Focus on the last 100 feet

How optimizing fulfillment can speed up delivery

Motion-blurred products traveling through a manufacturing plant on a conveyor system

E-Commerce consumers not only want faster delivery, they expect it and factor it into their purchasing decisions. A Consumer Trends Report from Kibo shows 40% of shoppers say a delivery time of more than two days would prevent them from making a purchase, and 63% expect three-day delivery as standard.1 A Retail TouchPoints 2018 Last Mile Survey produced similar findings, with 61% of respondents reporting a desire for faster deliveries.2

This increasing demand for speed has motivated e-commerce companies around the world to optimize the final steps of delivery. But by focusing solely on “the last mile,” some firms are noticing more issues due to rushing manual processes, as well as missing out on other supply chain improvements that could make delivery faster. Case in point: fulfillment. Advancements in fulfillment processes, materials and equipment can help e-commerce brands save time, reduce costs and improve safety. Veritiv Enterprise Account Manager Kenneth Walker and Equipment Specialist Tony Todd share a few key opportunities for fulfillment optimization.

Consolidate packaging materials, and get just-in-time delivery

To have the right packaging materials on hand at all times, many facilities end up overordering and wasting valuable warehouse space on packaging instead of products. Walker says smaller, just-in-time deliveries are becoming more popular to combat this problem.

Walker and Todd also recommend reducing the number of different packaging materials used and or using smaller packaging that requires less storage and space for equipment. Both improvements decrease material and shipping costs as well.    

“We often suggest getting away from boxes and going to mailers, flow wrappers or priority packs,” Walker describes. “Many companies want their packaging to be custom and branded, too. But if you only need 500 boxes, how can you do that cost effectively? One solution is to use custom labels instead of custom-printed boxes to achieve a similar effect.”

Automate for speed, safety and savings

Streamlining the number of packaging materials used also reduces the number of human touches required to pack and ship—another optimization that has increased demand for automation. Automation not only speeds up the fulfillment process, but reduces errors and injuries. Walker and Todd share several examples of ways to leverage automation and other emerging technologies to increase fulfillment velocity and consistency, reduce labor costs and improve safety.

  • Robotic packing and palletizing
  • Automatic label applicators for shipping, hazmat and other information
  • Automatic stretch wrap machines
  • Smart glasses that give workers useful visual cues as they pick and sort products

While some people resist automation, Todd says technology is often a good thing for many employees. “Repetitive motion is taxing on the body. It’s a health risk,” he explains. “Plus, automation doesn’t necessarily need to replace employees. It can be used to reallocate resources so people can do more complex tasks while robots and equipment take care of the repetitive work.”

Want faster delivery? Focus on fulfillment.

Walker and Todd have seen firsthand how streamlining packaging materials and implementing automation can lead to impressive results. In fact, one of their e-commerce customers recently invested in optimizing and automating their sorting, picking and shipping processes. Between time and material savings, the company achieved payback on their investment in eight months. Todd says these results were possible because the customer looked at all the fulfillment steps leading up to delivery, not just “the last mile.” “Everyone wants their order on their doorstep as fast as possible,” he states. “To deliver quickly and efficiently, you need to sort, pick, package, palletize and ship quickly via automation.” 

 

1 KIBO Consumer Trends Report (2018). Retrieved from https://kibocommerce.com/wp-content/uploads/KIBO-Consumer-Trends-Report-2018.pdf
2 Retail TouchPoints: Benchmark Survey Report – Are You Winning The Last Mile Of Retail? (2019). Retrieved from https://www.retailtouchpoints.com/features/special-reports/benchmark-survey-report-are-you-winning-the-last-mile-of-retail