But most warehouses were not designed physically or operationally to support high volume picking and shipping.

Online shoppers’ demands keep rising as Amazon.com Inc. and other ecommerce behemoths have helped consumers grow accustomed to getting their online orders delivered in only a day or two. Many consumers now expect that level of service from all online retailers–putting pressure on them to fulfill orders as quickly as possible.

“Increasing ecommerce demands are driving up customer orders for fulfillment direct from the warehouse,” says Gavin Davidson, product marketing director at Oracle NetSuite, a provider of ecommerce software. “But most warehouses were not designed physically or operationally to support high volume picking and shipping.”

warehouse automation

Gavin Davidson, product marketing director, Oracle NetSuite

For example, older distribution centers’ physical layouts were designed to enable merchants to ship large orders to their physical stores rather than to ship high volumes of small packages to consumers’ houses. “High volume shipping to support ecommerce requires a different physical layout,” he says.

Challenges for retailers

The challenges mount for retailers that use older homegrown or on-premise systems because they are unable to upgrade operations quickly enough. “If their systems can’t handle growing demands, they lose sales,” Davidson says. “This inhibits business growth.”

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In response, a growing number of high volume ecommerce retailers are implementing goods-to-person autonomous robots. “These robots are small and compact,” he says. “They are able to access high density item storage and bring products to a packing station for order pack verification and shipping.”

By using high-density storage, warehouses can store more diverse products and more of the items they need using a smaller footprint within the warehouse. “Robots move much faster than humans to bring products from storage to packing stations,” he says. “This means more orders processed per day, which helps retailers meet those increasing demands.”

Addressing customer demand

Another way retailers are addressing increased customer demand is by investing in shipping automation technology. High speed labeling tunnels, for example, get products on trucks at a faster rate and ultimately delivered to customers much more quickly, he says.

The ability to quickly react to changing demands is critical–and cloud-based applications that let merchants focus on running their business rather than maintaining and updating software helps them focus on optimizing business processes, he says. “It’s key that retailers implement cloud-based solutions that change and adapt with business needs frequently,” Davidson says. “Cloud-based systems are capable of seamlessly delivering new functionality every three to six months–delivering new technologies, such as robotics and automation, as they become market ready, eliminating the need to wait years between changes.”

Davidson suggests retailers work with a business software provider that can deliver a broad range of solutions including ecommerce, inventory management and warehouse management systems that a company can deploy as they grow, demand increases and processes become more complex.

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Retailers with outdated warehouse systems should understand that change is required to meet these increased customer demands. “That could be physical changes to the supply chain–such as new warehouses, warehouses in new locations, or new physical layouts–as well as system changes in the form of cloud solutions or automation,” he says. “To compete in today’s ecommerce environment, warehouses need to be able to meet these new customer demands.”

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