Is Your Storage System Optimized for Last-Mile Delivery?
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The supply chain is struggling to keep up with demand for faster delivery of e-commerce orders. And with the standard for delivery times continuing to shorten, research shows the trend isn't likely to slow down.
Retailers are already making moves to offer consumers faster delivery options. For warehouses and fulfillment centers, this shift is requiring increased throughput while working with a wider variety of shipping partners.
What does that mean for the teams responsible for picking, packing, and getting shipments out the door in today’s lightning-fast fulfillment environment? It starts with understanding the forces driving today’s trends, optimizing your processes, and organizing your facility to ensure your operation can keep up — and even thrive.
Understand the market
Retailers are seeking to speed up order fulfillment in the last mile. The last mile is the final step of the delivery process. A product or good departs a distribution facility and lands on the doorstep of the consumer or end user. This last leg of the trip may be just down the street or across the globe.
Why is the last mile so important? When you improve your last-mile logistics, you get products to consumers more quickly, outpacing competitors and potentially capturing new customers in the process.
The race to get products to customers faster stems from the explosion of growth in online shopping. E-commerce sales accounted for just 7% of U.S. retail sales in 2011. A decade later, they made up 20% of retail sales. What’s more, online sales jumped more than 32% from 2019 to 2020.
With increased consumer demand has come the expectation of increased speed — with little to no added cost. More than 90% of online shoppers in the U.S. expect orders to be delivered in two or three days with no shipping costs, according to research from the management consulting firm McKinsey & Company. (Just one in five consumers will pay slightly more for faster shipping, according to the organization.)
One way retailers have accommodated faster last-mile shipping is by moving toward a variety of fulfillment locations. Multimarket distribution centers, urban fulfillment centers, dark stores — a brick-and-mortar location filled with inventory but not open to the public — and even from stores also open to customers, are just a few of the distribution options used today, according to McKinsey.
Last-mile delivery is complex. It often involves a variety of carriers from different companies, arriving at different times of the day, in different kinds of vehicles, to pick up orders of differing sizes. Here are two ways to help alleviate some of the pain points of this end-of-the-road process:
- Improve coordination across pickups and deliveries. Enable your organization to time order arrivals with increased capacity to handle loading and unloading. It may be difficult to know with 100% certainty when an order will arrive, but if you know the rough window or even the day to expect it, you can make sure to staff accordingly (and avoid overstaffing when activity is light). As supply chain congestion makes delivery timing less-than-predictable, be proactive with communication between your suppliers and logistics partners.
- Equip your facility to track orders in real-time. Improve transparency and tracking across the supply chain by implementing equipment capable of processing RFID labels and other smart technology.
The increased focus on speed in the last mile may have your facility storing a wider variety of inventory. Expediting shipments requires efficiency on all fronts, which is why having an adaptable yet reliable storage system in your facility should remain top of mind. Here are a few storage solutions to consider:
- The versatility and storage capacity of pallet racks drives efficiency in any fulfillment operation. Store commonly sourced inventory or supplies closer to the packing area, and less-popular items further back.
- Similarly, industrial shelving in medium, heavy-duty, and extra heavy-duty capacities provides a place for keeping smaller volumes of inventory and supplies, as well as heavy equipment and components, organized and accessible within your order processing workflow.
- Storage and bin cabinets can hold smaller parts and supplies, such as hardware, small inventory items, and shipping supplies. Open hopper fronts make picking easy.
- Bulk shipping cartons are a sturdy storage solution to protect goods as they travel from the warehouse to the final destination.
Consider using common container sizes, labeling, and processes when designing your facility’s fulfillment system. This allows you to:
- Fulfill orders faster. Pickers and packers can easily get products prepared for shipping if everything in the facility has a dedicated spot and is readily identifiable.
- Reduce product damage or loss. Storage systems with shelves and bin cabinets keep products stacked, lessening clutter in aisles and reducing chances of inventory damage.
- Improve collaboration and coordination within your facility. Fulfillment processes run more smoothly when workers aren’t hunting for packing supplies, small parts, or pallet jacks.
- Make it easier to incorporate new, efficiency-driving technology. An organized facility can more easily implement process improvements, such as conveyors, smart technology, and other upgrades that increase the accuracy and speed of order fulfillment.
You don’t have to be a multibillion-dollar corporation to rise to the challenge of fast fulfillment in today’s market. Contact Global Industrial today to find the right storage system for your facility.
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