warehouse management

The Effects of Item-Level Fulfillment on Warehouse Management Operations

Categories: BCO/Shipper, Warehouse.

With the rise of eCommerce, distribution and fulfillment centers everywhere are being required to step up their game in response to growing consumer expectations and faster fulfillment turnaround times. But these are just the big picture items.

A closer look into the consequences of this shift in consumer shopping habits reveals the need for new approaches in how warehouse management operations adapt on a detail level.

With people choosing to purchase one-off items from their smartphones and tablets, fulfillment centers must now be able to quickly pick-and-pack individual items from often massive warehouse space in record time.

Item-level Fulfillment

If Paul in Kansas orders one toothbrush from his favorite retailer, that retailer must have a seamless operation in place that communicates that order to a fulfilment center where the single toothbrush is located and sent through the process of being packed, labeled, and sent off for shipment.

Compare this process with one where a semi-trailer pulls up to a dock at a fulfillment warehouse and is loaded with 500 boxes packed with several thousand units of toothbrushes. The truck will make multiple stops to fulfill the stock requests at any number of physical stores in the region.

In today’s shifting commerce landscape, the world of distribution centers, warehouse management, and fulfillment center worlds are being put in the position of needing to quickly figure out how to be more nimble and creative with how they approach their operations.

Elevated Consumer Expectations

Another trend affecting the world of warehouse management is the fact that American consumers–armed with eCommerce-friendly smartphones–now have a seemingly infinite number of choices regarding where and from whom they purchase their goods.

This endless buffet of choices has brought with it a spike in competition between online retailers vying for their piece of the eCommerce pie. To stand out from the competition, retailers now tout easy returns, free shipping, and 1-2 day delivery (with the option to pay extra for same-day) times.

The “fulfillment norm” set by competing e-retailers has rapidly escalated consumer expectations. Shoppers now expect to receive the exact same level of customer service from their online shopping experiences as they have come to expect from their brick-and-mortar shopping trips.

Warehouse Management in the 21st Century

These shifts in the marketplace mean that fulfillment and distribution centers must now be outfitted with operational solutions and technology platforms that can respond flexibly to consumer requests in real-time while providing the people who work at the warehouses with the information they need to fulfill and ship orders on a truncated timeline.

The warehouse of the 21st century will require technology solutions and floorplan/warehouse layouts that facilitate increased velocity and adaptability. More frequent, smaller orders will increasingly require fulfillment at the split case or item level.

SKUs will need to be kept in relatively smaller quantities with the possible need for the addition of more fulfillment centers located strategically to meet ramped up delivery time expectations across the delivery region footprint.

And these are just a few of the adaptations that will need to be incorporated by warehouses and fulfillment centers moving forward. Supply chain management in general is facing the challenge of a world where eCommerce dominates.

If you’re a logistics manager and need a partner to help you strategically manage and successfully move your products out of the port and onto their final destination, feel free to reach out to us to discuss your needs.

And for detailed information, maps, and contact information for the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, be sure to download a free copy of our Comprehensive Port Service Guide.