Preparing to implement an eCommerce warehouse management system (WMS) is a big task but we’ve compiled a checklist of all the things you should get sorted beforehand, from choosing a vendor to pre-implementation.
Before choosing a partner
1. Business goals
Take a look at your business goals for the next 12 months and validate that improvements to your warehouse will contribute to you achieving these targets. For instance, you may want to increase customer retention by 5% and you currently know that inaccurate shipments lead to poor TrustPilot ratings which impact this goal.
By implementing a warehouse system you can eliminate mispicks, therefore reducing bad TrustPilot reviews and improving customer retention.
2. Current & planned dependencies
What have you got on your calendar for the coming year? Are you looking to move your website to a new platform? Perhaps you’re aiming to move warehouse some time in the near future. When preparing to implement a warehouse system, you might decide to align some of these tasks, or hold fire until certain jobs are completed.
3. Return on Investment (ROI)
In some cases, you might have to prepare a business case for investing in such a significant project. What you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and the expected output. Working out the ROI of an eCommerce warehouse management system will be a good way to justify whether it will be worthwhile. For example, if performing stocktakes is costing you X thousand per year, you could see the value in a warehouse system that has a stocktaking module as part of it as that would save you time and money.
Choosing a WMS vendor
4. Label printing software
Check with the vendor of your eCommerce warehouse system to see whether or not it includes barcode label printing software. Most advanced WMSs would provide this which means you can label all of your existing stock this way, rather than having to invest in label printing software elsewhere.
5. SaaS or On Premise
Consider your strengths and weaknesses when making this decision. For instance, if you have very little infrastructure with technical people, then Software-as-as-Service (SaaS) may be better as it requires almost no technical knowledge to implement.
[Related: SaaS vs On Premise for eCommerce]
6. Growing strong
If you are a company that is growing very quickly, the last thing you want is to implement a complex system that could take 8-12 months to implement as this will stunt your growth. On the other hand, if you are a more established company that isn’t growing too rapidly, making a more long-term 12-24 month investment may be beneficial.
7. Cash flow & budget
From a financial point of view, you need to consider how a WMS will impact on your cash flow. For example, it might be wise to explore the different vendors and understand the different components, how it’s priced, and get to know the market. You might have to pay upfront or it could be a pay-as-you-go system and there could be hardware that you have to buy or lease. All of these considerations should be addressed when choosing a vendor.
Before implementating a WMS
8. Previous attempts
If you’ve previously tried implementing an eCommerce warehouse system without success, what happened? In fact, if you’ve ever struggled to work on any major project in the business, what has held you back? Before preparing to implement a new system this time round, it’s important to think about what mistakes you’ve made in the past so that you can plan for them.
9. Speak to others
It’s always good to learn from our mistakes, but when there are so many people out in the world who have made them first, why not learn from them instead? Before implementing warehouse software, visit a company in a similar industry who have already done it and find out what they struggled with or what hurdles they had to overcome. They might even be able to give you some tips on getting set up quicker or getting the most out of the system.
[Related: WMS case studies]
10. In-house or 3rd party
Do you have the capability to do the implementation yourself or will you need a consultant? Would it be beneficial to have someone who can advise on technical aspects or warehouse layout tips etc? Asking yourself these questions and having the right partners standing behind you will go a long way during the preparations for implementation.
11. Optimise storage types
Moving to a new WMS is a great opportunity to redesign the type of storage that you use. It’s quite common to see big metal racking in eCommerce warehouses but this takes up so much space that could be better optimised. Switching to stacks of cardboard or plastic boxes instead will be much more efficient for space and it will better allow for dynamic picking with multiple smaller locations - something that would have been difficult to do with a manual system.
12. Layout of racking & stock
If you’re moving to a new warehouse or you are rearranging all your stock, do this before you set up your wireless internet connection. Why? Because, as we’ve said, most companies use metal racking which can interfere with the wifi and cause black spots where it will not work. On a busy day during peak, this is not what you want.
13. Bulletproof wireless
On that note, when you do have your racking sorted, you’ll not want to skimp on the wireless if you are using a SaaS WMS. A lot of companies overlook this before implementation but it is one of the top things that cause problems at go-live.
14. Choosing your team
In preparation for implementing an eCommerce warehouse system, it is worthwhile making sure that you have your team in place first. It’s a good idea to have someone in charge to lead the project, someone who will be able to set the system up within the warehouse, and at least one person on hand with technical knowledge of the integration. While the system might be easy to implement, having someone with know-how close by can never hurt.
15. All aboard the change train
The warehouse team are the guys and gals who will be using the system on a daily basis. For a lot of your team, when they hear that a warehouse management system is going to be put in place they immediately assume that they’re going to be let go, replaced by robots. Addressing their concerns and informing them of exactly how the system will impact their jobs is absolutely key to keeping them on board in the long run.
16. Get everyone else up to date
Some priority should go to reassuring the warehouse team, but after this the rest of the company needs to be addressed, too. Finance will want to know how it’ll affect them and the IT department might like to know how involved they need to be. Getting everyone on board will make the transition much smoother for every department.
17. Warehouse flow
A decent warehouse management system designed for the intricacies of eCommerce will be able to optimise your pick routes for both single-item and multi-item orders. However, even the best system will struggle to optimise a warehouse that has poor flow and layout. Getting this sorted before implementation will ensure that you get the very best from your system.
18. Master your product data
Be honest, is your product data ready for an eCommerce WMS yet? There are two key pieces of information that need to be considered: the stock keeping units (SKUs) which are a unique item code, and a unique barcode. For instance, all small red skirts will have a different SKU and barcode to all large red skirts. If products are not already barcode labeled, you can use the SKU number and print that as a barcode, or you can request barcode identifiers from GS1 and assign them to products.
19. Face up to your fears
You will need to get organised in preparation for implementing a warehouse system. For some companies that is not an issue but for others it’s a major hassle that they just don’t want to take on. But the truth of the matter is, the companies who don’t think they can ever get organised are exactly the companies who need a warehouse system. And the best part? Once you’ve got everything tidy and prepared, you don’t have to do it again because a system will maintain it.
20. Manage expectations
Dream: a warehouse management system is going to improve the efficiency of every department overnight.
Reality: It will take time before every aspect of the business sees the benefits. If you’ve told the customer services department to expect a 50% reduction in complaints you have to manage their expectations and ensure they know this will not happen immediately. First, the warehouse team have to get used to the system and understand how it optimises pick, pack and despatch. Be realistic and make sure everyone buys into the step changes you are making upfront to avoid arm waving and panic during your implementation.
21. Speak to your suppliers
As we’ve said, having every item barcode labelled will dramatically help you prepare for implementing warehouse software. To make the process even more smooth, speak to your suppliers and get them to label inventory before it gets delivered to your warehouse. To help them, it might be worth putting together a supplier handbook so that they can follow your requirements easily.
22. Materials handling equipment
When it comes to eCommerce, completely different warehouse processes are required to traditional set ups. Likewise, this also requires different manual handling equipment such as a trolley designed for picking multi-item orders. What you really don’t want, however, is ordering in these brand new trolleys to work with your new system only to find out that they don’t navigate well down your aisles. Speak to your vendor and see what recommendations they can offer, and don’t forget to take your measurements before ordering.
23. Impact on processes
As you’d expect, implementing an eCommerce warehouse system will impact your processes and this needs to be accounted for. A good tactic is to design a flow diagram of how you are currently operating – LucidChart is a good free application for this – to allow you to see where changes will be made. For example, if your system will eliminate paper from your warehouse, you will want to make sure that the worker who normally completes the print run no longer keeps printing paper.