Ecommerce Warehouse Best Practices

Every week, there’s a new headline talking about legacy stores and their demise—like Brooks Brothers, Victoria’s Secret, or even Macy’s. Shopping has moved online. Even before the pandemic, eCommerce was rising steadily. Traditional shopping habits may have helped brick and mortar stores survive, but the market is driven by more people wanting lower prices, a wider variety, and fast shipping. A pandemic just pushed the inevitable into hyperdrive. 

Now, US eCommerce sales are $604 billion, and that number is projected to rise. Online shopping accounted for 14% of total retail sales in 2019, overtaking general merchandise sales for the first time. And Amazon? They accounted for more than a third of all eCommerce. If you need proof ecommerce is taking over, all you have to do is visit your local mall and count how many shoppers you see.

With booming eCommerce numbers like these, we thought it was worth taking a look at best practices you can implement to decrease costs, improve efficiency, and enhance productivity in your eCommerce warehouse.

Why Warehouse Best Practices are Key

Implementing best practices is vital to excelling despite fluctuating demand. This isn’t just “streamlining processes.” It’s crucial that supply chain and logistics executives think more holistically about the future: an ecommerce warehouse keeping up with thousands of orders needs to be working in top shape, responsive to everything from fluctuating market demands to avoiding accidents and mistakes that impact employees. 

1. Your Employees are Essential

Satisfied employees working in a safe environment will always go the extra mile. Because morale is high, work gets done. This is also critical for retention and long-term planning. It’s expensive to hire new people frequently. Investing in your team will pay off big time in the long run. No matter what way you slice it, employees impact everything from labor costs to operational and technological efficacy of everything you do. All of these areas are worth taking stock of because they’ll fortify the bottom line and ensure your ecommerce warehouse will be optimized for success

What are some methods to fortify your warehouse crew into a well-oiled machine?

  • Working in warehouses and distribution centers isn’t easy. Workplace incentives—from employee referral programs to other structured bonuses—offer a valuable opportunity to motivate employees. Special events for hitting milestones are also great ways to incentivize work and improve labor efficiency. 
  • Incentives aren’t the only thing business leaders can do to show employees they’re valued. Providing comprehensive training across all departments in the warehouse or distribution center is a great way to make sure the workforce is cross-trained, so in the event one worker calls in sick, another can do the job without a problem. 

Cross-training gives employees a chance to share knowledge. If a company isn’t ready to bring on additional full-time workers, this saves onboarding costs. And because workers know different areas of the business, it allows for greater collaboration and makes your employees more valuable. Giving workers the chance to show off their skills reveals hidden talents and provides a possible springboard for advancing skill sets. Ultimately, this makes your company more agile and responsive, and your workers are more flexible and can fill last-minute vacancies. 

Workers who see a future with their company are more likely to stay, which reduces turnover costs. The same thing goes for cross-training on multiple jobs, which creates a team of well-rounded workers who can step in and do any job. 

  • Another way to help out your workforce is by using on-demand warehouse staffing. Utilizing a platform like Adia helps relieve the stress of an increase in demand and prevents long-term employees from accruing a lot of expensive overtime. If a supply chain manager needs extra hands, this is a pragmatic way to keep business moving without going over budget. 

Set Safety Guidelines and Standards

Keeping everyone on the team safe is critical. eCommerce warehouses and distribution centers have many moving parts. Should something go wrong, there can be disastrous results. Every warehouse workforce should be continually kept up to date with all OSHA regulations. 

Consider this: one of the easiest accidents to prevent—a slip and fall—is the cause of up to 95 million missed work days every year

Potential hazards are everywhere. Implementing safety best practices in warehouse environments is great for strategic purposes, but it’s also required by law. eCommerce means more work, but the uptick in work means fast and furious workdays with drivers on forklifts, workers moving carts full of items, and people moving in and out of busy aisles. And in some cases, when it comes to the bigger companies like Amazon or Walmart, workers come into contact with automated machines and robots, which can introduce a whole different set of guidelines. 

OSHA develops programs that identify industry weaknesses and everyday hazards. Performing a regular Job Safety Analysis and encouraging safety training shows your company cares about a safe environment. OSHA warehouse regulations exist for a reason. Safety compliance is critical. An OSHA warehouse safety checklist keeps workers safe and on the same page. 

A few of the areas that can be continually trained on safety measures include: 

  • Forklifts
  • Docks
  • Conveyors
  • Materials storage
  • Manual lifting/handling
    (It’s important to make sure the newbies know how to properly lift a box. Safety isn’t just hardhats and knowing how to drive a forklift.)

Set an Efficient Schedule

Scheduling employee hours efficiently is vital to keeping ecommerce warehouse operations humming while preventing accrual of expensive overtime hours. 

Everyone in both eCommerce and supply chain industries know that seasonal demands and peak seasons can often be forecasted. Still, there can be unforeseen fluctuations in purchasing behaviors that will set back unprepared teams. Not having the right number of workers can lead to additional workplace stress, bottlenecks, and costly overtime pay.

Floor managers should be able to inform their supervisors—whether they may be managers or directors in Operations or HR—of potential labor shortfalls and be empowered to take actions like bringing on temporary labor when it’s in the best interest of the business. By staying aware, managers can bolster their “core” team during peak times with temporary workers to meet any surging demand.

Technology for Training

The supply chain and logistics world has gone high-tech. Sophisticated digital tools are revolutionizing how warehouses operate. Getting workers up to speed and fast to meet demands is vital to keep operations moving. 

Cloud-based software provides visibility into training existing employees, but it can also help get new hires up to speed. Cloud-based software saves time by helping managers keep track of who’s attending training and how they’re doing. 

