What are the biggest WMS challenges in warehouse management?


Every company faces days where the warehouse just struggles. Things break, go wrong, orders are canceled, or a stack of boxes is discovered in a corner, and now you’ve spent too much on your restock. Or, you find a giant box with only one product left inside, meaning new sales have to go on back order.

These are just some of the worries that face warehouse managers each day. Thankfully, they’re common enough concerns that most WMS developers know them and are working to solve them for you right now. Some of the significant WMS challenges and opportunities we’ll look at in this guide include:

  • Common inventory problems in warehouses
  • Why layout and product counting make a difference
  • Logistics challenges specific to the warehouse
  • Transport pains and costs that your warehouse could avoid
  • And more

It’s time to dive in and create a plan to leap those barriers between you and a more profitable warehouse.

What are the problems of warehousing?

Not surprisingly, the most significant challenges and problems in the warehouse center on your inventory. Knowing, storing, and using what you have at the right moment is a very complicated process. When you’re running a ship manually, you’re more likely to run into problems. They also tend to be larger ones.

Inaccurate inventory counts are the most common issue. They cause discrepancies between what orders you think you can take and fill and what actually gets out the door to customers. Having less product than you thought can lead to back orders and shipping delays, frustrated customers, and making you miss out on sales.

Check out our WMS comparison to find the best warehouse management software for your business

On the other hand, having more inventory than you thought can lead to unnecessary resupplies that force you to find room to store more than you needed. You’re just wasting money on space and goods without any need. 

If you’re working with perishables, poor inventory control also can lead to product losses. It’ll eat into your cash on hand and limit your ability to gain revenue, essentially costing you twice. When you don’t have things like mobile support, you’re doing it all by hand.

How do you fix inventory problems?

The best way to address your inventory issues is to introduce automation and checks to your counts. These are the main WMS challenges that vendors approach. They want to make it easy for you to understand what you have and keep those counts accurate — because when they save you money on storage and labor, you’re more likely to stick with their software.

Look for WMS solutions that have you scan goods as they’re moved. Find something that tracks every step or change, including:

  • When goods are received
  • When you break down a pallet or carton into individual units
  • When you create a kit out of multiple SKUs
  • As goods are put away on shelves
  • As goods are picked from shelves and orders are filled
  • When an order moves to a pack station, scanning the entire order before the packing process starts
  • And when items need to be returned to shelves under unusual circumstances, such as returns or canceled orders

Is there more than just moving goods?

Another core aspect — and potentially major issue — of controlling your warehouse and inventory is its location. Not only do you need to know where individual elements are as they move through the fulfillment process, but you must have a big picture about the layout of your warehouse and how it impacts goods storage and your pickers.

If you’re not tracking location or you don’t have a system that keeps the position of products consistent, then it’s going to take pickers longer to find things, slowing down every other point in the shipping process. They’ll also take longer for each pick order, increasing your labor costs per order.

While this isn’t a common WMS challenge that most warehouse operators think of, most new systems do come with tracking and analytics that can help you optimize your warehouse inventory location and even adjust them ahead of peak seasons.

You need to not only have the right amount of space, but you’ve got to use it right too.

You’ll want a WMS that’s smart enough to help you identify the fast-moving inventory so you can keep it located closest to your packing stations, reducing fill times on those small or standard orders. Systems can also highlight what products are purchased together often, allowing you to save some picking time by moving these items closer together in your warehouse.

If you’ve got items that are typically sold in large quantities or are unusually heavy, moving them to areas where lift truck drivers can easily access the goods and maneuver can cut down on pick time as well as reduce the likelihood of accidents.

The final piece in this puzzle is a challenging one, and it touches on both inventory accuracy as well as warehouse layout. You need a system that will support you when an order currently being picked gets canceled. Find a solution that notifies pickers and has a clear process to get these products back on shelves and accurately counted. This mid-stream shift can be tricky, but it must be handled correctly to keep your inventory counts accurate. Knowing where you have extra space to temporarily store such canceled orders can help ensure your team, and WMS keep things separate until products are ready to go back on shelves.

What are the challenges in logistics?

In the broader terms of logistics and supply chain, your warehouse chiefly faces concerns around how you interact with partners. This group can include distributors, suppliers, sales channels, and companies you outsource to, such as 3PLs and product manufacturers.

For many businesses, you’ll feel this pain when it comes to your software integration. Receiving orders through ecommerce platforms, using CRM to restock your inventory, SCM tools that track shipments and partner needs, and ERP for financial forecasts all rely on the goods and data in your warehouse.

When there’s a gap or a broken integration, your team faces manual tasks and redundancies that cost time and money, plus can yield inaccuracies that lead to major headaches.

The software can be a great solution to this, as long as it’s up to the WMS challenges. What you want to look for is a WMS vendor who has experience integrating with the software and partners you’ve got. A WMS that specializes in large-scale manufacturing will likely incorporate well with supply chain tools needed around raw material and component sourcing, helping you protect your long-term capabilities. On the other hand, ecommerce-oriented WMS vendors will likely make it easy for you to integrate with leading platforms such as WooCommerce and Shopify so that multiple channels feed into your order system without hiccups.

The warehouse is a central hub of business, receiving goods from some spokes, and delivering them to others. Warehouse software plays much the same role, and its familiarity with your spokes can make integration, adoption, and long-term savings much simpler.

What are the major transportation issues in warehousing?

Transportation costs are usually right behind labor in the list of concerns your managers have. These costs encompass everything from delays in inventory and orders to maintenance and insurance as well as touching on inventory control.

Check out this article on integrating WMS and TMS to find out more

The WMS challenges typically come from areas where you’re focused on shipping and receiving goods, keeping everything on time and flowing. When you’ve got a tight operation, understanding transportation expectations makes it easy to cross-dock and streamline your putaway to make the most of your inventory and labor.

Another essential element is the relationships your warehouse has with carriers. You may have negotiated relationships to reduce costs for packages. However, there’s never a perfect carrier for every package. So, your WMS needs to be able to understand product differences for things like DIM weight and shipping zones in your country.

If you’re not using a WMS to choose the best carrier partner, you could be overpaying significantly based on package characteristics such as weight, volume, size, and the delivery targets you need to make. For larger operations, these can extend into shipping routes and lanes across multiple modes, making the decisions harder and the need for a robust WMS that much more significant. 

Overcoming challenges in warehouse management

There’s an underlying current to the challenges we’ve discussed so far: customer expectations. The need to go fast and make no mistakes while also understanding exactly how long it’ll take you to ship your next sale are all goals centered on providing a good customer experience by meeting their expectations.

Every movement in a warehouse is designed around making that end-customer happy while keeping operations affordable.

Bring this same mentality to the way you want to solve your warehouse concerns. You’re now the customer and you’re looking for a WMS solution that makes your day easier by meeting expectations. This is your best mindset for speaking with vendors and asking about capabilities. Discuss what they have to offer in terms of how it helps you and ultimately your customers.

There are checklists, selection options, comparison tools, and many other tools that can help you prepare as well. Just don’t forget that your expectations are an important driving force in this WMS selection. 

author image
Geoff Whiting

About the author…

Geoff is an experienced journalist, writer, and business development consultant with a focus on enterprise technology, e-commerce, and supply chain development. Outside of the office he can be found toying with the latest in IoT, searching for classic radio broadcast recordings, and playing the perpetual tourist in his home of Washington D.C.

author image
Geoff Whiting

Featured white papers

Related articles