Retail WMS must-haves: what should buyers look for?
We know that warehouse processes differ across industry and business type. For instance, ecommerce businesses are generally characterized by small orders, higher return rates and often use a variety of shipping carriers and methods. Whilst some systems claim to cater to all business types; at Brightpearl, we believe any warehouse management system that merchants choose must be built for retail.
But what features should you look for in a retail WMS? Consider the points below...
1. Fast barcode scanning
To ensure your warehouse teams can keep their processing times (and costs) down, your WMS should offer the capability to scan barcodes in and out of your warehouse. This becomes ever more increasingly important during your peak season or if you embark in flash sales as part of your business strategy.
2. Integration with your business management system
There are two main options for WMS: you can either choose a standalone product and integrate it with the rest of your back office systems, or choose an integrated solution where the WMS shares the same database and workflows as your order management, inventory and accounting. To ensure a coordinated approach across your business, it would be wise to consider the latter.
As you explore your options, investigate what data is exchanged between your back office software and the WMS as well as the wider business. One key aspect to remember is how the WMS integrates with your accounting system. Each time inventory is added or removed, your WMS should be able to automatically create the appropriate accounting journals to ensure your inventory valuations are always correct.
3. Advanced inventory counts module
Inventory counts should be performed regularly in order to help reduce discrepancies and improve your inventory control. But this doesn’t necessarily mean performing a full inventory count more often - this is where cycle counts can help.
Cycle counts are smaller, more focused lists of products that need to be counted. There are lots of ways to decide exactly what’s included in each list, such as a certain product category, or a certain product vendor. But there are two specific counts that can really help with improving inventory control:
- High risk: A high risk count will be a list of all products that have historically had the largest discrepancies during counts, are prone to theft, or have had the most inventory corrections performed against them due to breakages and returns. Performing high risk counts will enable you and your warehouse team to discover exactly why these products are resulting in so many write-offs, so you can then work to mitigate them.
- High value: High value counts are exactly as the name implies - a list of products that have the highest cost, or potential sales value. Prioritizing this selection of products will ensure that your most cash-intensive products are well understood, and again, any errors can be uncovered swiftly and mitigated.
With this in mind, your WMS should allow you to perform these cycle counts regularly with very little effort required from your team. A powerful WMS allows you to scan a location, then scan all the products within that location before moving to the next, resulting in a completed list that can then be reviewed, accepted, or rejected before updating your core inventory levels.
4. Multi-location order fulfillment
In the modern retail world (remember omnichannel anyone?), you’ll likely find that you need to create orders for a number of different channels, such as your website, online marketplaces like eBay and Amazon or your brick-and-mortar store. It’s also likely that your different channels require different fulfillment locations, such as your main warehouse, secondary warehouse or maybe even a special showroom. This means it makes sense that your WMS should integrate with all of the channels you use (at least indirectly), and allow you to fulfill from different locations as each order requires.
5. Fully automated end-to-end order process
If you’re going to save time within your warehouse and cut processing costs, automation bots are what is really going to help you to do that. Order creation, inventory allocation and order fulfillment are all processes that can be automated, whilst inventory updates, product asset values and shipping are yet more things that can be automated. Once you have both automation bots and an efficient (integrated) WMS working seamlessly together, you can fully automate the end-to-end order process.
6. Cloud-based for access at anytime, from anywhere
There’s no denying that modern warehouses are paperless. Warehouse staff should be able to access their systems easily (and ideally whilst on the move around the warehouse). This becomes especially prevalent if you choose to outsource your warehouse processes as well.
7. An experienced retail-focused vendor team
A WMS implementation is always going to be quicker and smoother if the team helping you implement it are experienced and knowledgeable within your particular industry. Keep an eye out for WMS systems that have a team behind them that really understand retail. And whilst we’re on the subject, you should also keep an eye out for a WMS that hasn’t just been built for retailers, but by retailers who really know what you need from a reliable system.
Finding the perfect WMS can be tricky, but these are the features we think all retail warehouse management systems must have as standard. Good luck in your search and remember that there are a whole host of benefits waiting for you when you finally do find the right system for you and your business.
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