Smart Merchandising

How to make Picking and Packing more Efficient for both B2B and B2C Fulfillment

According to a Statista survey, e-retail sales accounted for 18 percent of all retail sales worldwide in 2020. This figure is expected to reach 21.8 percent by 2024. As this number rises, people’s reliance on e-commerce for fulfilling their shopping needs increases as well. Retailers who are cognizant of this change are already strengthening their infrastructure to meet the steady increase in demand. To keep up with this upsurge in e-commerce, retailers have to build an efficient system within their warehouses that supports a strong supply chain and last-mile delivery network. 

An integral part of ensuring customer satisfaction in e-commerce is error-free, efficient order processing. Two steps that immediately follow order placement are picking and packing at the warehouse, and successful order fulfillment is completely dependent on them. Dispatching a wrong item not only leads to returns but also causes customer dissatisfaction leading to a loss of customer trust. 

Strategies deployed to ensure efficiency and accuracy at the picking stage

1) Piece picking

Or single order picking involves handpicking of each product as mentioned in a customer order. Pickers move through the warehouse, collecting the products that are a part of a single order. All the items are collected and packed as one shipment. Only one order is fulfilled at one time. This method works the best in smaller warehouses where order fulfillment is a simple and uncomplicated process.

2) Batch picking

Instead of individual orders, batches of multiple orders are picked at the same time. This can help speed up the order fulfillment process and is best suited at warehouses that receive many orders for the same products repeatedly. WMS can generate a consolidated pick list of multiple orders, and SKUs, as pickers can pick them collectively and segregate them order-wise at the packing station. 

3) Zone picking

Larger warehouses are divided into zones and each zone has a dedicated team of employees servicing it. If the items in an order are distributed across different zones, they are collated by passing a single box from zone to zone manually or on a conveyor belt. The order can also be collated in the packing zone. This method proves efficient as employees stay put in their zones and reduce the time spent moving throughout the warehouse.

4) Wave picking

A combination of batch and zone picking, employees in this picking format, collect items from a single zone but for more than one order at a time. Wave picking works the best for large warehouses that handle high volumes of orders at all times. Consolidated picklists are created based on factors such as sales channels, order type, priorities, delivery dates, customer location, etc. SKUs are picked from various zones at the same time, sent to the sorting and packing station to be consolidated, and shipped to customers. 

Once all the items are picked, they are brought to the packing area where they are sorted as per channels of sale or priority. Consolidation of items of a single order at the packing station can help reduce shipping costs and promote the company’s sustainable goals. 

B2C vs B2B Picking and Packing

While B2C order picking is usually in the wave or batch format, B2B order processing follows an order-wise picking strategy.

In the B2B scenario, products are ordered for commercial use and are often in bulk quantities. These are high stake orders with significant financial implications. Fulfilling these order requests often takes longer lead times, considerable planning, and more documentation. There is often a strict compliance and quality process in place to ensure that order fulfillment is done accurately.

Order-wise picking allows orders to be processed even if a part of the order can be packed and dispatched at a time. Considering the quantity and volume of these orders, processing parts of an order as per availability can increase efficiency and reduce lead times. Orders are processed as per the bandwidth of the warehouse and shipping partners. The rest of the order gets dispatched when it is ready. This is different from B2C picking and packing, where an order can be closed only when all the items in an order are collated and packed in a single shipment. 

Improving the efficiency of B2B and B2C picking and packing

Integrating a new-age warehouse management system enables employees with the right instructions and tech solutions to seamlessly execute and dispatch both B2C and B2B orders. It exponentially improves the productivity levels and efficiency of your warehouse. 

Increff WMS, the new-age WMS, is a web-based cloud-hosted multi-channel warehousing solution that helps retailers improve warehousing efficiency by digitizing processes. 

  • Inventory serialization promotes the digitization of warehousing processes that do not involve the use of pens, paper, or keywords
  • It is 100% scan based with UPB integration for 100% inventory tracking
  • It allows B2B and B2C order processing from a single platform 
  • WMS generates smart pick-paths to speed up the picking process for accurate picking and faster order fulfillment.
  • The system displays essential details such as product pictures and details, on a handheld device, during GRN, picking, and packing to avoid errors 
  • It allows multi-system and multi-channel integration to centralize inventory tracking on one platform 

Use a smart WMS, built keeping in mind the modern-day challenges and requirements. Get started in less than 7 days with Increff WMS.

Smart Merchandising

The Cost of Human Error in Merchandise Planning: MS Excel vs New Age Merchandising Planning Software

Every business begins with a plan which, if not executed properly, impacts growth and expansion. Inventory management is a critical part of retail businesses and many businesses use Excel as their initial inventory management tool as it is user-friendly and readily available on all computers. Nearly 46% of Small and Medium businesses don’t track their inventory at all, or use a manual inventory management tool like Excel.  

