Industry Roundtable: Optimizing Your Warehouses

We don’t need to tell you how much ecommerce has changed since early 2020. As a retailer, you have been experiencing these changes first-hand, but so have your customers.

What happens after a customer makes a purchase is just as important as their pre-purchase journey. A recent Brightpearl survey found that 49% of consumers have had between one and three bad experiences directly related to shipping, delivery or tracking within the last year alone.

That’s why good back-office systems are essential when it comes to merchants being able to offer the experience customers are looking for. In the same survey, 78% of retailers admitted that their post-sales process is not the best process possible.

We asked a few of our partners some important questions about how retailers can optimize their warehouses to keep up with today’s customer expectations. See their answers below.

With an influx of online buyers comes an influx of returns. What can retailers do to make sure their warehouses are prepared?

“While a large influx of holiday gift returns might not start coming in until the end of December or early January, make sure you have a thorough returns management process ironed out months in advance.

Revisit your returns policy to make sure you don’t lose money. Review which products have historically been returned most, determine why and consider changing products and/or product descriptions to set better expectations.

As far as preparing your warehouse, have a streamlined plan on how you’ll receive returns, from restocking stations in a dedicated part of the warehouse to examining items for quality assurance to determine if they are acceptable to be resold.

If you outsource fulfillment to a 3PL, have product-level returns preferences set in the 3PL’s technology, so the fulfillment company knows what action to take when a return is received.”

Kristina Lopienski, Director of Marketing Communications at ShipBob

“Retailers know their customers, and most have sophisticated tools to understand sales conversion, but many are playing catch up when attempting to understand the return patterns. Warehouses, particularly 3PL operations, need quality forecasting to ensure they’re correctly resourced to handle the influx of returns. Whether it’s tracked return services from carriers providing an expectation of a return landing in the warehouse, or a returns platform that smooths the customer experience, speeds up the refund process and gives visibility of inbound returns; giving your warehouse visibility into the expected workload is the key to success and cost-effective returns.” – Kevin Read, Director of Fulfilment and Contact Centre at Whistl UK

“Some brands think that the harder they make it to return products, the fewer returns they’ll have. Fact is, returns are unavoidable in ecommerce, but they’re also opportunities. With the right systems in place, you can use this touchpoint to collect valuable information about customer preferences and experiences and use this data to improve product information, imagery and selection to decrease returns moving forward.” – Matt Carpentieri, VP of Global Partnerships at RubyHas

Since the start of the pandemic, what are some key impacts you’ve seen in warehouses?

“One of the biggest impacts within the four walls of the warehouse has been trying to balance the need for more staff to handle the higher-order volumes with the need for social distancing measures and COVID-19 related staff shortages. Companies have had to rely on temporary staff and more frequent shift rotations.” – Leo Connolly, Marketing Manager at Descartes Peoplevox

“With many of our brands selling essential items, anything less than meeting our SLAs was unacceptable. That meant protecting our people by following CDC guidelines, and giving our employees sick leave, hazard pay and time off to get vaccinated. It also meant investing in automation, so we wouldn’t have to depend so heavily on everyone making it to work every day. Now we can ramp services up or down as needed.” – Rafael Zakinov, Founder and CEO at RubyHas

“The biggest risks were closures and capacity constraints across the supply chain, from factories shutting down due to COVID-19 outbreaks to inventory delays to carriers not picking up at warehouses because they were stretched beyond capacity (especially during the 2020 holiday season).” – Kristina Lopienski, Director of Marketing Communications at ShipBob

What advice can you offer to merchants with Brick & Mortar locations? How can they still get value out of their storefronts despite lockdowns and capacity limitations?

“It’s all about communication. Customer expectations have to be realistic. From delivery lead times to returns processing, a boom in orders and insufficient warehouse resources will mean disappointed customers. Brands, retailers and their warehouses need to talk openly about what is and isn’t possible.

Retailers don’t have to limit sales; they just have to be straight with themselves and their customers. Delivering on a promise should have greater value than offering instant gratification only to fail on service.” – Kevin Read, Director of Fulfilment and Contact Centre at Whistl UK

“The best advice we can offer for dealing with warehouse impact and the uncertainties that lie ahead is to have backup plans and contingencies. Reduce the risk of shipping delays by using multiple carriers. Communicate up-front that some services and delivery times might be impacted. Put extra effort into making other parts of the customer experience delightful to keep shoppers loyal.” – Leo Connolly, Marketing Manager at Descartes at Peoplevox

How will your warehouse processes help you exceed consumer expectations?

Our research with Parcelhub tells us that only 22% of retailers believe they currently offer the best post-sales process possible. This figure shows the importance of your back office operations running smoothly from the second the consumer hits the “buy” button, all the way until the package reaches their doorstep. And with so many steps in the process that touch your warehouse, it’s absolutely vital to have efficient and automated warehouse processes in place.

Want to learn more? Find out how Brightpearl supports warehouse management here!