Today’s consumers have an “I want it now” mentality and fingertip access to unlimited shopping alternatives. This puts new pressure on direct- and multi-channel retailers to deliver products with speed and accuracy, while reigning in fulfillment costs to stay competitive well into the future.

The challenges of e-commerce fulfillment are many. Improving order-to-delivery times to meet new customer expectations, reducing fulfillment costs in the face of unrelenting price competition, managing returns more efficiently to minimize losses and onboarding seasonal staff without increasing shipping errors.

As many companies look to scale up their processes with the holiday season fast approaching, let’s take a look at how three companies optimized their fulfillment operations to address their e-commerce challenges. In these next two posts, we’ll review how despite their varying technology maturity levels, each of these companies demonstrates how mobile applications can be a valuable complement to traditional warehouse management and automation systems.

Adding smart software on top of automation

A fast-growing e-commerce retailer with sales growth of more than 40 percent year over year, was searching for ways to scale their pick, pack and ship operations. The retailer’s long-term technology plan was to install a new WMS and add conveyors, sorters and other material handling automation systems. However, because of rising shipping volumes, they needed to make operational improvements faster than they could implement those larger-scale technology initiatives. They were looking for a more immediate solution that would allow them to dramatically increase productivity by reducing travel, intelligently batch picking assignments and efficiently sort and stage items for packing.

Equally important to the process and operational goals was the overriding business need to make these improvements in months to meet an anticipated doubling of order volumes on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. To meet all their needs, the team needed a multi-faceted solution. Working with Lucas, the customer refined their process for picking and sorting orders using voice and scanning. The Lucas solution utilized unique AI-based optimization, in addition to multi-modal voice-directed applications and a management console. The solution was configured to support the particular processes in this customer operation:

  • Rule-based batching which created intelligent batches of work from available orders, updated in real time as new orders are received from the order management system.
  • Reduced travel through the creation of optimized assignments which included separation of multi-line orders from single-line orders.
  • Voice-directed picking which guided workers through the pick process with an efficient voice dialogue that balances speed with accuracy.
  • Voice-directed sortation which combined voice direction, speech recognition, and barcode scanning using hands-free ring scanners to create a fast, error-free sortation process.

With the solution in place, picking productivity doubled and the sorting system was able to keep pace. Aside from the big gains in productivity, the solution also helped with on-boarding, training and retaining order pickers, resulting in less turnover, less training time, and doubling of picking rates.

The training aspect of the solution is one which has dramatic and important impacts, especially at peak times when more temporary workers could be joining your operation and getting them up to speed quickly is crucial.

Lucas speech recognition automatically adapts to sudden and frequent changes in background noise, and the system adapts to users, even as their speech patterns change in the course of a single shift (due to fatigue, for example), or from day-to-day. This mitigated the need to retrain, and the system could be tuned to better recognize individual words or phrases. The Jennifer™ voice solution is available in 30+ languages (Spanish, Mandarin, German, French, Arabic, etc.). DCs can mix and match languages within applications to support a diverse work environment, another competitive advantage as DCs continue to have difficulty finding workers.

In our next post on alternative automation enhancements for online retailers, we’ll look at customers who had success addressing SKU growth and boosting fulfillment by optimizing their warehouse management system.

About Lucas Systems, Inc.

Lucas Systems helps companies transform their distribution center operations and continuously adapt to changing market dynamics. We dramatically increase worker productivity, operational agility, and customer satisfaction.

Our solutions are built on 24-plus years of deep process expertise and smart software using AI and voice technologies. Our solutions feature Jennifer™, the brain, voice, and orchestration engine that drives performance improvement gains. Make the smartest moves at the lowest cost with Jennifer™. For more information, visit www.lucasware.com.

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