If your ecommerce warehouse is continually hiring, cloud-based software is a great way to automate monotonous tasks. It can be hard to keep track of who’s been trained on a specific task or maybe the basics of forklift driving. Another perk of the software is assigning tasks and seeing what needs to be done based on worker completion rates.  

You can also create personalized learning plans that are set precisely to what training needs to be completed. Plus, students have a reference of what they still need to finish training on.

But cloud-based software isn’t the only thing warehouses are investing to disrupt the industry. Taking a cue from the big tech players, we’re seeing investments in areas including virtual and augmented reality, and even computer simulations to break down picking to it’s finest points. 

In addition to digital training, employees need hands-on training so that they know all internal systems and can utilize any tools your team might be using. This also works to ensure the efficacy of current training modules and course materials, running pilot programs, and soliciting feedback across the board. Keeping technology top of mind with new hires is helpful because it will help them get up to speed sooner rather than later. This way, they’ll be able to step in should they be needed. 

2. Create an Easy Navigational Layout

Have you run an audit of how your warehouse flows? In warehousing, maximizing efficiency is how companies can turn the corner from good to great – and that all starts with an operational audit. 

When done right, an audit will drastically improve how your warehouse functions. A warehouse audit is a top-to-bottom inspection that looks at everything from productivity to OSHA-standard safety checks to inventory management, forcing warehouses to think about what can be improved upon. 

An audit will also highlight pain points that can be smoothed out, which will ultimately save the business money, whether it be by addressing immediate needs with temporary staffing to fix a problem or fix a broken internal process. With eCommerce moving so fast, procedures should be continually updated to keep up with not only demand but also changes in business, which can sometimes result in chaos when trying to fill orders.

Some of the things a warehouse audit will draw attention to include:

  • Diagraming areas: Mapping out locations of equipment, machinery, and materials, which helps zero in on worker movements and where alarms and fire exits are.
  • Reorganization: What worked in the past may not be the best method for today’s business. Looking at storage organizations could help make for safer and faster pick routes. This also works for making sure certain types of products are clustered near one another, dividing materials based on customer orders.

If you’ve never done a warehouse audit, hire a seasoned warehouse manager who knows what to do – it could be a game changer. A cluttered warehouse can lead to wrong orders or misplaced items. That’s a death knell, given our culture of constant reward with delivery options at every turn from Amazon to Domino’s. 

A thorough audit can point out if there are any problem areas regarding safety, especially if there are potentially fatal ones hidden in plain sight. Warehouse audits are also essential to conduct because they’re required by law. If there’s one thing any warehouse can count on, it’s that the authorities will check to see if your warehouse is OSHA-compliant. 

3. Software Systems to Improve Warehouse Flow

Like every industry, there’s software for every job. eCommerce warehouses are no different. There are software and automation solutions that improve picking accuracy, productivity.  There are also AI and machine learning tools that optimize pick routes in real-time. Distributed order management (DOM) improves communication between online retail stores and the warehouse, making a world of difference when it comes to ordering processing and shipping times. 

Because orders can come in via Instagram links, Amazon stores, your website, and a host of other channels, a DOM system keeps track of your omnichannel retail, which is becoming increasingly complex. Any of the leading DOM systems will keep track of inventory and streamline stock replenishment by creating a central platform that enables current and future consumer demand to be met while balancing improved budget control, inventory levels, and logistics.

There are also multiple options for Vendor Managed Inventory (VMI), Transportation Management System (TMS), and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems that can fortify your processes across all of your company’s operations. 

4. Picking Strategies for e-Commerce Warehouse

Picking for ecommerce warehouses entails a lot more than just running to a pallet, grabbing an object, and going. Over the years, different strategies have been developed to minimize effort and maximize efficiency for ecommerce order fulfillment. There are wizards who map out how a warehouse should effectively flow for maximum picking. Still, because e-Commerce is highly individualized, multiple random items can be picked together in one order.

A couple of the most popular strategies are:  

Zone Pick and Pass

Zone picking is a method that involves the division of stock-keeping units (SKUs) into different zones where warehouse employees’ teams are assigned to pick and sort from.

Multi-order Pick to Tote

This is an ideal solution for multiple smaller orders, which is also practical for traveling long distances in a warehouse. Multi-batch picking fills orders coming from different areas, reducing pick times by collecting multiple orders simultaneously. 

5. Two Day Shipping

Amazon set the standard on shipping. Chris Mims wrote back in 2018 about “The Prime Effect“: “Alongside life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, you can now add another inalienable right: two-day shipping on practically everything.” 

Consumers expect fast and free shipping. eBay followed suit and Walmart now has its own version of Prime called Walmart+, which offers free shipping to compete head-to-head with Amazon. Target, along with other big names, are also ramping up their online capabilities. 

There’s a statistical reason for this: two-day shipping reduces cart abandonment. 44% of online shoppers said the reason they abandoned their carts was high shipping cost; some even canceled their orders because their item would take too long. Offering fast shipping if a certain price point is met, like $50, encourages shoppers to add products to their cart. 

Hire On-Demand Warehouse Staffing With Adia

If your warehouse is experiencing a boom thanks to e-Commerce, Adia can help. We’re an on-demand staffing platform with 10x the worker pool of a traditional staffing agency. We help warehouses meet demands by utilizing our experienced, vetted workers who’ll be picking and packing in no time. 

All of our workers are our W-2 employees, so you don’t have to worry about taxes or paperwork. Because our talent pool is experienced and diverse, our workers can do multiple jobs, but also learn from your team leaders how to meet their expectations on a daily basis. 

Whether you need to change strategies or help your existing staff deal with burn out or are looking to avoid costly overtime, we’ve got you covered. If this sounds like what your ecommerce warehouse is looking for, we’d love to help. Check our site to learn more.

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