Why choose a WMS?
With customer demands in the modern world growing rapidly, retailers have had to adapt to a market where potentially hundreds of thousands of orders can go through each week. Online retail in the U.S. alone is expected to reach an annual revenue of over £563 billion by 2025.
However, while increased demand poses new challenges, the advancement of technology offers innovative solutions. Warehouse management systems (WMS) have been critical to the success of ecommerce companies experiencing rapid growth, allowing them to scale their operation more efficiently and save time and money.
If you’re a retailer looking to integrate a WMS into your operation, or want to change to a different one, we’ve put together our ultimate guide to choosing one to help you through the process.
The benefits of choosing a WMS
Using a WMS comes with a range of advantages to help your business grow. There’s a lot of variety in features between different systems, however any good WMS should provide an accurate view into your warehouse’s inventory and its everyday comings and goings.
Trace your stock
Inventory materials can be tracked using lot, batch and serial numbers by your management system. Lot and batch numbers indicate the group in which a particular material was made; that way, if something goes wrong with an item, you can easily check what else was in that stock and see if the issue persists.
Meanwhile, a serial number tracks individual materials for if an item needs to be recalled or quarantined separate from its batch.
WMS tracking is extremely useful for handling incoming and outgoing stock. When taking in deliveries, you can scan items and batches to register how much has arrived against how much you ordered. Then, when an item is shipped, it can be scanned again to adjust stock levels appropriately.
Accurate inventory visibility
One challenge retailers and, more specifically, warehouse operators face is how to reliably and accurately record inventory levels; in retail businesses, inventory is accurate only 63% of the time which can cause huge problems in your operation. Manually writing down numbers on a clipboard or a reference sheet is bound to be bogged down by human error, so using a WMS to store data about inventory in real time is a much more efficient method.
As stock comes in and is then shipped out, a WMS lets you keep track and order more materials as and when needed. This also means you can manage any lost, forgotten or outdated inventory more easily; they should all be logged on the system from the point of entry into the warehouse, so you can quickly rectify any problems.
Some WMS can also work in conjunction with your ERP. That means you can analyse the performance of certain products in your inventory and put in place a plan for how to increase revenue.
More effective and efficient labour
As your company grows, it’s inevitable that you’ll need more warehouse space, and with orders being shipped out every second in a large location, it’s important to optimise your staff’s time.
A WMS can identify high-priority targets and activities, then design a schedule based around those and select the right employees to fulfil those tasks. Effective work and labour assignments greatly improves the efficiency of your warehouse; if the right jobs are assigned to the right people in the right location, it won’t matter how big your operation is. You’ll still make your targets in good time.
The challenges of choosing a WMS
As with the integration of any platform on this scale, choosing a WMS doesn’t come without its challenges. When you’re used to the way something works, a drastic change can throw your operation somewhat off-balance.
Here’s some of the main things you should consider before implementing or changing a WMS.
Integrating a WMS is expensive. You’re not just paying a flat-rate cost for whichever WMS you’ve decided to go with; you’re also paying for the complete overhaul of your current system.
There’s a range of companies out there with varying prices for their software. It’s important to not just weigh up the cost of each system, but also take into account what you get for that price. A cheap system might have less useful features or technical issues, which will lose you far more revenue in the long run than an expensive system which is exemplary.
Staff training and support
Making sure your employees are happy is important for any business. When implementing or changing a WMS, your staff will be the ones using it, so you need to ensure there’s a support structure which encourages training.
A system drastically different from your current one has the potential to throw your operation into disarray if you don’t put the time and effort into teaching your staff how to use it. There could be different dashboards, alerts, tools which will confuse anyone when thrown into the deep end.
Find out what kind of support each company offers when setting up your WMS. Is it a complicated system with a poor training plan? It might not be suited for you if you employ a lot of people. Any good WMS will ensure you’re well equipped to get started as soon as possible.
Build up your warehouse process
Every warehouse is run differently with different methods of optimising their processes, but the end goal is the same for all; to pack and distribute goods in a quick and efficient manner (see our handy calculator for more information about scaling up your warehouse!)
There are five main processes every warehouse should keep in mind and work to improve: receiving, storing, picking, packing, and shipping.
With a WMS, you can more easily optimise each step.
This is the process of collecting materials or goods from the manufacturer. With a WMS, you can more easily scan each incoming item which will log it into your system. That way, you always know how much of a product you currently have in the warehouse.
