An eCommerce warehouse is an entirely different beast to those traditional setups that established retailers are using. As such, they require a warehouse management system (WMS) that runs differently. So what exactly does an eCommerce WMS need to do that a traditional WMS can’t?
1. The shake of a lamb’s tail
That’s how quick eCommerce companies need their WMS implemented. In eCommerce, a WMS must meet deadlines. If peak season starts in November, you can’t have your system going live in January because you’ll lose out on the benefits when you need them most.
For a lot of eCommerce companies there is a small window of time during the year in which a slight disruption, such as implementing a new WMS, can be tolerated. A system designed for eCommerce is much quicker to implement than a traditional system and so can work to such deadlines.
2. Singles in your area
In eCommerce, the average number of single-item orders is around 80%. For those who trade on Marketplaces like Amazon and eBay, it can reach as high as 90%. A traditional warehouse management system is used to picking pallets for retail stores but not so hot when it comes to picking singles.
As such, an eCommerce WMS needs to be able to handle high volumes of single item orders in a way that doesn’t hinder progress. The right warehouse management software should optimise picking routes so that operators can collect multiple single orders from a particular zone, reducing time spent walking back and forth across the warehouse.
3. So many marketplaces
Once upon a time, Amazon and eBay ruled the roost when it came to marketplaces. While they are still arguably the top dogs, more and more marketplaces are popping up online. The important thing to bear in mind is that you will need accurate inventory listings on every single one of your marketplaces.
To avoid having to manually update each site, using a platform such as ChannelAdvisor or Volo to manage your marketplaces would be wise. That way, your eCommerce warehouse software would communicate inventory changes to your marketplace management platform and that system will fire updates to every site you sell on.
4. World Wide Web
For traditional warehouses shipping pallets to retail stores it isn’t as crucial for them to have an accurate inventory figure online. In eCommerce, however, accurate stock levels listed online can be the difference between a good review and a bad one, and the latter sure can tarnish your reputation.
To ensure inventory is always listed correctly, eCommerce warehouse management software will need to integrate with your eCommerce platform such as Magento. The warehouse system will provide the stock figures and Magento will update them online. No overselling, no complaints, no worries.
5. Sorting sorted
You’re in eCommerce and you’re shipping 1,000 orders per day. Royal Mail are due to arrive at 3pm so those orders need to be picked first. You do a print run of all 1,000 orders and then manually sort the Royal Mail orders and distribute them out to your pickers. They scurry off to do their job, 3pm arrives, Royal Mail take the packages and set out.
Big question: Are you sure that every Royal Mail order was picked and packed on time?
The only way to know this is to ask each of your pickers if they finished all their orders which is just far too inefficient. That is why an eCommerce warehouse needs a system that can sort and distribute orders via a handheld device so that, just before 3pm you can check the system and see whether every Royal Mail order is ready to despatch.
6. Everyone hold hands
It might be that your entire eCommerce operation is made up of lots of small systems managing one particular function. You may have something for merchandising, another system that handles finance, a piece of software for Customer Relationship Management (CRM), and your eCommerce platform.
It should be obvious then that your eCommerce warehouse management software needs to work in union with these systems, even if they don’t directly communicate. Having an open API makes writing these connections easier but lots of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems aren’t designed with this capability. There are even a few on premise solutions that don’t have APIs at all.
7. Flex...and relax
At peak in 2014, Mothercare Ireland saw a 20% uplift in orders over Christmas. A traditional warehouse very rarely sees as big an increase as eCommerce and so it wouldn’t have the server capacity to cope. An eCommerce WMS not only needs to be able to flex up at peak to handle more orders, it also needs to allow for more users to brought in on a temporary basis. This means increasing the number of licenses for as long as they are needed and then dropping them back down as the orders start to level out again.
8. Put away here, there, everywhere
The most obvious use for this function is that it lets your operators put an item away in any location, so long as it is scanned in. This updates the system so that you will always know exactly where every stock keeping unit (SKU) is.
Another benefit though, and one that is considerably crucial for eCommerce, is that it enables you to change your locations around to suit the business demands and optimise space. For example, when it comes around to Christmas, you may want to put faster-selling items closer to the pack bench. Dynamic locations allow for this.
9. WMS puppies
You know the saying about old dogs and new tricks. Well, a traditional WMS is like an old dog. It’s loyal and has shown no problems in the years you’ve had it, but it can’t really learn anything new. An eCommerce WMS, on the other hand, is like puppy and you can teach it all the cool new tricks your neighbour’s dog does, plus a few extras. It is very easy for eCommerce warehouse management software to start small and grow as the business does, taking on new challenges such as creating your own locations and designing unique print templates.
10. Return of the thing(s)
Generally, B2B and retail operations don’t see a lot of returns which is a big load off of the traditional warehouse management systems. In fast-fashion eCommerce, the number of returns can average at 17-25%. It is vital that every one of those returned orders gets handled promptly and efficiently to avoid causing any trouble with the customer, particularly if the reason for return is a fault with the item.
11. Automations, roll out!
In a traditional warehouse, there could be lots of documentation that has to be shipped with every order, but the number of orders are generally fewer and so the process can be done manually. In eCommerce, your 1,000 orders could be going out to eight different countries, each one requiring a despatch note in the native language and possibly a customs form, too.
Such processes cannot be done manually - at least not if you want to avoid human error and save about two day’s worth of time. A WMS designed for eCommerce should be able to automate the printing of these documents for every order, eliminating errors, saving time, and making your brand look good across all those countries.
12. Managing your carriers
Much like we’ve said above, a traditional warehouse will likely use very few carriers as the orders generally go to the same locations every time. eCommerce orders can go to a whole variety of places, 1st class, 2nd class, recorded delivery, next day, standard shipping, you name it.
Many eCommerce companies will have a lot of carriers providing several different shipping methods dependent on customer preference or item requirements. An ideal solution to this is have a carrier management platform such as MetaPack and have your eCommerce warehouse software speak to that, rather than each individual carrier at the pack bench.
13. Retail and eCommerce combo
A problem with traditional warehouse management systems is that they were designed before eCommerce was even an idea. As a result, they only really know how to manage traditional operations.
An eCommerce warehouse system, however, has been designed to suit the nuances of eCommerce but with all the hindsight of traditional systems, too. Generally, this means that your eCommerce system could take over the management of your retail warehouse better than your traditional system could manage eCommerce.
14. Click & Collect
Allowing customers to place orders online and pick it up in store, or at a participating newsagent or shop, has taken off in eCommerce. It’s no surprise because it is not only incredibly convenient for customers, but most of the time it is free (unless you’re shopping on John Lewis or Tesco as of late!). This delivery method is particularly effective for combined retail and eCommerce warehouses because the order will be received via the eCommerce WMS but it can be shipped to store with the bulk replenishment stock.
With how Click and Collect is thriving, it has become increasingly more important for eCommerce warehouse software to integrate with services like CollectPlus.
If you'd like to find out more about the benefits of eCommerce warehouse management software, arrange a call with one of our specialists.