These days, customer orders can hit a warehouse from any direction. It doesn’t matter whether a company runs a B2C or B2B operation; the new rules of e-commerce have changed the distribution industry forever.
With customers purchasing across multiple channels including brick and mortar stores, online, over the phone, via mobile apps and direct from the warehouse, warehouse management systems (WMS) must now be able to handle not only traditional, large pallet storage and shipping operations efficiently, but also embrace complex custom orders and services in the context of an omni-channel supply chain.
How does an organization make a profit off of a single box of candy, picked and wrapped in a private label on location, and then shipped to a residence 1,200 miles away – with delivery overnight?
The fact is, the ability to efficiently process special orders, small orders, kitting, assembly and a wide variety of value-added light manufacturing services may challenge a distribution business now. But, with the right technology in place, it not only can overcome the challenge, but also effectively turn it into a competitive advantage moving forward.
To do this, it needs a blend of automation, systems and processes that incorporate all the best of a traditional WMS. In addition, it will need fundamental inventory, storage and fulfillment capabilities, matched with an assortment of specialized retail, manufacturing and back office functionalities – and integrated to deliver a holistic, transparent, omni-channel user experience.
These systems are designed to create efficiency throughout a distribution process and build brand recognition.
Before a distributor overhauls its WMS, it should begin with a thorough and professional needs assessment. And not only looking at the short-term, but also five to 10 years out. Areas to concentrate on for maximum impact include:
- Automation: Have you removed all the manual labor in your distribution process that can increase cost, slow responsiveness, cause errors or disrupt the otherwise uninterrupted flow of commerce through the operation, while also accommodating the widest range of material handling flexibility?
- Visibility: Can you visualize your entire omni-channel footprint, end-to-end, on an item-by-item basis, for total awareness of inventory on the shelf, in storage, en route or at any point in the supply chain?
- Integration: Are all parties in your process effectively connected to facilitate secure and accurate communications and fulfillment across customer and supplier channels, down to the point of delivery?
- Decision Support: Are you capturing the appropriate operational data required to make timely business decisions, in real-time, as it affects inventory levels, stock allocation, order processing, fill rates, cost/service compromises, transportation costs and other strategic enterprise initiatives?
- Customer Centricity: Are your systems compatible with the existing and emerging e-commerce technologies your customer base favors, and do these technologies support the service and brand experience your customers have come to expect in today’s environment?
The reality is, in an omni-channel distribution environment, change is inevitable and business happens fast.
The best way for your company to prepare for change is to plan well ahead, keep your eyes on the marketplace, and then take it one step at a time.
In every sector of the economy, customers are redefining the marketplace. Is your distribution operation organized in a manner that can deliver the omni-channel experience? Now is the time to make your move.