Material Handling Systems for Success in Peak Season E-Commerce
The peak season in e-commerce is a high-stakes period that demands unparalleled efficiency and reliability. According to a 2021 survey conducted by Statista, more than half of warehouse and distribution centers are planning to invest in material handling systems. The reason is clear: these systems are essential for peak season success in e-commerce logistics.
Material handling systems are not just logistical requirements. They are strategic assets that can make or break your peak-season performance. These systems consist of:
and accessories that are essential for transporting, controlling, storing, and protecting retail products during the peak season.
Investing in the right retail material handling systems and developing a logistic strategy can reduce costs, rid you of bottlenecks, eliminate chaos, enhance safety, increase productivity, and optimize your workforce. But before we dive into the specifics, let’s look at the most common peak season challenges in the field of e-commerce.
10 Key Material Handling Challenges in Peak Season E-Commerce
Peak season in e-commerce presents a unique set of challenges in material handling that can mean all-or-nothing for a company's profitability and customer satisfaction. Here are the ten most pressing issues that supply chain professionals should be aware of to navigate this demanding period successfully.
Inventory Management: Accurate tracking of inventory becomes increasingly difficult during high-volume periods, leading to reduced order fulfillment rates, delayed shipping, and increased carrying costs for unsold items.
Increased Throughput Requirements: Handling, sorting, and dispatching a higher volume of goods within the same physical space and timeframe can overwork staff, increase error rates, and cause system breakdowns due to overload.
Labor Constraints: The need for more labor, often fulfilled by temporary staff who may lack warehouse experience, results in increased labor costs, decreased efficiency, more errors, and time delays.
Space Utilization: Optimizing limited storage space for increased variety and volume of inventory can slow down pick-and-pack processes, increase the risk of errors, and create safety concerns from overcrowded storage areas.
Equipment Shortages and Failures: Increased usage of material handling equipment can lead to higher rates of failure, disrupting the flow of goods and creating bottlenecks that result in delays and emergency repair costs.
Scalability of Systems: Warehouse management systems may not scale quickly enough to handle peak season surges, causing system crashes or slowdowns that necessitate time-consuming and error-prone manual overrides.
Order Accuracy: Increased pressure on picking and packing activities can lead to mistakes like incorrect items or quantities, resulting in returns, refunds, and a decrease in customer satisfaction.
Handling Time-sensitive Items: Managing more perishable or time-sensitive items during peak season increases complexity in sorting and storing goods, creates the potential for spoilage, and adds costs for specialized handling.
Regulatory and Safety Concerns: The spike in activity can result in shortcuts taken on regulatory compliance and safety measures, increasing the risk of accidents, fines, and potential legal actions.
Environmental Impact: The surge in activities and use of packaging materials can lead to high energy consumption and waste generation, increasing costs for waste management and causing potential consumer backlash for not being eco-conscious.
Understanding these challenges is the first step in creating a resilient and efficient material handling strategy for peak seasons.
As we transition into the next section, we'll explore how advanced material handling systems can be the linchpin in mitigating these issues, enabling smooth operations and optimal performance. The systems can mostly be placed in one of four broad categories.
Industrial Truck Systems
During peak season, the rapid movement of goods is essential. Industrial truck systems are indispensable for transporting large volumes of goods, facilitating quick loading and unloading in a warehouse, and meeting tight delivery schedules.
Forklifts: These are crucial for lifting and moving heavy goods quickly. During peak season, forklifts can be used to rapidly restock shelves and move large shipments. Also referred to as lift trucks, forklifts come in a variety of sizes and types. A 2022 survey found about 2 in 3 materials handling companies intended to purchase lift trucks in the next two years.
Vacuum Lifters: Stationary or mobile lifters that use vacuum power to grip and lift boxes, sacks, sheets, and other loads. The goal is to speed up lifting, reduce damage, and enhance operator safety.
Pallet Trucks: These are essential for transporting palletized goods to and from shipping areas. They are especially useful for quickly moving seasonal items that are in high demand.
Hand Trucks and Platform Trucks: Also referred to as dollies, hand trucks are the most basic material handling vehicles. They are simple l-shaped devices consisting of a small ledge and two wheels. Hand trucks are manually operated and pushed by hand hence the name. Platform trucks are similar to hand trucks but equipped with significantly wider ledges and sometimes larger wheels.
Order Pickers: These are ideal for efficiently picking individual items from shelves. Order pickers are quite similar to forklifts except that they have a platform for the operator to stand on. The mast moves up and down with the forks. It drives more efficient order picking through safely lifting operators so they can reach smaller or lighter items placed on high shelves.
Side Loaders: These specialized trucks are designed for narrow aisles and are perfect for spaces where wider industrial trucks may not fit. They are particularly useful for quickly retrieving items stored in tight spaces.
