Because it is the last link in the supply chain, and in many cases, the only direct contact with the end customers, the order fulfillment process can make or break your reputation as a customer-focused provider. If an order is wrong, damaged or late, the customer experience will suffer. But when customers receive their orders on time, in good condition, and the fulfillment center is responsive, you’ll create a strong customer relationship.
Many options exist in the marketplace for high-tech solutions that reduce or nearly minimize errors in the fulfillment process, including pick-to-light systems, voice-automated picking systems and even fully automated robotic picking systems. But these solutions can be expensive and are therefore not financially justifiable for small volume or highly variable fulfillment operations. So what’s a small guy to do? The following will help keep you focused on the fundamentals.
Thorough part number identification
A good place to start is insuring that all product received into your warehouse is properly identified and labeled with a unique part number. Not only can poor product labeling result in mispicks, but it also results in inefficiencies and lost time as employees spend time researching parts rather than filling orders.
Smart sorting of orders can be another useful method of reducing pick errors. Often times the 80-20 rule will apply, and the majority of orders will look very similar, if not identical. If feasible, you can presort orders into groups of like kind so that orders calling for the same product are filled together. Not only does this increase the efficiency with which orders are filled, but also keeps the picker focused on one type of order at a time.
Careful staging of product
It goes without saying that the less travel time by an order picker, the better; So you should store orders as close as possible to the pick/pack area to minimize travel time as the order picker fills orders. But when picking similar items that might be prone to pick errors (for instance, multiple colors of the same item) make sure you don’t stage easily confused products next to each other. Furthermore, it might prove beneficial to sort orders as indicated above, and then stage only one product at a time, removing easily confused products from the pick area altogether.
Where possible, use visual aids to bring attention to specific requirements of the order. For instance, if you offer a particular product in either green or red, highlighting the product number in the appropriate color while presorting orders provides an additional visual indicator for the order picker. Also, any orders calling for special treatment (special shipping instructions, collateral material, etc.) can be highlighted as well.
Sure, spending a million dollars on a high-tech warehouse system sounds impressive, but is it practical? Take a close look at the fundamentals. Focus on these basics first, and watch your order accuracy climb!
Gary Patterson is president of Tagg Logistics
This was published in 2008 and is frequently updated