MS Excel is an inexpensive software easily available and widely known to everyone,  making excel sheets the preferred choice for inventory management. Small businesses manage their inventory, accounts, tracking, orders, etc., as it offers access to all the data on a single spreadsheet and the ability to visualize data using pivot tables. 

Drawbacks of using excel sheets for inventory management 

Once businesses expand, retailers learn that Excel has its own limitations. Tracking stock becomes complicated with the expansion of the product lines to meet the growing customer demands. 

Some challenges of managing inventory on spreadsheets are:

  • Inaccuracy and inability for real-time access – Expanding operations require multiple employees and teams from different departments to access the inventory data. Providing multiple access, while protecting the integrity and accuracy of the data, is near impossible on excel sheets. Additionally, as the data is dynamic, sharing real-time numbers and analysis is not feasible.
  • Limited accessibility and accountability – Excel can only be accessed by one person at a time and at a specific location. Syncing it across multiple locations is challenging. It is also difficult to track changes on a workbook, leading to a lack of accountability. If there’s an inaccurate input, it is not possible to check who made the change. 
  • Constant human intervention – Excel sheets have to be updated manually, which means every single piece of information including serial numbers assigned to products, purchase orders, billing details, shipping information, etc. has to be added by hand. The chances of human errors are high and the probability of inaccurate information being recorded increases exponentially. 
  • Lack of smart analysis and planning – Finding intelligent insights and analyzing data on Excel sheets is complicated as it depends on the user’s knowledge of the task at hand. Important tasks such as demand analysis, assortment planning, buying, and reporting, consume a significant amount of time and effort. Manually analysis could lead to crucial insights and findings getting lost or misread due to errors in human judgment. 
  • Data visibility and interface- Excel sheets fundamentally work in the row and column format. While it is possible to visualize data through pivot tables, it lacks the interface to make quick variations and represent data in an easy-to-understand manner. Slicing and dicing data to match individual requirements is also not possible in Excel. 
  • No real-time data sync – Companies need to keep a physical count of inventory regularly,  they perform audits at fixed intervals – once a week, a month, or after a set period of time. This means the excel is not updated with accurate inventory count at the warehouse in real-time and depends on when the last count was done. 
  • No historical data tracking – Being able to document growth is beneficial in many ways. Having access to historical data can help business owners draw comparisons and find new insights and learnings. It is very difficult to maintain historical data on Excel and tracking all changes is extremely cumbersome.
  • No automation – While it is possible to find inventory management templates that can be used on Excel, there is no way for automating actions and analysis on Excel. Each function and update needs to be done through human intervention. Inventory Management software, on the other hand, can automate everyday tasks thus reducing dependency and avoiding manual errors.

Benefits of moving to smarter, new-age solution 

Moving away from outdated systems is critical now. While it may seem like a significant investment for new businesses, using an automated solution can simplify processes and build efficiencies in management that can lead to huge cost savings in the future. Other benefits include:

Easy accessibility – Multiple employees from across business locations and company hierarchy can easily access data at any time. These individuals can also make changes and update the system simultaneously. A new-age merchandising solution automatically creates dashboards for all stakeholders to give a complete overview of the business at the store, warehouse, or company level. 

Data storage – There has always been a limit to the amount of data that can be stored on Excel sheets. Excess data on a single sheet can prove to be difficult to manage. A single glitch could mean that data gets lost or corrupted. Smart Merchandising solutions work on a Cloud-based system, offering unmatched data storage capabilities with options such as automatic backup and retrieval to ensure that the data stays safe and secure. 

Assortment planning and buying – Creating an optimal inventory mix are possible with smart merchandising solutions as it helps in granular data analysis, analyzing up to 17 levels of product attributes. It helps in catering to the true customer demand and reduces the possibility of deadstock or stockouts.  

Better stock management – Evaluating the performance of products, merchandise planning software can determine which products are best sellers and which need to be discounted to avoid deadstock. It can also suggest styles that are out-performers in stores so they can be redistributed, through inter-store transfer, for higher sales and better margins. Low-performing styles can be discounted appropriately to sell at a decent price without incurring losses. 

Automation capabilities – New-age merchandising solution reduces manual efforts in stock counting, recording product details, updating inventory records, etc. It helps automate decision-making for pre-season and in-season planning, buying, and allocation of the right quantity of stock to the right location for maximizing sales and boosting business growth. 

Auto replenishment – NOOS and outperformers can be identified and reordered on time to avoid stockouts, especially during peak season sales. They can also be promoted to increase sales and guarantee a steady cash flow, all year long.

Business Insights and Reporting – Creating periodic reports and evaluating strategic performances becomes simpler with a Smart Merchandising Solution. It can churn out customized reports to match the preferences of stakeholders at different levels of the company. All of this can be achieved in a few quick clicks without formulas or pivot tables. 