Lifting Stackers and Trolleys: Mobile, electric stackers and trolleys adaptable to different widths, heights, and capacities. They are suitable for handling boxes, crates, drums, reels, and other goods.
Hoists: Used to grip, pull, and lift heavy and tall goods with high precision. They use a guiding line to lift or move a load.
Bulk Handling Systems
Bulk handling systems are vital for managing large quantities of goods. They streamline the workflow and reduce manual labor, which is especially important during high-demand spikes.
Conveyor Belts: These can move large volumes of goods from receiving to storage or shipping, streamlining the workflow and reducing manual labor. Conveyor belts can also be adjusted to prioritize the movement of high-demand items. There are different types of conveyor hardware alongside belt-based setups, of course. For instance, screw conveyor solutions allow for various granular materials to be shifted from A to B efficiently.
Stackers: These are used for loading and unloading heavy items into storage or stockpiling them for order fulfillment. They can be programmed to prioritize the stacking of seasonal items that are expected to sell quickly.
Bucket Elevators: These are used for lifting products to and from elevated spaces. Bucket elevators can be used to quickly move large quantities of seasonal products to a dedicated storage area.
Storage systems are the most basic type of material handling systems, designed to get the most use out of vertical spaces to increase overall storage capacity. Other, more advanced systems usually retrieve or place goods in storage systems.
Efficient storage systems are crucial when inventory levels are high. They maximize storage space and allow for quicker retrieval of products, essential for fast order fulfillment.
Advanced Racking Systems: These can maximize storage space by utilizing vertical space efficiently. They can be reconfigured to accommodate larger quantities of seasonal items.
Stacking Frames: These are used for holding numerous racks and pallets and can be particularly useful when you need to quickly increase your storage capacity during sales spikes.
Shelves, Drawers, and Bins: Shelves, drawers, and bins may be standalone or embedded within other storage systems. They are used to store mostly small-sized retail products. Shelves may be cantilever, revolving, tie-down or boltless.
Raised Platforms: These can increase storage space without taking additional floor space and can be used to create temporary storage areas.
Automated Systems for Peak Season
Automated systems leverage technology and robotic capabilities to transport and store retail goods. They typically comprise multiple physical units centrally controlled by a single software application.
Automated systems' global material market was estimated at $23.9 billion in 2022. They can work round the clock, ensuring that there are no delays in order fulfillment. As such, they are ideal for handling a surge in orders.
Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs): These can navigate the warehouse without human intervention and are perfect for handling the slike in orders. They can be programmed to prioritize the picking and packing of high-demand items.
Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs): These can transport goods with minimal human intervention and can be used to move large quantities of goods from receiving to storage or shipping areas quickly.
Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems (AS/RS): These can locate and retrieve items autonomously and are particularly useful for picking and packing orders very quickly.
The Benefits of Using Material Handling Systems
The benefits of material handling systems extend beyond mere logistical advantages. They contribute to building a resilient and agile operation capable of meeting the challenges of peak season head-on.
Enhanced Safety: The risk of accidents increases with the rush of peak season. Material handling systems mitigate this risk by automating many of the more dangerous tasks, ensuring a safer work environment.
Increased productivity: Automated and semi-automated systems can significantly speed up the order fulfillment process, a key factor in customer satisfaction. This is particularly important when dealing with a high volume of orders, as is common during peak periods.
Cost-efficiency: While the initial investment might be high, the long-term benefits in terms of reduced labor costs and increased efficiency make it worthwhile. This is especially true for maximizing efficiency, which can lead to significant cost savings.
Workforce Optimization: With efficient material handling systems, you can allocate your human resources to more complex tasks that require critical thinking, thereby making the most of your workforce during the most demanding times of the year. One more option for optimized logistics is to outsource it to one of the warehouse and distribution companies and leave all the hassle to them.
The benefits are not just immediate but extend into the long-term as well. They set the stage for a more streamlined, efficient, and profitable operation, not just for the peak season but for the entire year.
Material handling systems are not just a logistical requirement but a strategic asset, especially during peak seasons in e-commerce. Investing in the right systems can significantly enhance your operational efficiency, safety, and customer satisfaction, ultimately driving your success in the most demanding times of the year.
Successful material handling execution depends on your choice and the use of the right systems. There is no one-size-fits-all solution — evaluate your e-commerce supply chain needs and goals, and then determine the material handling systems that are right for you.
This article was brought to you by TAWI.
Matilda Odell works as the Content Creation Specialist at the brand TAWI, a brand by Piab Group, which enables smart lifting optimized for people and businesses. Piab helps its customers to grow by transforming their businesses with increased automation. If you have any questions about lifting equipment such as vacuum lifters or other material handling equipment, Matilda is the person to talk to.