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The Top 4 Risks to Keeping Your Fulfilment Promises

Posted on 11/06/15, filed under 3PL | No Comments

For retailers, one downside to our omni-channel age is the increasingly complex nature of fulfilment and the consequent increased risk of mistakes or problems.

Fortunately, a company that anticipates every risk and prioritises lean, flexible logistics can negotiate most fulfilment obstacles.

Risk 1: Weather
The UK’s climate has always been unpredictable, but now it’s getting more extreme too.  If you run an ecommerce company there are ways you can turn forecasts of extreme weather to your advantage – for instance, increasing stock levels of an item that will be highly popular during a heatwave.  Snow, on the other hand, causes transport disruption.  Some major supermarkets receive weather updates from the Met Office several times a day, enabling them to react quickly (and alert suppliers to do likewise), reallocating stocks to a less weather-affected part of the country.

If your Warehouse Management System is sophisticated enough to tell you precisely where your stock is at any given moment, you will be able to release buffer stocks or move your products to where they are most needed.

Risk 2: Stock shortage
As suggested above, accurate visibility of stock across the supply chain is important.  Uncertainty about stock availability will inevitably lead to delays in delivering to the customer (see Risk 4 below).  The risk is especially acute in the balancing of online and physical store operations.  But with a system in place, which allows the online and offline parts of the business to work seamlessly together, operational efficiency will increase while the amount of ‘safety’ stock held in reserve in your warehouse can be reduced.  A close and collaborative relationship with the supplier helps too, by taking advantage of economies of scale or identifying areas where partnership working will be most effective.

Risk 3: Wrong item
If an ecommerce company handles too many orders each day to be able to check each one individually, an efficient automation system is the best way of preventing the delivery of the wrong product (a particular bugbear of customers and costly for the retailer who pays for returns). And it’s usually more cost-effective than hiring an extra member of staff to do the checking.

Risk 4: Failing in ‘the last mile’
Delivery requirements vary depending on the product and the customer.  As an alternative to home delivery, the shopper may prefer to collect an item from a local corner shop or have it dropped off at their workplace, especially if there is no-one at home to sign for the delivery.  Other customers, who may perhaps be at home awaiting the arrival of a three-piece suite, will want a specific delivery timeslot.  The ecommerce company that neglects to tailor their service to the consumer risks being left behind by competitors who are better able to optimise their supply chains to satisfy or exceed customer expectations and hence secure repeat orders.

RT Page can manage your supply chain from beginning to end. To discuss our full Third Party Logistics (3PL) solution call us today on 01903 736300.

3PL Solutions for Start-Up Businesses

Posted on 21/05/15, filed under 3PL | No Comments

If you manage a rapidly growing ecommerce start-up business you are soon likely to face the challenge of how to scale up your fulfilment operations to keep pace with demand.

Expansion

Before long, an expanding business will have neither the space nor the hours in the day to manage logistics effectively.  Being snowed under by orders is a nice problem to have, but a problem nonetheless.

While online retailing has helped level the playing field for small businesses, they still trail behind their bigger rivals when it comes to fulfilling orders efficiently.

Aside from price, consumers see delivery as the most important criteria when shopping online, research by Royal Mail found.  If a customer is let down by a company’s fulfilment system, they may decide not to come back for seconds – which is a pity when a business has expended  so much effort on developing an attractive product, building its brand and designing its website.

In much the same way as  a start-up’s capital is generally better spent on employing website and marketing experts to maximise revenue through this crucial early phase in its growth, so the logistical side can be outsourced to a Third Party Logistics (3PL) provider, at least until the young company has the capacity to build its own systems.

Outsourcing

As well as knowing you have the support of a partner who can fulfil orders faster than you, giving you time to focus on your core business, outsourcing also allows you to develop a simple returns policy and manage the tricky ‘reverse logistics’ process (returns represent a warehouse operation’s most labour-intensive element).

Of course, every business model is different, as are priorities (for some, speed and an excellent overall customer experience; for others, low prices).  The type of goods will determine logistics arrangements too – it is more complex to transport a lawnmower than a book.  Essentially, your 3PL partner should be able to adapt their service to fit your needs.  When looking for a 3PL partner, choose one that is prepared to manage the entire supply chain.  Together you should anticipate what will be needed two or more years down the line, plan accordingly and allow a degree of flexibility.

