The eCommerce supply chain is increasingly introducing automation. There are several ways automation adds consistency and confidence to your eCommerce supply chain, from developing standard practices, to enabling scalability, to freeing up time for continuous improvement in other areas of the business. Even if you know the benefits and ROI of automation investments, the pathway to full implementation of eCommerce automation systems can be overwhelming. Below are three steps and some considerations to improve the health of your supply chain with automation:
Step #1: Stop, Drop, and Assess
The first step is to stop, take a step back, and assess. Oftentimes, it can be helpful to engage a third party to help you make the best evaluation, whether it be on your supply chain as a whole, a specific facility, or any component of your end-to-end operations. Look at where your operations are performing and not performing (in terms of speed, quality, consistency, service levels, etc.) and compare that to your expectations. The goal here is to gain a strong understanding of where you have potential gaps, challenges, and opportunities in your processes.
Step #2: Fix the Process First
After a solid, holistic assessment, customers sometimes want to jump right into introducing eCommerce automation, but in my experience, I always start with the same advice: fix the process first. If you try to automate a broken process, you’ll still get a broken output—just faster. It’s crucial you first ensure your operating processes are effectively accomplishing the needed business and customer requirements, and then automate your online store for the best outcomes and highest return on investment.
Step #3: Implement Automation That’s the Right Fit
Once you’ve completed the first two steps, you’ll be in a better position to explore and implement ecommerce automation systems. The challenge here is finding the solutions that best fit your business.
The market is saturated with numerous technologies (robots, pick-to-light, conveyance, etc.) that can semi-automate or fully automate processes. It’s not a one-size-fits-all; the goal of these technologies is to maximize capability, which is dependent upon type of products and profiles of volumes and inventories. Custom eCommerce automation should be built for your specific business and products, not the other way around. If you try to force something into a workflow that doesn’t fit, you won’t see the best possible outcome. Below are 3 important considerations you should think about before automating your ecommerce store:
- Volume threshold: If you don’t have enough volume, and equipment is standing around waiting to be utilized, you aren’t justifying the cost of that automation.
- Profile: There are some profiles where it is much more effective to have a person handling products than a machine. This can be due to weight, dimensions, fragility, units per order, inventory profiles, etc.
- Flow: eCommerce tends to have high peaking seasons throughout the year. If this is the case, you need flexible automation that can easily scale, and some solutions scale better than others. Case- and pallet-picking systems, for example, are generally more difficult to scale once set up than fleets of robots. Locus and AutoStore robotics fleets are examples of easily scalable eCommerce automation—you can simply add and take away bots as needed.
Be Confident in your eCommerce Automation Investment
The above steps and considerations provide a basic framework for implementing eCommerce automation, but businesses can still feel overwhelmed by their options or hesitant to make the leap. If you’re struggling to commit and allocate the funds, it generally means you don’t fully understand or have confidence in the benefits of what you’re going to get in return. To bolster that confidence, I have two pieces of advice.
First, look at what’s happening in the marketplace. Connect with other organizations that have gone through similar processes to get lessons learned, top benefits, and insight into the holistic strategy implemented to understand how automation affects both upstream and downstream flow.
Second, work with a trusted partner such as Kenco. As experienced advisors, our job is to come in, help to facilitate proper functional requirements, drive change, and get better benefits. With a strong understanding of holistic strategies, Kenco helps customers through change management processes to understand the flow before and after automation and how it will affect all stakeholders. We also use a number of different solution models for our eCommerce customers based on profile, volume, industry, etc. that help us determine what your business can accomplish manually and when you can apply automation. To learn more about how we can help add automation into your eCommerce supply chain, visit our eCommerce and Fulfillment page.