Increff Smart Merchandising solution offers all this and much more. It is an easily deployable solution and can be implemented without disrupting ongoing operations. It is a cost-effective automated solution to boost sales and build efficiencies in merchandising. 

Smart Merchandising Technology

How retail stores can plan their merchandise accurately during the Black Friday and Cyber Monday Sale

Merchandise planning is an intensive process that gets more complicated around the holiday and discount season. Black Friday discount, which started as a one-day event spread to Cyber Monday, its digital version. In 2020, U.S. shoppers spent a record $34.36 billion on retail websites over the five days from Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday, up from $28.49 billion last year. 

A crucial change that was established over the years is that these discount days evolved from being one-day events to longer durations as their popularity increased. Retailers were finding it extremely difficult to manage the serpentine queues, hordes of people, chaos on the store floors, and high volume of sales on these two days. Now, discounts and deals are starting earlier than ever to meet the increase in demand while also easing the supply chain and shipping worries of the retailers. This change has enabled the retailers to sell more products in a shorter duration without experiencing pandemonium at the stores.

Merchandise Planning for Black Friday and Cyber Monday

To make the most of this sales event, retailers have to plan meticulously to ensure that the customer demands are met and their infrastructure doesn’t succumb to pressure. Efficient merchandise planning is done so customers can find what they want and purchase it without experiencing stockouts. Mismanagement can be catastrophic during the actual sales period especially because bargain hunters are quick to switch to competition and spread the negative word if they are dissatisfied with the experience.      

Avoiding chaos during discount season 

So how does a retailer avoid chaos on Black Friday and Cyber Monday? By planning each aspect to the finest detail, using smart merchandising and inventory management solutions such as Increff Merchandising Solution. It provides granular insights and in-depth store-style level analysis based on individual store performance and supports decision-making with concrete data. 

For existing stores, the focus needs to be on planning the display and distribution of the products to utilize available store space effectively. This can be done using planograms, a visual merchandising tool that formulates the store layout to maximize visual appeal and facilitate maximum sales. Increff Smart Merchandising Solution provides in-depth details of the products that are in demand to make these planograms more effective in encouraging sales. When the knowledge of current demand patterns is combined with scientific methods used in the creation of planograms, the stores can make maximum use of their resources such as display areas and shelves.

As many stores have had to relocate due to the pandemic and many new stores have had the opportunity to launch during this time, planning the right merchandise for each store is of extreme importance to ensure success. 

Here are some ways in which Increff Merchandising Solution can help during Black Friday sales. 

Analyze existing sales for pre-season and in-season merchandise planning

Traditionally, discount days were designed to get rid of overstock inventory to avoid deadstock but the magnitude of Black Friday sales demands analysis and anticipation. Evaluating existing sales is step one for all retailers as it provides a proper indication of products that are in demand. A new-age merchandising solution can identify top sellers or core styles, and low performing styles through trend analysis. It provides a base and direction to the inventory planning process as it helps determine what goods to stock, in what quantity, and which styles to markdown. It also helps determine which styles are suited for which stores so retailers can re-distribute existing inventory to maximize sales. 

Variable discounting as per store-level demand

As a retailer, this is an opportunity to earn higher profits and margins considering the volume of sales that takes place during this period. When customers are expecting heavily discounted products, it is unwise to use the same discounting strategy across all products as each has its own sales history based on customer preferences. Additionally, discounts often fluctuate depending on the demand at a particular location. A blanket discounting strategy could lead to losses. Merchandising planning software uses smart algorithms to determine appropriate discounts considering factors such as ageing of the style, past performance, True ROS, and cost margins. These analytics can help you avoid excess liquidation and losses. 

Optimize inventory distribution      

For a retailer to effectively plan for the sales season, it is important to consider complete inventory across stores and various channels of sale. To present the maximum amount of stock for sale, it is crucial to have a holistic strategy.  An automated merchandising solution can generate a dynamic store-style ranking to optimize inventory distribution. Event-based allocation of inventory can help ensure the right styles and products are present as per demand trends. This analysis can enable inter-store transfers and stock cover can be optimized across all stores, reducing chances of stockouts. 

Auto-replenishment and replacement 

Discount days such as Black Friday are the days when stocks fly off the shelves. An immediate need is to reorder and restock in time to ensure that stockouts don’t affect profitability. As this is also the time when retailers are getting rid of deadstock, it is important to ensure that the right products and SKUs are reordered. A smart merchandise planning software can automate reordering while maintaining checks and balances to ensure lead time is considered for every style at the time of reordering. Based on the auto-replenishment feature, stores can continue functioning seamlessly even during the peak sales period. 

Due to the pandemic, stores have to manage operations with less staff, and supply chains are stretched too thin trying to meet the unprecedented increase in demand. Irrespective of this, Black Friday and Cyber Monday are events that customers look forward to, which means they are offering an opportunity for retailers to maximize their earnings and profits in a short duration. Make the most of this receptive and favourable time by providing your customers with the best shopping experience.