve automation, such as ASRS systems that bring products to workers, rather than requiring them to hunt inventory down.
2. Inventory mismanagement.
Manual record keeping is notoriously inaccurate. When you require workers to track and trace goods by hand, the slightest error can cause a ripple effect that translates to losses for your business. Inaccuracies in inventory are usually due to ineffective workflows that require an excess of physical attention and reliance on human accuracy—for instance, knowing the correct location of a product, and matching products to the correct SKU.
Rather than depending on manual systems to track inventory, consider software and tech solutions that provide both higher accuracy and deeper insights into key metrics. With greater oversight, you’re better able to forecast what inventory you need, where it should be stocked in your warehouse, and when spikes in sales are likely to occur.
3. Poorly planned picking processes.
Perfecting your picking process is the key to fast order fulfillment. In fact, issues in picking are the roots to some of the biggest challenges in sustaining an ecommerce business today, because excess time spent picking has greater consequences such as poor customer retention. If picking isn’t efficient, too much time is wasted in fulfilling one single order. And if picking isn’t accurate, it leads to inventory issues that can cause further order delays.
Much of the issues that plague picking processes stem from the fact that it takes a lot of time for a worker to move through large warehouse spaces and find items. So, by optimizing your layout via slotting techniques, and placing high-demand inventory at easy access, you can minimize travel and time wastage. You can also leverage warehouse automation solutions that actually bring goods to workers (G2P), for a real boost in speed and efficiency.
4. High customer expectations based on larger competitors, such as Amazon.
Vast audiences are used to the lightning quick delivery offered by industry giants such as Amazon. More and more customers demand speed. However, the majority of ecommerce business, particularly SMBs, are running order fulfillment an average of 2.5 days slower than Amazon.
How can smaller businesses compete? There’s a few solutions that we’ve seen. Many retailers are cooperating to pool resources, helping to collectively achieve better economies of scale through more buildings and fuller trucks. Businesses can also plan ahead to make sure inventory is in the optimal location when orders come in—whether through building multiple sites or leveraging in-store inventory. SMBs can also choose direct injection shipping to keep costs down and stretch shipping cut-off times. By giving carriers the packages at their hubs, or covering more of the distance themselves, businesses enable shorter delivery times for customers eager to receive their orders.
5. Inefficient order management.
These days, it’s not uncommon for businesses to sell their products on multiple platforms, from social channels to a brick-and-mortar location. Orders can come in from the brand’s main website, ecommerce portals such as Garmentory, and B2B sources. For SMBs with an omnichannel sales funnel, managing customer orders becomes both more complex and more challenging.
If these processes aren’t streamlined, they lead to inaccuracies in order fulfillment and inventory. To solve this issue, you need to create an effective, holistic system of communication that connects workers, data, and departments across your business. This can come from cloud-based software solutions, warehouse automation paired with effective warehouse management systems, or even encouraging transparency among your team.
There’s not always a single solution to the challenges that businesses face in their warehouses. However, we’ve come up with one that solves nearly all of them. Our cube-based warehouse automation system eliminates most of the inefficiencies that plague SMBs, from space usage, to picking accuracy, to inventory management. Contact our team if you’re currently facing these common issues, and are interested in setting your warehouse to run in a well-orchestrated dance of efficiency—or better yet, like a well-oiled machine.