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At the end of the day, every warehouse lives and dies based on its ability to effectively fulfil orders.

That’s not to make it sound overly dramatic or put too fine a point on it, but a big part of the existence of any warehouse is to fulfil orders and get product out the door. To that end, being able to handle order fulfilment effectively and quickly is key to maintaining customer satisfaction—and repeat business.

You may have noticed some inefficiencies in your order fulfilment procedures, be it lost products, lengthy handling times, and so on. By implementing these suggestions through the year, you can give yourself a head start on the next busy seasons:

Refine your demand planning

By the time you read this, you should have some fairly hard-and-fast sales information from the previous year, particularly for the holiday sales rush. As able, focus on comparing your previous demand forecasts to your currently-available sales information and compare them for accuracy. Were you correct in predicting the fastest-moving items? Did something drastically perform beyond your expectations and left you short-handed in stock? Did something not sell nearly what you thought it would and now you have a lot of overstock?

While these are always good things to look out for, your amount of on-hand stock can begin to affect your ability to handle orders effectively. Knowing what gets ordered most and what needs to be stored where can help your overall picking and fulfilment strategies and will make operations overall much smoother through the coming year.

Know you’re using the right storage

A lot of warehouse managers make the mistake of assuming all warehouse racking is the same, but this can actually lead to issues getting orders handled down the road.

As able, take the time to review your items and make sure they’re being stored as effectively as possible. Find smaller wire shelving or metal shelving for individual items or items that don’t get picked as much and ensure that your pallet racks are being used to the fullest—in many cases, items still stored on half-full pallets are better off being kept elsewhere to make sure your pallet racks are doing all the heavy lifting they can.

Optimize pick and put-away

Similarly, part of quickly and effectively handling orders is knowing where everything is. Once you have your demand forecasts completed (as per the first tip) you can start reassigning items where they can do better for your pickers. Keep popular items up front to reduce pick time (as some 60% of your staff’s time is spent tracking down items), move larger or slower-selling items to the top of your racks, dedicate a specific area for overflow storage/clearance items that need to get moved or sent back to the vendor, and provide flow racks for smaller items that need to get across the warehouse more quickly.

Analyse packaging costs

Fulfilment efficiency means more than just getting orders out the door quickly. You need to understand the cost impact of every item sold, and every order sent out to customers, and that includes the packaging you use to get them in the mail. Are you frequently using over-sized boxes or doubling up on packing material for items that don’t need it? Can you cut down on cardboard waste and extra expense in any areas? It isn’t about cutting corners, it’s more about focusing on where you can reduce expenses and improve your environmental impact.