RT Page’s special start-up offer

RT Page has come up with an offer tailor-made for start-up businesses, to bring down the cost of renting space and reduce the need for a long-term lease commitment (which is not usually feasible in those early days).  Sign up for an initial agreement of at least a year and you can have up to 50 standard pallets free of charge for 12 weeks: after this period there is no obligation to rent a specific number of pallets or amount of space, meaning you only pay for the space you use on a week-by-week basis.

If you are interested in this offer or in learning more about our start-to-finish warehousing solutions, or would like details of our other services such as handling credit control, contact us on 01903 736300.

Is Wearable Technology the Future for Pick & Pack?

Posted on 07/05/15, filed under 3PL, News, Pick and Pack, Supply Chain Logistics | No Comments

Managing a warehouse can be time consuming and expensive.  The success of efforts to streamline processes and provide an excellent customer service can be jeopardised at any time by human error when inputting data or picking products.

Scanning technologies are improving warehouse efficiency and robots are making the handling of incoming and outgoing shipments a simpler process.  But could wearable technology – or ‘smart’ eyewear – represent the future of truly efficient logistics?

One thing is certain – large corporations believe this technology can be applied to much more than the photo-taking, video-recording and direction-finding of the first wave of Google Glass head-mounted devices and are investing accordingly.

Delivery company DHL recently tested ‘vision picking’ glasses.  Ten order pickers at a Dutch warehouse were given head-mounted devices, including Google Glass and VuzixM100.  Graphics displayed on the glasses guided the pickers through the warehouse, showing them information about product location and quantity.

The employees picked over 20,000 items, fulfilling 9,000 orders within a prearranged timeframe.  DHL reported that the glasses made the picking process 25% more efficient.

Transportation and last-mile delivery are among the areas which will gain from these developments in ‘augmented reality’, according to DHL, along with the potential to add value to other services.  But it is in the warehouse that the technology will really come into its own.  Estimates suggest that warehouse operations, especially picking, account for around 20% of all logistics costs.

Many warehouse staff are temporary workers who are more mistake-prone, unless the company is able to spend a considerable sum in training them to be more efficient.  But a digital, wearable tool helps even inexperienced staff to reduce their walking time and find the quickest route to the item they need to pick.  Barcode scanning and image recognition software checks that the worker arrives at the right location and picks the right item.

The glasses leave the wearers with their hands free to pick up items (most warehouse work is traditionally performed by workers carrying sheets of paper – a slow process liable to error).

If smart glasses can help businesses to see more accurately what they have in stock there are obviously useful gains to be made in terms of improving stock organisation. One such gain could be avoiding ordering more products when stock levels are still sufficient.  In addition, the information provided by vision-picking software can be integrated seamlessly with a business’ Warehouse Management System (WMS).  The resulting package has the potential to make stock management and order fulfilment processes even more accurate and streamlined.  The customer would enjoy an improved experience: faster delivery along with less chance of receiving an incorrect order.

Smart glasses for warehouse staff are still at the prototype stage but if you would like to use the best in existing technology to optimise your warehouse space or find out more about our dedicated warehousing services call the team at RT Page today on 01903 736300.

What Blind Spots Do You Have in Your Supply Chain?

Posted on 23/04/15, filed under 3PL, Supply Chain Logistics | No Comments

Faults in the supply chain become most apparent at the customer’s end.  In 2013 a survey into the ecommerce experience of 14,000 people in the UK by consumer watchdog Which found that a third of all complaints related to delivery.

In the two Christmas periods since the survey was conducted ‘late delivery’ problems were prevalent, even though the weather was generally clement compared to some other years.

Last Christmas, customers of a well-known UK retailer complained that deliveries to their homes, which usually take three to five days, were taking up to ten days.  It is probably no coincidence that the company’s December sales figures were disappointing.

Here are some reminders of a few points to watch out for – assuming that, as an ecommerce retailer, you wish to keep costs down and protect the hard-won reputation of your brand.

