When an online order is being prepared for shipment, fulfillment center workers often switch between packing boxes with products and using a computer to print labels and confirm shipments. Those switches can slow workers down, says Katie May, CEO of ShippingEasy Inc.
That’s why the fulfillment software provider now offers a way to keep workers’ hands on the products by letting them use voice to interact with ShippingEasy’s software. The integration with Amazon.com Inc.’s Alexa voice service prints packing slips and purchases postage by speaking to Alexa-powered speakers or the Alexa smartphone app.
“Leveraging voice to get shippers away from the shipping station and keyboard allows them to multitask, letting them work faster,” she says.
The voice system currently allows shippers to manage orders, print labels and lists of products to pick for shipping, purchase postage, determine the right shipping materials and get data on fulfillment metrics, such as how many orders shipped in the last week and what carrier is being used for various shipments. Fulfillment center workers can use Amazon’s Echo speakers or any Alexa-enabled device to interact with ShippingEasy software, and it comes at no extra cost to the company’s clients.
May didn’t have exact numbers on how much more efficient fulfillment was for the 17 retailers beta testing voice interactions. However, the tool enabled home décor retailer The Jungle Hook to process “significantly” more orders when testing the integration than when doing the same tasks on a traditional computer, says owner Alex Ahrens.
Building the Alexa integration took less than six months and less than $50,000, which May says was a minimal investment. She hopes will spur a large change in how warehouses operate. While there are existing voice-based systems for warehouse workers, most rely on dedicated headsets for each employee, who talk to central operators that interact with warehouse management systems.
ShippingEasy hopes that the cheap and plentiful hardware powered by Alexa will have broader appeal to smaller retailers. She says it could also help during the holiday season, when retailers are adding temporary workers who need to quickly learn the new systems.
“It can be trying to train someone on a software shipping solution,” May says. There are often more options on a computer interface than the average temporary worker needs to access, which leaves more room for error. “But if a retailer can provide a sheet of commands, it’s much easier to get new employees on board and up to speed,” she says.
ShippingEasy plans to add more commands based on how shippers are using the voice commands. “Once someone gets going, there’s no command they don’t think will work,” May says.