Warehouse Management System Key Success

Scale for business success with a Warehouse Management System

Busier warehouses, if they haven’t already, need Warehouse Management Systems, to streamline their core picking processes. Without the right support during busy periods chaos can quickly ensue, but when systems are in place, it is a very different picture.

UK inflation has finally started to fall, with the Financial Times reporting it has just dropped to the lowest level since 2021. This suggests that interest rates could be cut in the coming months resulting in a rise in consumer confidence. That means consumer demand could likely rise too and it could be an indication of increasing business confidence and investment levels. Is it also a sign that now is a good time to be evaluating a warehouse management system (WMS) solution? We think so.


If consumers are spending more, they are probably ordering more goods online. More orders mean busier warehouses. Busier warehouses, if they haven’t already, need WMS systems, to streamline their core picking processes. Without the right support during busy periods chaos can quickly ensue, but when systems are in place, it is a very different picture. This example at one of our customers, a major online retailer selling activewear, illustrates the massive difference a WMS can make. They have done what we describe as ‘scaling for success’.


Let’s go back in time by six months, to last year’s Black Friday week. There was a perception among the senior leadership team at this company, who were walking the warehouse floor on the day and supporting the business, that Black Friday sales levels might have been a bit disappointing. There was an assumption that because processes were running so smoothly (a.k.a. nobody was running around like a headless chicken) they couldn’t be selling as much as expected. In actual fact, business levels were 10% higher than in the previous year.


This particular customer has a very sophisticated warehouse operation and they use automation technology extensively to run core processes. Indigo’s WMS software is one key piece of their complex logistics jigsaw. It ensures that all the stock sold has been put into the right place. The software helps operatives to pick consolidated orders simultaneously, bringing them into a central sortation point to be batch sorted into component elements and then pushed through an automated bagging system. The whole operation is so slick, it made their very busy Black Friday look like a non event.


You might be wondering how does Indigo’s WMS software support the batch picking of hundreds of orders at once? How does it work? When stock is batch picked, one person is responsible for gathering all the relevant stock items in a picking trolley and then bringing it to a central sorting bench for onward processing. Our software can sort thousands of SKU items based on shared attributes in the order and it supports the adoption of multiple picking styles. This feature is significant, because it allows users to easily separate orders that can be grouped together logically. From experience, any order containing more than six items is most efficiently picked in batch – you could have 60 orders with six items in each one. Less than six items and it is probably more efficient to be picking the items sequentially.


The apparel industry brings further complexity to picking optimisation because retailers have to manage seasonal stock variations and different ‘winners and losers’ in their ranges. These are the stocks that they need rapid access to. Retailers move their stocks around in the warehouse to place winners (fastest movers) in the best places and they’ll populate their picking locations with an appropriate amount of stock. This ensures that expected demand on any given day, week, month or year can be pulled straight from that location, with a minimum amount of replenishment activity. It is especially important on a day like Black Friday, when a very large number of items can go out in one day. Indigo WMS supports scaling an operation, but with built in flexibility.


So returning to our e-retailer customer, over last year’s Black Friday period they processed over 18000 orders per day. It clearly wasn’t a non-event, but there certainly wasn’t the chaos that you might have expected to see on a busy day like that.


If our example highlights best practice, what does chaos look like? It is having to manage customer expectations, because you have not been able to fulfil the order pool within the expected timeline. It is treading water with your customers, buying time because you have been completely overwhelmed in the warehouse. This is what happens in warehouses that have not got a WMS and are trying to do batch picking manually.


Imagine how difficult it is to manually collate hundreds of picking documents for large orders in the warehouse. An operative physically needs to work through these documents multiple times, grouping items together by shared attributes. It requires a large amount of product knowledge to be able to identify similarities and assess the relevant stock locations. Grouping items together using pick notes manually is a massive overhead and there is always a danger that the wrong items end up in an order.


What often happens in practice, is that a company can only cope without using a WMS system for so long before their systems just collapse under the strain of meeting all their orders. If your company is processing 50 or so orders a day, it is probably fine to be managing without technology, but once levels start to rise into the hundreds, a WMS becomes necessary or the business becomes completely overwhelmed. From a technology and communications point of view, they cannot keep up with what they need to be able to do.


We can provide many examples of businesses that have been completely overwhelmed by a rise in order volumes. Very often the company’s front office systems are so slick that orders come through thick and fast. The different e-commerce platforms available now are so advanced, any business can be live and trading in hours, but the front end is just a small part of the operation. The set up in the back office is very different and these companies may be unable to process their orders on time and manage demand levels.


Whatever the time of year, having an efficient warehouse operation is always essential. Indigo Software specialises in supporting growing businesses across many different industries by helping them to streamline and optimise their warehouse operations.



Simon Parnaby, Product Manager, Indigo Software

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