Retailers have long been aware that strategic placement of merchandise in stores can boost sales and create efficiencies for the workforce, and customers like shopper A. But as all-channel shoppers like shopper B and C grow in numbers, many retailers are replicating these store practices in their warehouses to try and reap similar benefits. To meet the inventory accuracy, resource management, customer service and information management demands of modern retail, businesses must evolve their warehouse operations. Using the right approach and technology will enable retailers to achieve just this.
1. Workforce Management
Currently, engineered workforce management standards are not widely used in warehouses or distribution centres. Research shows that the average warehouse operating without formal labour management capabilities operates at about 65-70% of its total efficiency. This means that there is a possibility for warehouse managers to improve workforce productivity by 30-35%, without stretching capacity.
Unlike most automated systems in the warehouse, workforce management technology does not increase productivity itself. Instead, it helps encourage a more productive working environment; the real productivity gains come from getting the workforce performing the right tasks in the right way. For example: if a retailer has 100 workers in a warehouse, each worker has a different way in which they perform tasks. The probability that all of them are performing each task in the most efficient way is very low.
Operational process design and the development of methods and standards is not something a warehouse management system will calculate; technology can accomplish the “right tasks” part, but getting the workforce to perform their tasks properly is more complex. It requires accurate process design, the development of efficient methods, as well as achievable working standards that can be measured. By studying operational processes, warehouse equipment and the environment of the warehouse, retailers can establish the most efficient processes around each task. Furthermore, deploying labour management consultants’ processes alongside adequate training and change management procedures will make it possible for retailers to reach maximum workforce productivity.
2. Task Interleaving
Retailers that have implemented engineered labour management standards in the warehouse will make great strides in improving productivity. However, adding a second practice, such as task interleaving, can further improve this by extending the use of accurate workforce data. Many warehouse managers still use paper-based approaches to assign job tasks, which results in workers wasting time when traveling back and forth from a central location to pick up their next assignment. But a modern approach to task interleaving can eradicate this time wastage by empowering workers to be immediately notified of their next assignment based on priorities, proximity and their qualifications via a mobile device.
For example: an unoccupied forklift driver whose primary role it is to replenish a forward pick area from bulk storage can now be directed to other tasks during busy periods. In this case, he has been informed to pick a nearby pallet and take it to a loading dock for a delivery order of an in-demand clothing item. Using technology to prioritise capacity in this way will ensure that orders can always be fulfilled and delivered on time, even during periods of intense demand.
Retailer warehouse managers that allow workers to pick multiple orders at the same time or in “waves” can further help to reduce the travel and order cycle times.
3. Pickface Slotting
Adding pickface slotting is the final step to achieving warehouse operations fit for the all-channel retail world. Think of how you organise things at home; you