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Retail Technology, Retail technology News

Multichannel retail IT must optimise picking

Monday March 1 2010

Andrew Southgate, Zetes sales director argues why multichannel retailers need technology to optimise their order pricking processes

Andrew Southgate, Zetes sales director argues why multichannel retailers need technology to optimise their order pricking processes


“Order picking – the manner by which goods are selected from the warehouse – is fundamental to good supply chain processes for any retailer because in our experience, a large proportion of warehouse costs originate from manually driven picking processes,” said Southgate.


“For retailers operating a multichannel model, picking optimisation requires the capability to juggle entirely different order profiles, combining the picking of cases and bulk orders into stores with large volumes of single item e-commerce orders. For an e-commerce operation, picking optimisation involves being able to accurately pick and dispatch many small orders at the lowest cost possible. Getting this right is fundamental to managing the customer experience, since when customers buy online, they have an automatic expectation that their goods will arrive very quickly and be correct.


Helping to get fulfilment balance


“Frequently, the cost and resources required to achieve a next-day delivery are very high and yet, with the right technology and process optimisation, could be dramatically reduced, with an identical level of service. But this requires an investment in picking technology – be it voice-directed working or handheld terminals. Voice lends itself well to an e-commerce environment because of the speed and accuracy achievable, especially for multi-order picks.”


Southgate cited a practical example: “Faber Music, as an SME [small-to-midsized enterprise] operating a worldwide multichannel model from its Harlow warehouse exemplifies this. They are required to pick for both single item e-commerce orders and traditional retailer/distributor bulk orders and have seen productivity quadruple after automating picking processes with EDI [electronic data interchange] and voice technology. Now, e-commerce orders are received from Faber’s website and immediately trigger a pick instruction. Almost all manual processing has been removed from their e-commerce process and pick rates for both trade retail and e-commerce orders have doubled.”


He added: “Dealing with website orders, which are frequently just one or two item book orders was previously especially inefficient at Faber. Optimisation of the e-commerce picking process has resulted in the implementation of wave (or multi order) picking, which enables up to 10 orders to be picked simultaneously. Currently, Faber are looking to further expand this to allow concurrent picking of up to 20 orders in a single pass, a process change which would have been very difficult, if not impossible to achieve without the appropriate technology.


Integration provides further benefits


“A technology such as voice is also relatively easy to integrate with an existing WMS or other technologies and processes, such as automated conveyor systems and automated guided vehicles (AGVs) to increase the time warehouse operators can spend picking.


“One good example is Corporate Express, now Staples, which implemented voice picking with conveyor systems and achieved large productivity gains. Each picker is allocated a zone in the warehouse covering specific product lines, which are picked into a pre-scanned tote. This then passes by conveyor from zone to zone during the picking process. The system works very well for large volume, small item picking – books, pharmaceutical, personal products – items, which naturally fit within a tote.


“It is, therefore, clear that when selecting an order picking system for a multichannel operation, retailers need to review existing processes and technologies to ensure the best balance of efficiency, accuracy and cost can be achieved. And now, as the UK begins to move towards economic recovery, albeit very slowly, any improvements achieved within the picking process will pay dividends longer term,” he concluded.


Andrew Southgate is sales director for Zetes Northern Region, the European goods identification solutions and services provider and an expert in voice technology.