Smart storage solutions for e-commerce peak season sales

Few countries are immune from the mayhem that starts with Halloween and ends with the January sales. In between we have Black Friday, American Thanksgiving and Christmas. For companies involved in e-commerce fulfilment, this is the make or break period – the time in which they will manage their warehouses effectively, optimise their logistics and maximise profits. For others, it’s a period of madness where their ability to control their pick and pack operations begins to break down and logistics arrangements fall short, so orders go unfulfilled and customers are disappointed.


Surprisingly, online shopping only accounts for 27.6% of total shopping worldwide – but when you think that total global shopping includes all the things that you can’t buy online eg fuel for your car – but in this peak season e-commerce sees much more activity than at other times of year.


Warehousing, ecommerce and intralogistics


This rise in demand for goods intensifies the need for warehousing and shipping space. In particular thesmart storage for ecommerce art of intralogistics – which is optimising, integrating, automating, and managing logistical information flow AND material goods within the four walls of a warehouse or fulfilment centre – is a crucial element that defines success or failure.


During peak sale periods, warehouse personnel often find that a variety of SKUs have to be stored in a range of quantities depending on demand – fireworks might be required in the period between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, for example, but not before then, while Christmas sweaters are highly in demand from early November through to Boxing Day.


Tiered smart storage


Single and multi tier storage formats are useful in these cases, as pick and pack is improved when storage areas can be modified to manage the very wide range of items in demand during the period. Mesh dividers can also be useful, as they can be used for kitting orders. Kitting is commonplace where people buy the same kids of things at the same time: a plastic Christmas tree, some tree lights, a Christmas tree skirt and tinsel, for example. Using mesh dividers to improve the storage capacity of a warehouse by setting up items that are likely to be kitted helps both warehouse personnel and stock control systems operate successfully.


Pallet storage can be used to keep high demand SKUs at the heart of the warehouse operation, by removing less popular seasonal items to the pallet racking area of the warehouse, freeing up space near the order fulfilment area for high demand items.


Mobile shelving


While mobile shelving is often most familiar in library and archiving settings, it’s a good solution for many warehouse operations that have small items such as jewellery, accessories and electronics. Essentially storage shelves are located on a traction systems which results in compact storage when not in use. For smaller premises where space is tight, this can be a good way of making use of the storage space available and because mobile shelving moves, it’s essential that good locking mechanisms are installed to keep personnel safe. Mobile shelving can be either manual or automated.


Smart warehouse storage and security


Another key consideration in relation to smart storage for e-commerce during peak period sales in pilferage and security. It’s an unfortunate fact that the very times that warehousing space is most under pressure are also the times that:


  • temporary and agency staff are likely to be employed
  • pressure on staff to obtain gifts for friends and family is highest.


While there’s no reputable evidence that temporary employees are more likely to pilfer, there is definitely a greater likelihood of accidental damage and loss when temporary or agency staff are being added to a team at a time when everybody is under pressure. This can lead to a high degree of product loss. Traditionally this was addressed by lockable mesh cages for high value items, but this process both slows down order fulfilment and can still be abused because it requires personnel to supervise locking and unlocking effectively. Smart unlocking systems operate like vending machines, pushing forward and/or dropping down SKUs based on an automated order, which prevents pilferage.


Smart warehouse storage solutions


Automating some components of a warehouse operation can be a useful addition to improving storage solutions.


  1. inventory accuracy is always better if it’s being updated in real time
  2. better transparency reduces losses – whether through pilferage or damage, and gives a company ways to track and monitor inventory as it travels through the warehouse which allow for better supply chain decisions.


For highly automated warehouse space, this process can include scanning vehicle tags to allow for cross-docking of goods without them ever entering the warehouse itself. These interconnected warehousing technologies can work together to create a system where goods are received, sorted, stored and sent for shipment automatically, or may be used alone as part of a traditional warehouse space system to improve one area of activity, freeing up personnel to focus their energy on other areas, such as pick and pack, that may be adding value through offering gift wrapping etc.


Highly specialised areas such as pharmaceuticals, toiletries, herbs and spices may benefit from a spinblock system – this is where items are located in a carousel system accessed from a single point. Such products are monitored via an inbuilt automated system and whenever a SKU is required, the whole unit spins so the mechanical picker or team member can access the requisite item. This is an especially useful system where items must be stored in a temperature or humidity controlled environment as the interior of the spinblock can be constantly monitored and maintained and there is less fluctuation in temperature or moisture levels when most of the unit is hermetically sealed within the spin unit.


Smart warehouse storage solutions and agility


As warehousing becomes more complex, warehouse space needs to change direction and handle changing circumstances with flexibility. This includes optimising item transit through the warehouse but may also mean that temporary storage space needs are identified and that 3PL providers are alerted to changes in demand and offer. For example, in the run-up to peak holiday demand, many e-retailers choose to offer 24 hour delivery, and need to communicate the level of demand to their 3PL partner on a fluid basis.





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