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Order fulfillment advice

Need inventory and shipping solution

1:25 pm on Aug 17, 2011 (gmt 0)

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Good morning folks. I'm looking for some advice. We currently sell on a dozen or so different online marketplaces as well as our own website. We have had good growth and currently fulfill 30-75 orders per day on average. We currently use Shipworks for the majority of our invoicing and printing of shipping labels.

While we do not currently have major issues, we do sometimes have instances where the wrong item or wrong quantity is sent. They way it is setup now it the system relies totally on one of my employees to visually look at the sku on the item and on the packing slip, as well as make sure the address matches the label for the item. If I did not have such a good, key employee, orders would be messed up much more often.

I feel this is a point of risk. I would like to use this employee in much more strategic ways (he is multi-skilled, degreed individual, really over qualified to spend so much time shipping) but I want to put in a system to make this nearly fool proof for a lower skilled employee to handle. What I have in mind is scan incoming inventory, item by item, which is then logged into a database. Orders come in, with bar codes for each item, the order is packed and scanned as each item is put in the box/envelope. Address is scanned to each label. Alerts needed if something is mis-matched.

Any advice or recommendations would be appreciated. We are not large enough for a high end commercial system and I want to avoid custom programming if I can. This seems like it would be a common problem for small to mid-size e-commerce companies. Thanks in advance.
1:59 pm on Aug 17, 2011 (gmt 0)

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We have an automated system, like what you described. We wrote it ourselves. The automated system does *not* deliver the results you're after. It simply shifts the errors elsewhere.

Quick example: We have certain incoming inventory that does not have UPC/GTIN codes. We manually apply barcoded stickers to identify the stock. All too often, the person is in a hurry, eyesight isn't that great, chatty-Cathy with another employee, and stuff gets mis-labeled.

Result: The customer will order a 10-pound Blue Widget, and we'll ship a 2-pound Green Gadget, because the barcode matched.

When you automate, workers turn off their thinking caps, and learn to beat the automation.

You can see it in action everyday at Walmart (as an example). Buy six jars of something, and watch the checkout person scan one label six times.
2:13 pm on Aug 17, 2011 (gmt 0)

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When we still did our own fulfillment, we used the Stone Edge Order Manager to handle inventory and shipping.
11:24 am on Aug 18, 2011 (gmt 0)

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votes: 3

I also wrote a custom solution myself since most solutions I found were far to expensive.

The problem is you need either a warehousing software that comes with a built in solution or you need to create an API for the solution you buy anyway. So instead of creating an API I wrote a PHP script to do the full job.

It was pretty easy since the warehousing software I use runs on MySql. So all I did was to get Motorola MC55 handheld devices with built in barcode scanner and WLAN access and wrote a small script in PHP. The packer now scans the barcode (packing slip number) into a text field in Internet Explorer on the handheld. Then my PHP script retrieves the articles for the packing slip from the database. Then the articles are scanned by the packer and the barcodes compared to the barcodes in the database of the warehousing system.

It is true that with every system you introduce new opportunities for errors appear. I had to do some reorganizing of the workplace to prevent the scanning of multiple items. I also had to code in a 60 second delay between packing slips because one employee thought it would be more effective to first do the scanning of a bunch of packing slips and items and then do the packing afterwards of multiple orders.

However all in all for me it has been a success. We had at least one misdelivered article per week. Now we only had two complaints about misdeliveries in the last eight month. That's an error ratio of less than 0,02%.
12:54 pm on Aug 18, 2011 (gmt 0)

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Thanks to all for the comments. I've been continuing to do research and I believe, as jecasc said, I will need to piece some parts together along with some programming. I may just outsource the programming as I find that even though I have an MS in CIS, I just don't have the time to actually code due to other business priorities. Thanks again.