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An Organized Warehouse is Essential for a Successful Holiday Season

Welcome to October!  Or should I ask, “where did the year go?”  It’s hard to believe we are now in the fourth quarter and before we know it we’ll be ringing in the year 2020.

As we approach the holiday shopping season, it’s time to start getting your eCommerce business ready for the onslaught of orders you’re going to start receiving in just a few short weeks.

Today, I’m sharing an article I wrote for a magazine back in 2003.  While that may seem like forever-ago in eCommerce time, the subject remains relevant.  Every store owner who warehouses product wants to make sure that those items are organized and accessible for quick-picking.   After all, quick picks make for quick ships, and quick ships make for happy customers.

The article called, “Preparing Your Warehouse for the Holiday Rush,” is one that I have shared with other store owners every year since it was first published.  I hope after reading it you’ll find some little nugget that can help you become more organized and better prepared.

Preparing Your Warehouse for the Holiday Rush

If you’re selling product and stock it in your warehouse, you probably have some type of bin location system in place to make picking easy for your employees.  You don’t? Then you’ll want to read on.

If you’re just starting out and have a few employees who know where a product is located by memory, it may seem like a good system to have.  But what happens when those employees take a job elsewhere or you need to quickly hire more to take care of the influx of holiday orders that unexpectedly crept up on you? 

Chances are you’ll be wasting a lot of valuable pick/pack time having those employees walk around aimlessly searching for a product. The solution to all of this is bin locations.

Bin locations are simply the location product is housed in your warehouse, right down to the exact location on a shelf.  Taking the time to set up bin locations now, before the holidays, will save you time, money, improve your order turn-around time and eventually lead to greater customer satisfaction down the road. 

So where do you start?

The examples I will be using assume that your warehouse is set up with racks making up aisles, or pick lanes.  The first thing you need to do is find a starting point for your pick route. This is generally the spot where you keep your pick tickets and baskets, or carts for picking product. 

The second step is to label your pick lanes. These should be labeled alphabetically, with the aisle closest to the start of the pick route being labeled “A”, second closest being labeled “B” and so forth.

Once you have a map of your pick lanes, it’s time to label the racks that are in those aisles.  In order to maintain a flow, racks are labeled in such a way that your picker will start at the beginning of the pick route, walk up the first aisle, down the second, up the third, eventually ending back at the start of the route ready to pick another order.  This is called a serpentine layout.

Labeling your racks along the pick aisle is simple.

Let’s assume there are three racks in each aisle.  Starting at the beginning, assign the first rack on the right the number 01 (put a zero in front of single-digit numbers to maintain consistency and allow for future growth), the second 03, the third 05.  On the left side of the aisle, assign the first rack 02, second 04, third 06. 

Example of a warehouse floor plan.

Now that your racks are labeled, it’s time to drill down to the details of each rack.

The first rack in aisle A is called A01 (aisle A, rack 01).  Let’s assume that rack 01 has three shelves. Starting at the floor, label the bottom shelf as A, middle as B and top as C.  On those shelves your product is contained in boxes or “bins”.

Starting left to right, each “bin” will be labeled 01, 02, 03, etc. You will do this for each shelf so that in this example, product in the 4th bin on shelf B of rack 02 in aisle A would have a bin location of A02B04. (See example rack diagram below) One thing to remember…. The bin location is not tied to an item, it’s tied to the rack.  

Example of a set of warehouse racks.

At first it may sound confusing and look like a lot of work, but believe me, as your business grows it’s a necessity to have a system in place to make picking easy.  Plus, the time spent training new employees on how to pick product takes no more than 5 or 10 minutes because the system is easy to learn.

With a system in place like this, if the need arises to bring in temporary help to pick and pack during the holidays, your training is minimal.

Once your bin location system is up and running, you can tweak it even more to improve warehouse efficiency.  For example, you may want to put your most picked products right at the beginning of your pick route so your pickers don’t have to go three aisles back to get an item they pick on a constant basis.  Or, if you have items that only sell in the winter, move them to the end of the pick route and put your summer merchandise at the beginning.

Have other tips to share with eCommerce store owners as the holiday approaches? Share them in the comments below.

Happy selling!

Scott Sanfilippo
General Manager, YSW

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