Outlook Series Podcast: WMS Systems for High-Volume DTC Brands
As the ecommerce market continues to grow, and direct-to-consumer (DTC) trends surge, those overseeing warehouses and fulfillment operations are turning to warehouse management technology to maintain speed and accuracy as they expand.
Logiwa is thrilled to have had Jamie Bobka, Director of Product Operations and Analytics, be invited back as a returning guest to the Outlook Series Podcast. Below is the transcript of the conversation between Jamie and the podcast’s host, Michael Lippis, Editor-in-Chief of the Outlook Series.
Lippis: We’re here for another edition of the Outlook Series. I’m your host, Mike Lippis. With online sales rising, many brands, online sellers, 3PLs, and fulfillment networks have realized that their existing warehouse management systems aren’t flexible enough to support and scale high-volume omnichannel D2C fulfillment. The trend is driving a spike in demand for cloud fulfillment platforms as companies struggle to fulfill rising orders and look for new flexible solutions. Leading firms are looking to add automation rules and fulfill twice as many orders with the same staff. The rapid shift in online orders has forced companies to rethink their delivery experience and fulfillment structures. Visionaries like Logiwa are shaping the future of WMS through their unique ability to flexibly support high-volume fulfillment, particularly for D2C brands. Now, joining us to discuss high-volume direct-to-consumer and business-to-consumer fulfillment is Jamie Bobka. Jamie is the Director of Product Operations and Analytics at Logiwa. Jamie Bobka, welcome to the Outlook Series.
Bobka: Thanks! Thanks for having me.
Lippis: All right, nice of you to make another appearance here on the Outlook Series, Jamie. So what is Logiwa’s approach to routing orders across warehouses?
Bobka: We really try to focus on customer use cases first, so we’ve seen and supported a wide range of different approaches based on our customers’ needs. Functionally speaking, we can do this in several ways. Sometimes it’s as simple as logical automation rules and automation statements. Things like if SKU equals 123, then warehouse equals A, or if quantity is greater than 20 and the addresses are for Ohio, then warehouses might need something more advanced. Sometimes we do tailored routing algorithms. We’ll use these when there’s a lot of dynamic variables at play and workflows where there is more than one right answer. So we may focus on, say, the closest warehouse for each order or check inventory levels and route based on the closest percentage and closest warehouse to that order and its end location. In some cases, we might need to split some order lines for that order based on different warehouses’ inventory levels. Sometimes there’s just no need to overcomplicate it, though. Some of our customers just want to include that assignment when orders get created in the WMS. Overall, we try not to overly complicate the problem. So the answer is: you’ve got to be flexible in your approach to routing across warehouses. No matter how you do it functionally, you need to be flexible. You need to plan for change. If there’s data that we have access to that we can key off of to make the process more efficient, we’ll use that. We shouldn’t try to resolve problems that are already solved. Try and keep it simple and optimize for not only now, but in the future.
Lippis: So what is shipment rule automation?
Bobka: So I touched on it a little bit before, but the simple definition is this: they are a tool that drastically simplifies unique business rule handling. Functionally, they’re usually written, logical statements to trigger events and defined actions. For example, if an order contains SKU A, then add promotion SKU B to that order. If order value is greater than $100, then use first-class shipping. These are intended to be very simple and powerful. Customers can set them up themselves. We can help them do it – whatever makes the most sense. They can be toggled on and off and modified at any time. And most importantly, it can be done without any kind of coding or challenging configurations or interfaces. This is extremely important with more advanced use cases, as well as time-based or seasonal use cases. It removes decisions for your human staff.
Lippis: I see. Now how should an organization go about maxing out picking efficiency at any volume?
Bobka: Sure! The first step here is really to understand your workflow. I’m not just talking about the steps of your workflow, but the cycle times for each, the benchmarks, and how those vary based on your different work streams. For example, let’s say the pick times for your single-item orders are disproportionately larger than that of multi-item orders. You can’t see that data without some massive or painstaking analysis project. Your first step has to be to solve that reporting problem and make it easier to see. Otherwise, you’re just not going to spend the time frequently enough to address that problem correctly. So for us, we have several reporting options that allow you to quickly see these metrics in real time, allowing you to find the bottlenecks in your operation easily. Once you’ve solved the reporting problem, the second step is to start looking at all the different functional areas and levers that you can pull: things like picking strategies, leveraging where items are placed, and tools that you’re using. You need to ask yourself some questions. Are you using an efficient picking strategy? Maybe there’s a better way to be grouping your picking tasks and minimizing travel times. If you’re looking for a great resource about right picking strategies, we’ve got some great ones at logiwa.com/resources. There’s some interesting breakdowns of the math that we’ve done that can be helpful in helping you pick or alter your strategy. Another question to ask yourselves is: are your fast movers slotted in the best possible location? Maybe you need to move some things around or use some categorization methods. Are your pickers getting slowed down by the tools they’ve been given? Maybe they’re using paper pick lists, or maybe they need to take an unnecessary step like waiting for a supervisor to get their next list of tasks. They could be unable to skip a problematic pick or be facing an inventory discrepancy. These are the things that your WMS tool and your process can and should help you optimize. Being able to configure your screens, automate tasks, and optimize functions like skipping or flagging discrepancies are all tools in your tool belt to help remove blockers and minimize the need for decision-making as much as possible. A WMS provides you with the type of accuracy and reporting you need to monitor, control, and incrementally improve higher operation runs.
