Click, Pick and Pack: Why Tablets Trump Paper in the Warehouse

Paper can’t keep pace with tablet PCs when it comes to piece picking and packing. Say that ten times fast (if you can), then let’s look at why this tongue twister is actually becoming very true, very fast, in warehouses worldwide.

Anyone involved in order fulfillment operations will probably nod their heads when I say that paper piece picking and packing systems are not only speed-averse and prone to frequent error, but a downright risky choice now that mobile technology has made its way to the warehouse aisles - and can expediently deliver real-time inventory and order data to work carts.

The time employees spend walking to retrieve each piece accounts for 67-80% of total picking time alone. Plus, many are trying to fulfill multiple orders in a single trip. Efforts must be made to ensure they’re taking the quickest pick route and grabbing the right pieces the first time. Mobile technology is much more efficient in managing this process than requiring employees to reference outdated paper lists that can cause delays in shipping – or customer service issues later.

Consider the drastic improvements experienced by Salon Service Group once they transitioned to the tablet-powered cart solution. Responsible for distributing 4,200 SKUs of professional salon products, across 11 states, out of its Springfield, MO, warehouse, Salon Service Group found its order fulfillment capabilities challenged after experiencing phenomenal business growth in 2014. Their exceptional employees and a series of acquisitions stimulated a 40% uptick in warehouse workload. They rapidly outgrew the push cart and paper picking ticket method, and a compounded by move to a new warehouse three times larger than the original, meant more walking and decreased productivity among workers. These growing pains led Salon Service Group to seek a more efficient and more accurate strategy for order fulfillment.

Salon Service Group called FastFetch, who looped in Xplore Technologies to deliver the top-performing picking solution in the company’s trials: Seven carts featuring 15 light modules, an Xplore rugged tablet PC that powered voice technology, and Bluetooth ring scanner. The improvements seen in just over a year since the install make Salon Service Group’s success compelling for any distributor, in any industry, trying to keep pace with today’s single-click online ordering trends:

  • Busiest day orders are up 89%
  • Sales transactions by sales reps are up 40%
  • Average pick rate increased 3.4 times … from 55 lines per hour to 187 lines per hour (LPH), even though the pick-path walk distance doubled (warehouse increased in size from 10,000 sq. ft. to 42,000 sq. ft.)
  • Experienced pickers exceed 230 LPH, new pickers between 85 LPH and 100 LPH

Simply put, and clearly demonstrated, by the success of Salon Service Group: Tablet PCs carry far more perks and distribution growth potential than does paper when you need to (literally) deliver on the promise that your sales consultants, and retail locations, make to hundreds, thousands, and even millions of customers every day…top quality goods delivered quickly to their door. As stated verbatim by FastFetch: “The success of Salon Service Group is due in part to a commitment to service standards in the distribution center.”

FastFetch’s Rick Froehlich elaborated on how to fulfill that commitment in a fantastic white paper outlining the “5 Best Practices for Piece Picking.” FastFetch has also published an eye-opening white paper called, “The Hidden Costs of Paper Picking.”

Warehouse improvements with Rugged Tablet PCs

I’d like to follow suit and impart some of my own insight as to why tablet PCs, in particular, are becoming the platform of choice for centralizing order fulfillment operations. Let’s take a look at the correlation between Rick’s best practices and the hidden costs they’re averting – and why the tablet, even from behind the scenes, is now front and center in discussions about the future of distribution:

1. Focus on Productivity: One of the best tools you can give pickers is real-time intelligence on inventory locations and the most efficient path to get there. Tablets are the primary enabler of that intelligence, offering consistent connectivity for constant status updates – whether via 4G LTE, Wi-Fi or Bluetooth - and are easy to view while walking.

2. Focus on Accuracy: Real-time information delivered via the tablet PC is imperative. Touchscreen interaction and active digital pens allow for easy completion of order checklists so items aren’t overlooked. Built-in barcode scanners also ensure accuracy in inventory selection. Reading just one wrong digit on a line item – whether on paper or a PC – can result in a severely inaccurate piece selection, an unhappy customer, and costly returns. Scanners automate and simplify piece verification.

3. Systemize the Picking Process: Tablet PCs offer a unique set of checks and balances, giving you around-the-clock, real-time view of your warehouse workflows from a single mobile computer that easily integratesinto existing back-office systems. Plus, you don’t lose critical data if a tablet is dropped – or lost. That can’t be said of paper lists.

4. Technology for Optimal Results: Warehouse and distribution operations demand very mobile workflows. Mobile technology is the best way to keep all the moving parts of order fulfillment on track cost-effectively. For example, you can conduct warehouse walk-throughs and immediately capture data via hi-res camera, digital pen, or wireless keyboard.

5 . Web-based Performance Reporting System: You can track order progress, identify actual and potential problems, initiate immediate resolution, and proactively address areas for improvement through comprehensive reporting applications. Measurements can make or break distribution operations, and mobile tablet PCs offer the quick and easy access to all information no matter where your team is located on the floor.

Bottom line: Paper picking is no competition for today’s tablet-based picking carts regardless of the size of your operations. Neither the cost nor speed of paper-based solutions can come close to the blazing fast turnaround times – and supreme accuracy – delivered by mobile tablet data in distribution operations.

To learn more about Salon Service Group’s success with the FastFetch Order Fulfillment Solution, powered by the Xplore stylized tablet, check out this recent feature in DC Velocity magazine or reach out to the FastFetch North America team.

See Salon Service Group Improvements with Rugged Tablet Technology