A Checklist for Stepping Up Your E-Commerce Game
American consumers spent a whopping $861.12 billion with online retailers in 2020, up 44 percent from the previous year. Amazon.com, the largest North American online retailer, reported a significant rise in site visits in January 2021, up 20 percent from the year prior. It’s plain to see that e-commerce is blowing up, and we don’t need to guess about the reasons why.
The pandemic made online purchasing a necessity for many people, and now that these consumer habits and preferences are in place, they’re unlikely to change. In fact, e-commerce is expected to continue to boom in the years ahead, growing exponentially and gradually replacing brick-and-mortar retail experiences.
In the wake of this shifting landscape, consumers’ online shopping demands — e.g., greater delivery speed, more product variability, lower prices — continue to outpace the retail industry’s capabilities. Many retailers are struggling severely to keep up.
Some have outdated systems, processes and facilities in place; some have been hit hard by the nationwide labor shortage; and some are battling to keep up manufacturing schedules. If your organization is beleaguered by one or more of these issues, it’s time to take a breath and consider how you can streamline and optimize your operations for this brave new world.
How can you begin to transform your standards and practices to compete more effectively? How can you deliver more consistently for your online customers? How can you truly step up your e-commerce game? Through our work with hundreds of customers to optimize material handling and distribution, we’ve developed a quick reference checklist that might help:
- Gather the right data — and analyze it consistently. In order to optimize your workflow for a rapidly shifting e-commerce landscape, start thinking more about the long game than the short game. Your company must have tools and systems in place to gather data and analytics on your timing, speed, efficiency, accuracy and all other key metrics — and this data must be regularly used to determine whether you’re meeting your goals, not to mention keeping up with the competition. Without an investment in data sourcing and analysis, you’re essentially working blind.
- Conduct a thorough physical evaluation of your existing facilities. When was the last time you reviewed and analyzed your physical work sites? Are your product racks laid out for optimal access and handling? Are your aisle widths conducive for your daily flow of activity? Take an analytical perspective with you as you walk through your facilities, no matter how familiar you might be with them. You may be surprised at what you notice.
- Look for bottlenecks and pain points. What aspects of your daily workflow and process are creating the biggest headaches for your employees? Which actions typically take the most time or physical effort to complete? Having these conversations with your workers, especially those who have their hands on your products and materials every day, is key to ensuring your operations are running as smoothly as possible all the way down the line.
- Count the number of times an employee touches a product. This is one of the easiest measures of efficiency when it comes to warehousing and retrieving products for e-commerce sales. If your employees are touching any one of your products more than once, you’re implementing waste into your processes. Transportation and labor costs directly correlate to the number of times an employee touches a product. Maximizing employee efficiency should be top of mind for every business in the materials handling space as we’re deep in the throes of a labor shortage.
- Explore automation investments. If you haven’t recently explored the broad and fast-growing range of automation opportunities available to your business, take the time to do so. From conveyers and other basic facility equipment all the way to significant software investments and modifications, there may be an option suited to your business’ operations and bottom line. Flexible design is critical here as you must build not just for today’s needs but for tomorrow’s. Any solution you do implement should have a long-term mindset and approach.
- Explore a selection matrix to screen potential suppliers and partners. The right partner may be able to help with an unexplored, game-changing option when it comes to fundamental things like maximizing space, improving product organization and layout, or helping with labor and staffing allowances. First though, build out a set of criteria on which you’ll evaluate potential partners to ensure finding the right fit. Consider solution fit, return on investment, culture and values fit, demonstrated field service and lifecycle management success, reference accounts, maturity of solution, age of company and capitalization of company. Finding a well-targeted partner and building a strategically selected partnership together could transform individual aspects of your business.
The bottom line is that steps must be taken — both immediately and on an ongoing basis — to stay afloat in our rapidly changing and oversaturated market. The businesses whose overall efficiency, from better safety to cost of ownership, productivity and service ability, is strongest will win this race. If you’re not employing the checklist above, or creating an optimization checklist of your own with a well-rounded approach to materials handling, you’re missing out on a significant opportunity to grow, thrive and compete in an increasingly e-commerce world.
Ryan Boyd is vice president of racking and automation at TFS, a leading provider of brand-independent, turnkey material handling and fleet management services.
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Ryan Boyd is vice president of racking and automation at TFS, working with some of the largest manufacturers and distributors across North America, helping them incorporate operational improvements to support productivity, safety and cost savings. As the leading provider of brand-independent, turnkey material handling and fleet management services, TFS’ team of experienced analysts leverage proprietary tools and a custom technology platform to consistently generate significant improvements for all kinds of facilities. From asset tagging and tracking, to entire material handling system management, to the GuaranteedFLEET® program with fixed cost savings, TFS works to benefit customers seeking total control of their material handling equipment and processes. Learn more at https://www.tfsglobal.com/.