Shifting customer expectations are driving significant changes in retail and omnichannel fulfillment, and more and more businesses are adopting micro-fulfillment models to help save space and create more efficiency in the last mile. Micro-fulfillment shrinks the footprint of order fulfillment operations in an effort to bring the product closer to the customer it serves. These small areas, which are often repurposed spaces or additions to retail facilities, rely on implementing warehousing and fulfillment space optimization best practices to be efficient. In this article, you’ll learn the basics of micro-fulfillment, some of the benefits, and how to get your operation set up quickly ahead of the holiday peak season.
3 Key Micro-fulfillment Models:
- In-store or curbside pickup - Customers place orders online and the retailer does the shopping. The customer picks up the items at the counter or the products are delivered to the customer in the parking lot - curbside pickup, which is growing in popularity in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Ship-from-store - Customers place orders online and are offered the option of having the items shipped from the store to their home. The retailer picks, packs, and ships the order from the store itself or a nearby fulfillment center
- Local delivery - Many retailers, especially larger operations like Target, for example, have started offering local delivery. Retailers and, in turn, consumers work with third parties to offer same-day delivery on many items.
Micro-fulfillment is growing as customers expect free and immediate shipping, which requires retailers to position products closer in proximity to their customers. Market forces like the pandemic have placed a great strain on the supply chain as brick-and-mortar stores face shutdowns, and more consumers shift to online ordering for essential items.
Challenges Retailers Face Implementing Micro-fulfillment
- Retail stores may not be able to increase inventory to levels high enough to accommodate the additional demand of eCommerce shoppers.
- Stores don’t always have shipping docks, shipping staff, or may not have a refined order fulfillment process to handle all of the online ordering options expected by today’s consumers.
- Stores may need to hire and train staff to perform these jobs. Dedicating floor space for a shipping area or in-store pickup area reduces available square footage for stocking money-making merchandise in-store.
- Many retail stores have minimal backrooms that are already overcrowded. Implementing more stock to accommodate increased local demand can be a daunting task.
With the right solutions and some strategic planning, a micro-fulfillment center can be implemented just about anywhere. Micro-fulfillment solutions not only bring products closer to the last mile, but they also make order picking easier in less space, allow orders to be packed more quickly, and ensure truck loading, unloading, and delivery are safer and more efficient. It’s especially important to consider new or revamped micro-fulfillment strategies ahead of peak season. Each year, demand only increases, and this year will be no exception.
In light of continued supply chain disruptions that impact eCommerce and omnichannel fulfillment due to COVID-19 and global raw material shortages, focusing on implementing or improving micro-fulfillment now will ensure operations are positioned well for a prosperous peak season in November and December, and beyond.
4 Tips to Set Up Micro-fulfillment in Time for the Holiday Rush
To ensure quick setup and successful micro-fulfillment operations this peak season, focus on optimizing your space and increasing efficiency in these four key areas:
Increase storage efficiency and space utilization in your warehouse, backroom, and customer pickup areas. Make sure your products and SKUs are organized according to throughput and are easily accessible to speed order fulfillment and increase order accuracy during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season.
2. Order Picking
As the first stage in fulfilling a customer’s order, the order picking process must run smoothly in order to streamline the remaining steps in the entire order fulfillment process.
Keep SKUs organized so workers spend less time searching for products to fulfill each order. Verify that pick paths are as efficient as possible to reduce travel time when picking orders. Labor inefficiencies compound quickly and increase the likelihood of delays in delivering customer orders on time.
3. Order Staging and Packing
Packing stations usually consist of a workbench with shelves or gravity flow tracks that are designed to store the materials used to prepare orders to be packed and shipped.
These stations are commonly connected to a conveyor that aids in the movement of the packages throughout the station and onto different areas of the warehouse.
To best take advantage of order packing stations, improve organization and reduce clutter in your order packing and staging areas. This will help to improve the overall accuracy of the packaging process and get more orders out the door this holiday season.
4. Loading Dock Efficiency
Even though the sole purpose of a loading dock is to load and unload freights, they aren’t always optimally designed for their purpose.
Rather than investing time and resources into making costly upgrades, or finding a new storage space altogether, there are solutions available that can help. Retail managers can take a step toward better loading dock efficiency by implementing ergonomic loading dock solutions to streamline loading and unloading processes.
One of the best ways to optimize loading and unloading a truck with the quickest ROI is to utilize gravity-powered, expandable conveyors. Flexible conveyors allow order packaging, assembly, shipping, and receiving to be prepared for an influx of orders throughout the holiday season and beyond.
UNEX Solutions for Micro-fulfillment Success
Storage: SpeedCell and SpanTrack
UNEX SpeedCell high-density storage solutions can increase space utilization and organize inventory in your retail backrooms, allowing for massive increases in storage efficiency for varied and low-volume SKUs.
SpeedCell can compress 200 feet of rack or shelving into 40 feet of highly organized space. Durable, flexible columns drop right into most existing rack structures. Thanks to the time saved on travel, SpeedCell will also reduce labor costs by up to 40%.
SpanTrack offers efficient and durable carton flow rollers that drop into existing structures and create the ultimate carton flow rack system for case picking and each picking operation.
Order Picking: SpeedCartt
SpeedCartt is a mobile order fulfillment cart that allows workers to pick more SKUs in less time while keeping products and orders organized like never before. SpeedCartt increases SKU accessibility and is ideal for order picking, staging, and restocking. Replacing shopping carts and basic utility carts with SpeedCartt for order picking will be a game-changer for meeting seasonal demands!
Order Staging and Packing Stations: FlowCell
FlowCell flow racks come in various configurations suited to a fulfillment operation’s needs. These flexible and versatile units are quick to assemble and can easily be reconfigured and repurposed into other areas of your operation as seasonal demands subside. FlowCell is proven to increase space utilization by up to 50% while boosting overall efficiency by 30%, speeding fulfillment, and increasing accuracy during peak season and beyond.
Truck Loading and Unloading: Flex Wheel Series Gravity Conveyor
Flex Wheel Series (FWS) Gravity Conveyor expands and contracts for easy transport and storage, making it a valuable solution to use across various areas of your operation. Use flexible conveyors in your order packing and staging areas, and for loading and unloading trucks in your retail backroom or micro-fulfillment warehouse.
Get Setup with Micro-fulfillment in a Matter of Weeks
If you’re looking to getting micro-fulfillment off the ground in time for this year’s peak season, it’s not too late. With UNEX solutions, you can be set up in a matter of weeks! Contact our space optimization specialists today to get started.
For more ideas and solutions around getting started with micro-fulfillment, download our comprehensive Quickstart Guide to Micro-fulfillment.