Meeting Direct-to-Customer Order Fulfillment Demands

The consumer appetite for next-day and same-day order fulfillment can stretch DCs to their limits. DCs with processes and procedures in place to drive efficiency for wave-based batch picking throughput must address new challenges presented by direct-to-consumer (DTC) and ecommerce orders. With order streaming, DCs can adapt their processes, maximize usage of equipment they already own and become more responsive to direct-to-customer order fulfillment demands.

Digital and Consumer Behavior Driving Change

Shoppers have grown accustomed to ordering from anywhere and expect stock to arrive at their door when they want it – which can be as quickly as the same day. Digital’s effects on commerce compound this issue. Online orders can spike without notice when an item trends on social media or when an email coupon leads to higher-than-anticipated volume.

In response to these trends, retailers can take some steps to make better use of equipment and resources with an approach referred to as order streaming. It can boost productivity and make DCs more agile when it comes to one-off and priority orders.

Capitalizing on Wave’s Strengths 

Wave-based fulfillment remains a time-tested approach in warehouses, especially in traditional retail and wholesale environments. Its strength stems from the efficiency of batch picking and replenishment.

But wave-based fulfillment presents some challenges when DTC orders are added to the mix. This is because a traditional wave-based approach is not tuned for single order throughput efficiency. It has limited capabilities for synchronizing and balancing variable workloads.

Enter Order Streaming

These challenges have given rise to order streaming. Order streaming addresses complex pick sequencing issues found in high-velocity ecommerce warehouses or DCs purpose built for ecommerce fulfillment. Order streaming smooths out labor peaks and valleys and reduces the time it takes between order capture and order fulfillment.

How Order Streaming Works

Ecommerce warehouses need to be able to handle individual orders quickly and efficiently, often dealing with VIP customers as well. Order streaming coordinates and synchronizes the work, or pick tasks, with the availability of the sorter and enables the system to adjust to changing conditions in the warehouse.

This model works well for those VIP orders, for example, that represent an urgent request in the system. This “hot order” concept allows items to be “stolen” from an in-progress task and inserted into the high priority hot order all the way to order packing. The order that the inventory was stolen from is placed into the pool for later fulfillment.

Order streaming leverages wave-based fulfillment’s strengths – stemming from batch efficiency — while optimizing processes for better single order throughput. It also offers flexibility to prioritize the most important orders at any given time. This process can also insert a priority item into a concurrent picking session.

The benefits of order streaming cascade through multiple areas and can help DCs realize benefits like increased packing efficiency, improvement in sorter utilization and a boost in overall order fulfillment capacity. It’s a boon to shippers that lack the extra space or budget to quickly react to spikes in demand.

A hybrid approach using both wave-based order fulfillment and order streaming brings together the best aspects of both approaches for filling DTC orders.

Let Consumer Expectations Be Your Guide

Traditional retail, wholesalers and DTC DCs have requirements that have led to several approaches to fulfillment. Changing consumer expectations and shopping behaviors have pushed the industry to innovate and develop different, often complementary, strategies that solve the challenges of today.

Order streaming is one such innovation. For those DCs needing solutions that handle order variability, it is a strategy worth considering.

Adam Kline is director of product management at Manhattan Associates

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