The customer likes to be kept updated.  Try some proactive communication.  Send a text message offering a delivery slot (of around one hour if possible), giving the customer the option of changing the slot if it doesn’t suit.  It is also a good idea to offer a clear, straightforward online tracking service.  The customer can check on the progress of their order and, with fewer phone calls to field, it frees up staff time.

Are deliveries going astray because customers’ addresses are vague or misleading?  Ensure your website form allows the customer to type their address accurately, with a manual entry alternative (for more complicated addresses) to the automated lookup system.

Options for depositing the package.  Let the customer choose the place they would like their purchase left, for instance with a specified neighbour.  Some companies have been known to leave boxes containing laptops on doorsteps!

Avoid making delivery promises you can’t keep.  It is better to be honest about timescales rather than say you will deliver in two days but fail to do so.

Stay on top of demand and forecast demand accurately.  This can be difficult, but you will find it easier (and less costly) if you don’t have to store everything the customer might want on your own premises.  That’s why it often makes sense to outsource your operations to a logistics provider, who can employ the latest in warehouse technology, such as software for monitoring shipments.  Flexibility doesn’t only apply to a storage solution that can cope with spikes in demand, important though this is: it’s also key to the success of your whole supply chain and order fulfilment processes, which have increased in complexity as online orders are routinely placed anywhere in the UK, or indeed the world.

Consolidating your logistics into a streamlined operation spanning the entire supply chain will enable you to offer the service your customers expect.  RT Page has the 3PL experience and resources to help you with this.  To find out more, contact us on 01903 736300 or info@rtpage.co.uk.

Can Your 3PL Provider Meet the Challenge of the Changing Market?

Posted on 10/04/15, filed under 3PL, Pick and Pack, Supply Chain Logistics, Warehousing | No Comments

Multi-channel retailing was all about managing each channel – physical store, mail order catalogue and so on – separately. Forecasts regarding demand, or even decisions about pricing, might differ depending on the channel.

But now multi-channel has become omni-channel. Technology gives companies more information about their supply chain, and they make more informed decisions as a result, using data and trends from across the business. Crucially, every component of the business works together – from purchasing to planning to restock – to reduce costs and produce a seamless customer experience.

What do the changes mean for third-party logistics (3PL) providers and how must they adapt?

  1. The expectations of 3PL customers are greater than ever. When it comes to choosing a logistics partner, online retailers and other ecommerce businesses are more aware of what is available in the marketplace and are more demanding as a result – driven by the desire of their own customers to shop and order at any time of day and use the technology that most suits them.
  2. Flexibility is important. The pace of change makes predicting what will happen next rather difficult. Logistics providers have to be ready to face whatever the future holds. For instance, will they have the capacity to deliver on their promises if the client’s business trebles in size in a short space of time or if the business wants to deliver overseas? Will they still be able to provide a cost-effective service?
  3. 3PLs are increasingly judged on how they will improve their client’s performance, not just on their efficiency in moving goods from A to B. This deeper involvement in meeting corporate targets inevitably means discussions about solutions will take longer and involve more people (see point 4 below), but this collaborative approach adds a valuable ingredient – the logistics provider’s specialist skillset – to the mix.
  4. 3PLs need to adapt to being part of the front-end solution and not just a ‘back office’ operation. The supply chain is now, in many cases, integral to the company’s ‘offer’ – for instance, providing next day or even same day delivery to a customer’s home, or giving the customer the facility to customise their own product (and 3D printing takes manufacture-on-demand to a whole new level). 3PLs are doing much more than ‘delivering’ – they are working closely with their clients to look at the whole supply chain. This inevitably means more people from both parties need to liaise than in ‘simpler’ days, with warehousing, transport planning and more entering the equation.

Omni-channel is complex for retailers – but the logistics provider is there to help them towards the solution. By calling on the expertise of the right 3PL partner, an ecommerce business can speed up delivery, reduce waste and costs, and concentrate on its core concerns – such as growing its business.

With over 50 years’ experience in logistics, RT Page has the expertise to help you face the challenges of the future. Contact us on 01903 736300 to find out how we can handle your supply chain process for you.