Similar advances in automation are being made at every stage, from unloading and moving products through the DC to loading and shipping. These should be considered as you plan your operation.
Create a Simulation
Once you have your complete plan in place, there’s another important step before you start: building a computer simulation. Not only does the simulation give you an opportunity to test and tweak the processes, software and equipment, but it also gives you a baseline to use for changes in the future—such as adding the robotic picking units previously mentioned.
In addition, if you have a simulation in place, you can use it to tweak your processes as you go along, running “what-if?” scenarios to see if there are other ways to increase productivity, reduce costs, shrink shipping times, etc. You can evaluate the impact of changing out one piece of equipment or process for another, and avoid a costly mistake.
In short, a simulation can help you plan and execute your e-commerce strategy more effectively by giving you that one last sanity check to ensure the plan you have is the one you want—and are prepared to execute.
Work in Small Bites
Once you’re ready to implement your e-commerce operation, the smart move is to start small and build from there. Offer a representative sample of popular items and work out the kinks on those before trying to put your entire inventory for sale on the Internet.
For example, while you may have 1,000 or 10,000 SKUs in your total product offering, you can start by selling 50 or 100 of them online. That may not seem like much, but if you select items you sell in volume through other channels, you would likely gain enough critical mass to ensure your carefully planned systems and equipment are working properly before jumping in the deep end of the e-commerce pool.
When those 50 or 100 are moving through the system smoothly, expand to the next number that makes sense—perhaps 200 or 300 SKUs. Then bulk up to 500 and so forth. By introducing SKUs on a rolling basis, you can make ongoing adjustments to your business processes and equipment in order to ensure delivering on customer expectations.
Build a Great Shopping Experience
In a physical retail store, customers shop for themselves. They select their items, put them in the basket, pay and transport them to their final destinations. Your primary concern is ensuring that the products are available for them at the store.
In an e-commerce setting, the shopping experience becomes of prime importance. Essentially, you change the purchasing interface with your customer. By taking the time to understand everything that’s involved, planning carefully and taking advantage of the knowledge of an engineering solutions provider who has proven expertise, you can embrace the trend and turn your great idea into an actual, thriving, efficient e-commerce business.
Bob Liebe is divisional president of Wynright Corporation and Jim Neuner is vice president of system sales, Chino Division, of Wynright Corporation. The company is an independent, U.S.-based provider of intelligent material-handling systems. With more than 200 in-house engineers, Wynright designs, manufactures, integrates and installs a full spectrum of intralogistics solutions.