Just as retailers have been optimising their supply chains for just-in-time and minimum inventories, so have shoppers. It seems shoppers now visit their favourite stores more frequently and buy fewer items each time, replacing the traditional weekly or fortnightly visit to the supermarket that became the established model during the 1980s. It could be that shoppers too have decided to keep fewer items at home and buying more of what they need when they need it, rather than tie up valuable cupboard and fridge/freezer space for weeks on end.
Although there may be some link between these two trends, it is more likely that retailers and consumers have come to more or less the same conclusion for different reasons. For retailers, the over-riding driver is cost whereas for consumers it is usually more about convenience. Both to some extent share the common goal of using less space and making better use of what they have. But with leaner supply chains there is no room for error because items simply have to be available when the customer wants. Another outcome of the modern supply chain is that by and large if an item is not on the shelf, it is not in the store. Long gone are the days when one could ask the shopkeeper if there was one “in the back”.
What does this mean for stock control? Warehouse management and other supply chain systems are essentially deployed to meet the needs of the business. Admittedly, part of this is fulfilling customer demand and expectation but generally this is achieved on the business’s terms.
Systems have changed considerably in recent years to meet this challenge. In particular, they now offer greater flexibility to support the complex supply chains that retailers need in a multichannel, omnichannel world. The objective is to fulfil orders from factory to warehouse to store in shorter timeframes. At the same time order sizes and delivery times have become more precise which puts additional pressure on the warehouse and carrier. A fully-featured WMS is probably essential for any business that is serious about competing in the market.
That’s all well and good for a larger business with a tried and tested warehouse management system that has evolved to support priorities and processes over – in some cases – decades. They can probably introduce new channels and priorities into their existing operations by adding to what they already have.
Start-ups and growing businesses without a WMS have no such luxury but then again are not constrained by the old ways of working. Nevertheless, they must be efficient and responsive to compete with their established rivals. These businesses can afford – literally and metaphorically – to take a different approach by choosing a web-based application that runs in the cloud, such as ProSKU.
These enable the core capabilities of conventional WMS solutions but with few of the cost and complexity constraints. Available with a simple monthly pricing model, they support all essential warehouse stock management functions including receipt and putaway, picking and despatch, stock management, and reporting. They also integrate seamlessly with popular e-commerce and CRM solutions.
This means that out of the box they can support most businesses with no need for bespoke development or implementation. This removes the significant hurdle of an implementation cost and, because they can be up and running quickly, the modest monthly investment generates a return from the very start. In fact, once a business reaches a certain size or scale of operation the benefits of a WMS in terms of efficiency, accuracy and cost-savings become incontrovertible.