Storing involves putting away received goods in the most optimal locations. A WMS can help with this process, showing you the best places to store certain items based on location for maximum efficiency; after all, around 50% of time spent during the picking process is actually finding where the products are stored.
This involves collecting orders from storage to get them ready for distribution, and without a well-integrated system, has a huge potential to go wrong. With an effective WMS and the right technology, you should be able to optimise your picking process with easier access to picking lists and quicker scanning. Ensuring your warehouse layout is up to scratch in the storing process will help you greatly, too.
Packing is the process of collecting picked items and getting them ready to ship out to customers. With a WMS, packing can be optimised through defined routines; for example, scanning products to print out an order receipt to then hand forward to the next stage. A WMS helps with organisation and allows a smoother, faster packing process.
The final process, shipping is all about sending goods out to your customers within the timeframe that they ordered. The best way to optimise shipping is actually to ensure you’ve made all of the previous processes as efficient as possible, so you’re not sending out damaged products or missing any orders. With a WMS, you can check out goods like you would’ve done when you received them; that way, not only do you know what’s incoming, you know what’s no longer available.
With any integration with a WMS, it’s worth noting that you’ll receive a set of flows to help you organise your warehouse process. Here’s an example of what those might look like, using a Shopify X Peoplevox (PVX) integration:
Products to PVX
Orders to PVX
Inventory from PVX
Fulfilments from PVX
Refunds from PVX
What to integrate with your WMS
A good WMS isn’t the only thing you need. You’ll also want a stand-out tech stack to boost efficiency even further. Integrating different systems with your WMS is a great way to make the most out of your processes, and you can prioritise based on what you think your company needs most; are you lacking in customs management or resource planning? Do some research into the right solution to integrate for you.
Here’s some systems you should consider integrating.
It goes without saying that you’ll need a storefront before you start to consider other branching integrations. An ecommerce platform such as Shopify, Magento or BigCommerce provides your store with a wide variety of essential features such as a search bar, shopping cart, and payment portal.
It’s all about building that infrastructure which powers your business, and a suitable ecommerce platform is at the very base of that foundation.
Customs Management System (CMS)
If your company imports and exports materials to and from international markets, a CMS might be a handy addition to integrate with your WMS. A CMS helps you comply with legal requirements when trading internationally, as well as speeding up transactions and reducing costs.
Transportation Management System (TMS)
A TMS helps businesses plan, execute and optimise the movement of incoming and outgoing goods. By integrating one with your WMS, you can more easily ensure the reliable delivery of goods as well as optimise any transport operations. Some TMS might show you a detailed journey tracker, letting you see the most efficient routes for transport.
Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP)
This one’s a bit different from the rest. An ERP helps you automate and manage processes across your entire business, such as payroll, invoices and even warehousing. Although an ERP covers warehousing and so can replace the need for a WMS, you can still integrate a WMS with your ERP in order to optimise your fulfilment operation.
This puts all of your warehouse data into a single interface, allowing you to quickly adapt to shifts in the market in real-time. 49% of companies say that they experienced improved business processes after implementing an ERP, so integrating one as well as a WMS will let you reap the benefits.
At Patchworks, we’re masters of integration. If you need help integrating data streams between different systems and your WMS, get in touch with us on our website.
What to look for in a WMS
We’ve covered the benefits, challenges and best integrations for a WMS, but how do you narrow all of that down to select a specific system?
Selecting what provider to go with isn’t an easy task; after all, you don’t want to end up with something faulty which doesn’t fulfil your needs. A great WMS will boost your productivity, revenue and help you grow your reputation, but a poor one can have completely the opposite effect.
Here’s some questions you should ask yourself - and the provider - when selecting your WMS.
Does it have a proven track record with case studies?
An immediate red flag for any product is a lack of reviews or testimonials. If a company is proud of the system they’re selling, they should be plastering their customers’ thoughts all over their website. If you’re struggling to find any positive testimonials or legitimate case studies about the system, you should definitely think twice about integrating it. You could even ask for a demonstration to assuage your fears.
Is it flexible and scalable?
We’re confident that you’ve got ambitions for your company and its future - you’re not expecting it to stay in the same place forever. It’s important to take that into account when choosing your WMS. Your operation will change as your business grows, so make sure whatever WMS you integrate is flexible and scalable; you don’t want it to collapse under pressure.
