How to conduct a WMS software comparison
You don’t buy the first car you see on the lot, so you shouldn’t expect to get the first WMS you see either.
That can seem a little obvious, but a few seconds on Google will lead you to horror stories from the past year about companies who jumped on what seemed like the perfect WMS deal without doing more homework. Let their mistake be your lesson. Comparing WMS offers and vendors will help you find the best deal for your business and budget, plus makes it easy to avoid companies whose customer service is a nightmare.
Today, we’ll dive into some key factors when considering and comparing several types of warehouse management systems:
- Why compare before you buy
- Which comparisons make sense
- How to break down functionality requirements
- What to know about the price
- Why size matters
- Demo etiquette and usefulness
- And how to turn all of that into a shortlist
Why should you compare systems?
Every major business purchase requires a comparison to ensure that you have the right options before making a choice. A WMS comparison shows you what’s available and from who — and the landscape continues to expand each year with new platforms, providers, and functionality.
Under the surface of this industry best practice is another useful item: you might see a function you want that’s on a system you don’t want. That feature can be turned into a requirement to help you choose a vendor who will support you or pick a system that your team can work within to create the functionality on their own.
A WMS comparison is a smart way to save your budget, cut down on headaches, and keep management happy.
Ways to compare systems
Let’s break down a few of those comparison options now to help you decide what’s most important to your operations.
Features and functionalities
There are more than 120 WMS features you can use to set requirements and build a shortlist for vendors. It’s good to review them all before you start the RFP process, and you’ll want to have cut this down when you start any WMS software comparison. WMS solutions run the gamut from barebones to space-age, and knowing your needs will help you stay on-budget and relevant.
Instead of reviewing each function that should be included in your WMS RFP template, let’s think about the big picture. You want to break down the functions and features you’re considering into a few groups:
- Must-have: basic inventory management, receiving, fulfillment, and other core functionality. These are your most basic requirements, and any vendor that doesn’t meet this list should fall off your shortlist.
- Should-have: this is your big WMS comparison metric. Look for items that not everyone would need, but you do. This could be yard management or support for high-volume returns. You might need specific mobile devices supported or want to have the WMS capture metrics around perishable goods. If a WMS could make it easier for you to stay compliant with relevant regulations, stick that in here too.
- Nice-to-have: these are items your business doesn’t need but could benefit from if affordable. This often includes support for robotics, kiting and advanced SKU support, voice picking, or even always-on training including in the monthly price.
- Won’t-have: finally, strip away the functionality that you don’t need. You might not need support for smartwatches or want specific on-premise tools. Or, if you’re starting out and think an additional warehouse is more than five years down the road, knock off those advanced tools.
Sorting your features list by those options makes it easy for you to determine the warehouse management system you need and find the vendors who offer it.
Welcome to the most common question in WMS software comparison: what’s it going to cost?
The sad reality is that there’s no generic answer: different providers, layouts, your requirements, and implementation based on your warehouse(s) all impact costs. There are also some lesser-known costs that people tend to overlook when it comes to adopting or upgrading a system.
ExploreWMS has a free pricing guide based on what vendors publish and individual conversations, but these set a baseline. All the frills and even the number of users you need will change the expectations. There are also other estimations that show how a single, small warehouse may cost a few thousand dollars each month, while multi-warehouse operations can stretch into the tens of thousands monthly.
What’s important for your business is to set a price point and discuss that with vendors. See if you can get all of the must-haves and most of the should-haves on your list covered, plus as many of the nice-to-have features as possible. This list will give you a good WMS comparison metric to start whittling down your list of WMS vendors.
An important note on pricing is that you might need to adjust your range based on the features you want. If something is slightly above what you think you can spend, circle back with management to see if there’s any stretch room in the budget. To make your case, it’s a promising idea to estimate what WMS ROI you can expect and how quickly you’ll get into positive territory.
Which size of business it caters to
WMS affordability often comes down to having the right functionality for your business. This often requires you look at your size and warehouse distribution to see if you’re getting enough without paying for a slew of features that you won’t use. Talk to vendors about your size and how that compares to their standard customer.
Small business inventory software may have fewer WMS features, which can be good for an SMB, and instead focus on ERP or customer management tools. Standalone WMS software will typically target slightly larger companies — and grow up through enterprises and large-scale manufacturers — which can give you some bearings on your WMS comparison.
There are two main thoughts on size:
- Goldilocks is your goal. In other words, find a solution that fits your size. Something that is too small will harm your ability to grow and could limit your overall profitability. A system that’s too large can come with bloat that’ll hurt your revenue as well.
- Leave room to grow. While you don’t want something that is too large to be useful, look for a WMS that can expand with you over the next 2-5 years. If you plan on adding warehouses, ensure there’s support for advanced order and inventory management, for example.
Don’t let software stunt your growth. While your list of warehouse management system requirements is based on today’s need, your company should be thinking about its future. Adding management and sales stakeholders to your WMS selection team can help ensure you keep the expansion potential in mind.
A demo is a perfect way to finalize your comparisons between WMS providers, especially if their products appear to be like-for-like WMS systems. Demos take time, and you want to have enough runway for a decent comparison, so save this for some of your final steps when you get your initial shortlist together.
To make the most of your demos, give each vendor a list of your requirements and ask to be shown the processes that cover each. Give “bonus points” to vendors who can use your data or provide similar company profiles to yours for the walkthrough. If you have any special needs, such as watching for spoilage or handling hazardous materials, see specific demonstrations on the management of this inventory and related orders.
We like demos for another interesting reason: you get a feel for how different systems operate. You can intellectually understand the difference between cloud and on-premise solutions but seeing them in action serves to underline the differences that can help you make the financial decision between an on-site and cloud-based WMS.
Part of the demo phase also includes asking for references and contacting them, because you might be able to see a system in operation as well. If a company doesn’t want to provide references or skimps on giving you a detailed demo, knock them off your WMS solutions providers list.
How this can inform your vendor shortlist
Every comparison step makes it easy to cut vendors from your shortlist. When they don’t have the functionality you need, or the price is just too high, it’s time to cut. The same is true when their customers (and thus their service and experience) don’t match you or your needs. Finally, the demo phase makes it easy to see if the system looks like what you need.
The last part of the WMS comparison for your shortlist is how you felt about each vendor during the process. If service during an RFP or demo isn’t stellar, that’s what you can expect when the platform has a problem. A WMS is often a large investment. It’s okay to take things slow and use the comparison process to find the right partner, not just the right software.
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