SKU optimisation for pick and pack despatch
1) Make sure you are using your SKUs to your best advantage.
One of the easiest and most effective changes a fulfilment client can make to their process is to optimise their use of stock keeping units, or SKUs. It is easy to find yourself with a huge hodgepodge of tiny individual units, or a bare handful of units that aren’t flexible enough to do what you need them to. A simple heuristic is to tally the number of orders you process each month; depending on your industry, you should probably have fewer SKUs than monthly orders.
Trial and error is one way to test your SKU count.
How do your customers respond when you stock fewer items? If you see a drop in sales, it may be that you are not offering enough choice. However, if sales go up slightly, it could be that you were offering too many products, and your customers were having trouble wading through the items they didn’t want to find the ones they did. Your pick pack despatch processes probably got a lot simpler and more reliable as well.
What happens when you offer more products? Some markets demand a lot of choice, and you simply have to stock blue, light blue and dark blue widgets. If you supply tradesman or industry professionals, expect to have to offer a lot more product choices than you would with consumers. Stocking too many SKUs will drag your costs up. If you outsource your pick pack despatch operations, you’re paying more to stock 1000 widgets in 5 colours than to stock 1000 in a single colour. Even if you’ve got your own storage and despatching space, you spend a lot more time fulfilling each order if you offer too many products. You also need to keep more inventory in total, which can be expensive in and of itself.
Sneak a peek at your competition’s website or catalogue. If they sell to the customers you do, and seem to be doing well, use their system. If they only stock 20 items that all sell like mad, maybe you should too. If they have widgets in 1000 colours, 3 sizes, Philips and hex, then you probably shouldn’t limit your stock.
Automated sorting for pick pack despatch
2) Automate the sorting and prioritising of invoices.
Sorting your orders manually in reference to pick location forces you to keep static stock locations. This can be terribly inefficient, unless you run a very small facility with a small number of high value products. If you automate some of the pick pack despatch process, even just pick route planning, you can use more efficient dynamic locations, and begin sorting invoices by carrier.
3) Avoid bulk picking.
This depends on how many orders you process, of course. It may be faster to pick for multiple orders and then sort them back into individual orders at the packing station. Be careful, though, as this can lead to an unacceptable error rate. Any practice that introduces the possibility of extra returns or cancelled orders probably isn’t as efficient as it seems.
Pick pack despatch for multiple orders
4) Avoid picking for several orders in one picking box.
This is a lot like bulk picking, and it leads to mistakes in the same way. If it can’t be eliminated efficiently, make sure the packer re-scans the order and SKUs before packing it, then the order can be handed back to the picker to sort out before it gets to the customer.
5) Don’t pre-printing the invoice to use as the pick list.
This isn’t just error-prone, it is unprofessional. The invoice should be clean and fresh when it reaches the customer, not crumpled and marked. Even if the order is correct in all regards, it looks bad.
6) Eliminate checkers at the packing station.
Ideally, you want as few people to handle the products as possible. One way to do that is to give the checker duties to the pickers (just don’t expect them to do two jobs as quickly as one). In many older pick pack despatch systems, pickers will deposit SKUs into a picking box or tote, then turn it over to an order checker who would then send it to be packed. Decent hand-scanners are a must for this.
Having the pickers verify the order is correct and deliver it directly to packing is faster overall, and reduces the chances of damaging the merchandise because it is handled less.
7) See to it that the packing area is kept well stocked.
This seems obvious, but it is often missed. Running out of boxes, tape or bubble wrap can bring the whole process to a standstill several times a day. Dedicating someone to supplying your packers can save a lot more man-hours than it costs.
8) Preassemble when you can.
Many retailers can predict that a large number of items will be bought and shipped together. If every printer comes with a set of toner cartridges and a ream of paper, warehouse them as a unit. Preassembling can increase productivity by as much as 1/3, depending on your products.
9) Adopt standard packing procedures.
Your packers shouldn’t have to make a lot of decisions when it comes to which size of shipping container to use, how much padding an order needs, or how things fit into the box. If every part of the packing process is strictly defined, they will be faster at it. This added efficiency and reduced error rate more than makes up for the small improvements taking extra time allows for. You’ll also know that all of your packers are using the same process.
10) Seasonalise your operations
You already know whether you have a Christmas rush, or more business in the summer, etc. Adopt different strategies depending on what you expect demand to be. Hire extra pick pack despatch help seasonally, or divide jobs differently for busy times.