Men working in a warehouse

How to make your warehouse and distribution operations more efficient: tackling pain points in retail and distribution

Creating efficiencies in warehousing and distribution is key for any firm operating in the retail arena, but in the current pandemic-induced climate with dramatic fluctuations in consumer demand – and ever-evolving buyer behaviour – it’s more important than ever. The opportunities for those in this sector at present are aplenty, but as with any significant evolution, there are also challenges to overcome. Whether a business needs to diversify due to a fall in sales over recent months or is one that has seen demand increase and is trying to cope with this alongside social distancing and remote working, efficiency will provide the right foundation for both survival and growth.

Having the right business software architecture in place to facilitate this is vital. No business will be able to meet the demands and evolve without the agility, flexibility and efficiency that can be achieved with the use of intelligent technologies.

Inventory management holds the key to efficient operations

Effective inventory management underpins efficiencies from the get-go. From controlling and tracking to forecasting, having the right processes in place can negate issues around too much or too little stock, what’s arriving and when, and identifying what you might need before you need it.

All of this can be done with the right ERP solution – and one that caters specifically to this sector’s needs provides an effective approach. NetSuite’s Wholesale Distributor edition offers advanced inventory management capabilities on a cloud-based system, and can solve many of the inventory pain points that businesses in this sector can experience.

When it comes to inventory control, maintaining a balance is vital. Having too much stock will create storage burden and restrict cash flow, while the opposite problem of not enough stock will mean a business losing out on potential custom. When it comes to multi-location operations, having inventory in the right place at the right time – whether that’s to fulfil online orders and/or sales through bricks and mortar retailing – this issue is even more pertinent.

With NetSuite, customisable parameters such as stock levels, lead times and re-order points can be automated, offering a safety net that suits the specific needs of the business. When stock visibility processes are transferred from pieces of paper and spreadsheets to an automated system offering one version of the truth, the errors that can occur from managing inventory manually – such as missing or misplaced inventory – are eliminated.

Forecasting is important to maintain the balance of having the right inventory levels at the right time, and this is where NetSuite offers a dynamic approach. The demand-based inventory replenishment system is based on historic data such as sales, inventory reorder points and levels, and lead times. This artificial intelligence intervention removes guesswork and the need for human resource, and helps keep the wheels moving in accordance with demand.

Being able to track stock it is also key, wherever it may be across the business. NetSuite’s advanced tools provides a real-time visibility of stock, along with its location, at any one time and from any mobile device. Lot tracking, serialised inventory and bar coding facilitate this process, while bin management allows for inventory to be received at the warehouse and put away in accordance with picking preferences later on in the order fulfilment process.

Optimising warehouse processes to meet customer expectations and deliver on promises

Getting goods picked, packed and despatched on time is vital in a world where one of the main customer expectations is a speedy, hassle-free service. Same day and next day are common phrases in the world of ecommerce, and retailers and wholesale distributors need to keep this expectation at the fore if they are to remain competitive and retain customers. According to PFS Commerce, 90 per cent of consumers expect goods to arrive in one week, 36 per cent in three to five days and 29 per cent within two days. Expectations eased slightly during the lockdown period – dropping to 71, 29 and 14 per cent respectively – but as the new normal of online-first shopping becomes established, it’s likely fast delivery demands will only increase further.

This streamlined order fulfilment can be achieved by optimising warehouse processes – from picking through to effective warehouse capacity and layout, to having the right despatch processes. The aforementioned bin management offered by NetSuite gives a head start on the picking process, by having inventory in the most effective location to start with, facilitating picking speed and accuracy. Features such as this can help with optimising warehouse space needs; no one wants to spend more on space than they need to. The definition of pick strategies will also aid efficiency at this stage, whether this be multi-order picking and packing, picking by order type, cross docking or staged pick orders. Having automatically generated label printing during the receiving process is also a real time-saving element.

Furthermore, since many retailers operate drop-ship on some or all products, having the capability to automate the fulfilment of an order via another vendor, directly to the customer, is a real efficiency win. NetSuite provides this and, as it is the only hosted application with integrated order management, it automates the fulfilment of an order through pick, pack and ship. No more time-consuming manual entries, lost or inaccurate paperwork.

NetSuite also facilitates the integration of shipping through FedEx and UPS, with tracking. This creates real efficiencies by negating the requirement for cutting and pasting between systems for shipping labels, tracking number generation and address validation. Both the vendor and customer have visibility of shipment status instantly in real-time.

The benefits of these features include improved accuracy, reduced handling time and real-time traceability – all key contributors to efficiency.

One version of the truth for effective customer relationship management and accurate reporting
Communication can be a major pain point for retailers and wholesale distributors, but also a real driver of efficiencies. Effective communication between sales, customer service and the warehouse needs to be in place in order to keep customers happy.

Having disparate systems managing vital business functions such as CRM, accounting and marketing is a real negator of efficiency. By integrating these functions on one platform, NetSuite provides a 360 degree customer view across all departments and locations, in real-time. The complete lead to order process is automated, as is the order to cash process, with automated upsell and cross-sell to improve lifetime value of customers.

Since many retailers and wholesale distributors are managing partner relationships, the reseller is no longer kept at arm’s length with NetSuite: the same level of visibility that is achieved internally in the organisation is applied to partners. And in a world where self-service customer centres is a preferred way to do business and a great way to create efficiencies, giving customers a way to place orders, verify shipment and pay invoices is not only a route to greater customer satisfaction but also a cost and time-saving opportunity. Of course, this is undertaken all in a password-protected environment with customer support channels available where needed.

By using the right technology that offers the agility needed in today’s evolving landscape, and the capabilities to create real efficiencies, there are countless opportunities for those in the wholesale distribution and retailing sphere. NetSuite’s cloud-based, real-time solution is updated automatically, so the latest version is always being operated, negating expensive system updates or investment in new solutions. For a futureproof approach to a rapidly evolving future, this sector cannot afford to ignore the benefits of such systems.

To learn even more about how these functions could apply to your business, understand how we’re facilitating retailers to work intelligently – such as the recently relaunched Comet brand – and realise increased profitability, complete our contact form or call us on 0330 133 5000.