6 Ways to Improve, Efficiency, Speed, and Accuracy in Your Warehouse

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Every warehouse mistake is a chance to lose a customer, while every improvement is a way to earn repeat business while reducing operational expenses. So, it’s no wonder that companies are always looking for methods to improve efficiency, speed, and accuracy in their warehouses and fulfillment. Thankfully, most warehouse operations are full of opportunities to improve, and we’ll look at a few that are easy to implement for your people, locations, equipment, and policies.

  1. Match practices to your growth

Warehouse practices often need to change as product lines expand, space grows, and your order volume increases. One of the most important considerations — especially from a speed, efficiency, and accuracy standpoint — is how you pick and pack orders. There are multiple pick and pack methods to consider, and some will work better for you based on your layout, warehouse size, and the technology you use.

Here’s a look at four standard methods and where they work well:

  • Piece picking: One person picks every item for an order and then brings them all to the packing station. This is useful in smaller warehouses or if you’re only picking a few orders each day.
  • Batch picking: Pickers will pick SKUs for batches of orders simultaneously, trying to reduce how often people walk back and forth. When you have a high volume of orders, this can speed up the process by using software to generate the most efficient routes and order combinations.
  • Zone picking: Substantial operations will often have pickers stationed in specific zones of a warehouse. These pickers will grab items when something is ordered from their zone. Products are handed off to the next zone, moving from the furthest to those closest to the packing station. It’s very complex but minimizes walking and can make the most of the conveyor systems you have.
  • Wave picking: This method combines batch and zone picking to have zone-based workers pick products for batches of orders and then move everything to the next zone. To be successful, you need advanced and intelligent systems to sort products as they move plus conveyors or automated platforms to move high volumes of products daily.
  1. Prioritize tech that checks your work

Warehouses and fulfillment operations live and die by metrics. One of the most important is the mis-pick rate, especially if the warehouse lacks other verification before packing. When mis-picks increase, costs can rise exponentially. You’re potentially paying for additional shipping twice (return and replacement), losing products that expire or can’t be returned, and increased labor for returns processing.

Tackle mis-picks by reviewing your warehouse processes and the technology you use for pickers in a hurry. Adopting systems that require multiple barcode scans during the pick and process helps you avoid common concerns. Their goal is to identify mistakes before something is packed and shipped while not getting in the way of speed.

Accuracy-focused tech can also overcome some common warehouse issues. Storing large shirts next to medium ones is less of an issue when a quick scan verifies that the correct item was picked. It’ll also help your team avoid compounding errors when something is put on the shelf incorrectly. Look for tech that integrates with your existing barcode scanners or has a phone app, plus includes a final scan, and check at the packing station itself.

  1. Ask partners, AI for help

Warehouse managers, especially those who’ve worked through multiple growth phases, have a wealth of information available to assist current operations. So, it can be tempting to rely solely on your team to keep operations running smoothly. However, there are some opportunities for improving speed and accuracy that escape one individual or team.

When you have good relationships with supply chain partners, ask them about best practices. Engage with leaders in your industry to see if there’s something you’ve missed that can protect people, products, or efficiency. There might be new analytics, forecast methods, or slotting techniques since you’ve last checked.

Another place many warehouses can find help is their existing tech stack. Are there features you’re not using or only used once? Many new inventory and warehouse systems can help you optimize SKU placement for the most efficient picking. Run these tools regularly. If you don’t have access to that full AI capability, use current reports to determine the most commonly purchased items and move those closer to your packing stations.

  1. Build room for seasonality

Here’s a caveat to what we just mentioned — it takes time to move goods around your warehouse. If your top-sellers change regularly or you have other seasonal volumes, consider creating a separate space for these items. That shelf space can be where you regularly focus on moving and replacing goods.

Slotting here allows you to speed up seasonal-order fulfillment while not asking a warehouse system to reorganize your entire inventory. Thankfully, most of today’s warehouse management tools make this easy, and your past sales data lets you know which products to select. Dedicated space also simplifies planning and updates within your system, ensuring pick orders are always accurate.

A final efficiency bump you can achieve here is to help marketing, sales, and the warehouse communicate. Say your company plans on promoting a specific product heavily during the year-end holidays. Telling this to the warehouse allows them to stage these goods better for faster pick-and-pack. If you’re combining items through a sale, but not fully kitting them together, the warehouse can move these SKUs closer together to reduce walk distance for any orders, too. Work together, and you’ll work smarter.

  1. Embrace preventative measures

Accidents are some of the biggest concerns for any warehouse. Thankfully, not all of them cause harm to your team. However, even those “safe” accidents can cause significant delays to inbound and outbound efforts. Damaged products create shrinkage that you’ve got to replace to meet orders. The goal is to protect your people and operations by being proactive.

While not every accident can be avoided, there are steps you can take to prevent them. Look for proactive and preventative measures in every warehouse process. That can start with simple maintenance of equipment, especially hand carts and forklifts. Focus on your docks and doors, too. Adding seals and shelters can keep the area dry and clean, minimizing slips, trips, and equipment accidents.

Make safety a team effort, with crew responsibilities for picking up and removing obstructions or checking that mirrors make it easy to see around corners. Every accident you eliminate creates a safer workplace and more efficient operations. Preventative measures are worth it every single time.

  1. Keep training ongoing

We’d wager that every experienced warehouse and IT team member has lived through a practice, procedure, or tech update that just didn’t stick. These temporary solutions either didn’t fix a problem or weren’t properly reinforced so people went back to the old way of doing things. That’s a big issue, not only from a revenue standpoint but also potential losses to accuracy and efficiency.

When you identify a way to improve operations, create a recurring training program to ensure you achieve those possible gains. That training impacts everyone that touches the warehouse effort, including those sales and marketing teams mentioned in number four. Train warehouse teams on how to use the new tech or process, the supporting cast on how to communicate, and management on how to verify new processes are being followed.

A proper change management approach gives your team its best chance at turning potential gains into reality. Don’t stop after you identify an opportunity. Work through it until the change becomes second nature, and your gains become a permanent part of the warehouse.

Jake Rheude

About the Author

Jake Rheude is the Director of Marketing for Red Stag Fulfillment, an ecommerce fulfillment warehouse that was born out of ecommerce. He has years of experience in ecommerce and business development. In his free time, Jake enjoys reading about business and sharing his own experience with others.