It is the dream of every business with an eCommerce operation to one day run as efficiently as Amazon. If we put aside the press they’re getting at the moment regarding how happy their employees are, it can’t be denied that no one does eCommerce quite like Amazon.
The BBC recently wrote aninteresting article about Amazon’s logistics with the kind of admiring tone you’d expect from anyone writing about such an industry Goliath. That said, the angle of the piece does seem to imply that Amazon’s fulfilment is a singular anomaly, impossible for other eCommerce businesses to replicate. We would simply have to disagree with that.
[Related:Two ways to fulfil orders like Amazon]
So can you replicate Amazon’s fulfilment?
Well, let’s be honest and say that an entire replication is likely not going to happen. If you reduce Amazon’s fulfilment down to its core processes, however, eCommerce businesses can definitely start to meet the challenge.
For example, the BBC article mentions that Amazon employees are ‘guided and monitored by software’ to items within an order. Well, any warehouse management system that wants to live up to its name should be able to do that. A WMS that is designed for eCommerce should be able to replicate this Amazon-style process by navigating your pickers along the fastest route for an order.
Another feature of Amazon’s fulfilment that the BBC touches upon is the apparent disorder of the SKUs (stock keeping units) - ‘An HDMI cable lies near to five copies of Harry Potter sheet music. A brand of baby’s bottle is across the aisle from a drain water diverter.’ We mentioned this in a blog post about our recent visit to Surfdome’s warehouse but we call it dynamic warehouse locations and the reasoning for doing so is simple - it’s much easier to pick the right item among random SKUs than it is to pick from like SKUs. Replicating this Amazon technique is not going to be too challenging, we think.
On top of this, Amazon have full visibility on all stock movements within the warehouse. If Joe moved a copy of Animal Farm from location B1.2C.5 to C3.11A.7, you can be sure that Amazon will know about it. Again though, this is not a feature exclusive to Amazon’s fulfilment. Any decent eCommerce WMS that uses barcode scanning should provide you with 100% visibility. What’s more, you can even generate various reports on stock that hasn’t moved in a while so you can make decisions about how to better use the space.
According to the BBC’s article, Amazon pickers can pick more than 1000 orders in a ten hour shift. Now that is really something, right? This figure itself may not be replicable for everyone's eCommerce operations but good warehouse management software should be able to increase the number of picks per person per hour that your operators can manage. Surfdome, a client of ours selling surf, snow and skate wear online were able to increase the number of orders picked per hour to 120 after introducing our WMS which works out to more than Amazon’s 10-hour shift target.
So I guess what we’re trying to say here is that Amazon’s fulfilment really can be replicated in any eCommerce operation. It may not reach the same heights as Amazon but you can bet that scaling up to match them is only going to happen with some form of WMS implemented.
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