It also needs to be flexible with integrations, too. Enquire about the range of different systems such as ERPs you can implement with it, because you don’t want to be stuck with something which can’t handle much more than its own operating system.
Is it easy to use and read?
A well-designed WMS should have a user-friendly interface with clear directions on how to use its different features. That means you don’t need to spend as many resources on training, and any new employees can get started as soon as possible.
It’s also essential that your WMS is easy to read and interpret. If all the data is there but on an unclear and poorly designed dashboard, you’ll struggle to draw many useful conclusions.
Recommended Warehouse Management Systems
Some key features include:
Adjust inventory: manually adjust stock in a location
Quick register: scan items and the location to log them
Inventory count: count specific locations and compare counted inventory with expected inventory. This works while your warehouse operates, and the time at which locations were last counted are recorded so managers can keep track of what needs prioritising.
Scan to move: scan items to indicate they need to be moved to a new location.
Scan to remove: scan items for removal, allowing you to select options such as ‘damaged’ or ‘outdated’
Quarantine: quarantine inventory by moving it into a confined location. Items which have been marked and moved will not be available for sale
SEKO is a 3PL with a network of logistics sites across the US, Asia and Europe. They allow online retailers to outsource their international shipping operations. Because they have control of their core lanes, they’re not reliant on other companies to transport their clients’ shipments - which means you’re dealing solely with them and not a middle-man.
If you make a lot of international shipments, SEKO might be a great 3PL to consider integrating. They work across a wide range of industries and operate on a global scale.
Founded in the heart of Yorkshire, 3PL company Torque take care of their clients’ supply chains so that they can focus on other areas of their business. They’re now fully international and have a variety of services in their warehouse and fulfilment capabilities.
Their WMS allows for real time reporting, special packaging, marketing insertions, personalised despatch notes, returns processing and much more.
They have a number of testimonies from big brands such as Arsenal FC, Bluebella and Gorilla Glue on their website for you to get a better understanding of the work they do.
A 3PL for fashion and lifestyle brands, Bleckmann has a network across Europe and the United States for international shipping.
They use market-leading WMS and BI solutions to support businesses of any size. As an international company, they also offer services to their clients for handling any customs-related administration such as commercial registration and VAT obligations.
If you’re a fashion or lifestyle brand looking to deliver across borders, Bleckmann might be the way to go.
Radial is an omnichannel commerce operation company, aimed at helping businesses deliver goods more quickly and efficiently. Their services include:
Fulfilment and transportation: Order and inventory management which personalises customer experience and delivers goods reliably.
Omnichannel solutions: Offers unified brand experiences between digital and physical stores.
Payments and fraud: Offers a smooth customer payment experience, as well as removing risk of fraud.
Customer care: Creates personalised customer interactions and experiences to build loyalty.
Because of their focus on omnichannel solutions, if you’re a business with both an online and in-store presence, Radial might be an effective choice for you.
ShipBob is a 3PL which focuses on US customers, allowing integrations with huge ecommerce platforms such as Shopify, Magento, Amazon and BigCommerce.
Some of their key features include distributed inventory - allowing clients to split their inventory across different locations for more efficient delivery - and two-day express shipping for all continental US orders.
US-based businesses will gain the most from using this system thanks to its two-day shipping and wide variety of platforms and marketplaces.
As one of the leading logistics providers, Kuehne+Nagel offers its services across a broad range of sectors including aerospace, automotive, consumer, industrial and pharmaceuticals. Their services include production, packaging, distribution and ecommerce solutions.
Due to their focus on international shipping across sea and air, Kuehne+Nagel have recently announced a push to become carbon neutral with more sustainable fuel for its aircraft. If you’re a company with strong environmental values, it’s important you work with partners who share those values - so Kuehne+Nagel might be one to consider.
OrderFlow’s WMS system focuses on a customised service, providing reports, workflows and a dashboard tailored to their clients’ needs.
They run constant support and work closely with their clients to understand their business. Even as a company changes as it scales and grows, they help their clients adapt to those changes.
Blue Yonder provides supply chain management, manufacturing planning, retail planning, store operations and category management offerings.
With a large portfolio of prominent clients, they’re always working on new innovations to help customers across manufacturing, logistics and retail.
Manhattan Associates offers a number of solutions for retail companies to manage their inventory and supply chain.
By combining warehouse and labour management, transportation planning and execution, and automation, their service allows for a more effective and agile supply chain.