Lippis: OK, Jamie, can you share some insight with our audience on leveraging the right picking method to get things done faster?
Bobka: Sure! The best insight I can offer there is that there is never a right picking method. It all depends on what your needs are right now. There are a couple of things to look at there. Is accuracy more important to you than speed? Do you have a small amount of orders that you’re processing? Maybe an order-based picking strategy works just fine, and you don’t need to implement a strategy that would be overkill. But in most high-volume D2C operations, if your volume has grown, things like using cluster picking, batch picking, or put-to-wall methods are likely to be much more efficient for you. If you’re looking for resources on that, we’ve got several white papers and webinars on picking strategies and how they can help you make the right decision. But overall, the best insight is you need to understand the data. You need to understand the pros and cons of each of these different strategies as it relates to efficiency versus accuracy, and then make sure that you implement a process that you can easily shift away from. If you can track it… you can see how you’re performing and make adjustments as needed.
Lippis: Jamie, how is Logiwa helping with packing and shipping management?
Bobka: With Logiwa, everything is linked together into a singular, seamless flow. At the same time, we’ve designed our system modularly for flexibility. So we use a concept of job types which are essentially uniquely defined workflows for your orders. But these job types define what tasks need to be created, and these jobs are scoped to specific groups of orders. So, for example, you could have a specific workflow for your single-item order group, or you could have a specific workflow for orders without packing tasks. By segmenting them, we can deploy specific features and optimization tools based on those job types. For example, you might have a job type for oddly shaped or larger inventory, and you may want to leverage a shipping box selection tool from our platform to help you with packing suggestions. Maybe your single-item orders are all focused around efficiency and speed, so you want to leverage bulk label printing. Or maybe you have different job types for different customers that you’re serving that have different sets of carriers they’re using. We can segment based on those job types for carriers and whatnot to provide the different options your clients are looking for. That categorization and grouping methods really allow us to leverage our efficiency tools just in the places that you need them without adding unnecessary overhead to other simpler workflows.
Lippis: How flexible is Logiwa’s inbound management?
Bobka: I like to think this is a strong differentiator for us. We leverage several different features that support everything from the simplest to the most extremely complex use cases. So there’s a couple of examples like receipt orders and purchase orders. We may choose to break those down into several types and allow for different configurations based on those types. So for example, we might say that this receipt order type follows these specific rules when it comes to scanning and verification. But this one is a little bit more loose because it’s a more common or less risky case. We can also configure what we call putaway algorithms. These are tailored algorithms that support smart putaway strategies and recommend putaway locations and group inventory accordingly. If you’re dealing with lots, expirations and serial numbers, we could toggle based on these different types what kind of tracking and verification steps that you need for receiving and putaway. If someone is looking to understand how they can optimize their inbound processes, I suggest taking a look at our putaway guide at logiwa.com/resources. It’s really helpful to understand some of the levers that you have to pull to optimize that process and the flexibility we can create with management.
Lippis: Is there a role for smart rules for putting away products?
Bobka: Yeah, absolutely. This is, we feel, very underrated in terms of efficiency. This is where putaway algorithms really come in to play and provide our customers with a lot of value and the ability to optimize. As I mentioned, putaway processes for some organizations are pretty simple. Using simple smart rules to eliminate some of that decision-making can really go a long way. For more complex cases, the more of the status quo that you can address through automation, the easier that remainder is for navigating any tough problems, or any other issues that you might have with your workflow.
Lippis: Which actions can be tracked and logged with Logiwa’s high-volume B2C and D2C Fulfillment Center WMS?
Bobka: Every meaningful step is tracked in Logiwa, and that comes in two major categories. One is with our tasks model. This is an extremely granular model, with time stamps and cycle time calculations being done to really demonstrate the efficiency of your operation and how long things are taking. The same goes for inventory. We track and record every movement, and we provide reporting on that movement in real time. So, if your stock is on a pallet on the dock, or if your stock is in a bulk storage location in a container, cart, or a packing station – we know exactly where all the units of that stock are across the entire warehouse, allowing us to give you that information in real time. This level of granularity is not only for ith stock, but also with the tasks model that we leverage. It’s part of the reason we work pretty seamlessly with the robotics and AMR systems out there. The level of detail that we have plays really nicely with the level of detail that those tools need in order to operate efficiently.
Lippis: How can distribution managers produce and pre-assemble kit items and track the components?
Bobka: This is something that we find is pretty underserved or can be served a lot better in the marketplace. So we do a lot of configurations for produced kits and assembled kits for our customers. We use an individual component tracking model with reports that can calculate not only the amount of produced kits that you have on hand, but also how many you could produce based on the amount of components you have. This model works regardless of if those components to produce the kit are marked for individual sale or only used as part of a kit. This tends to be a challenge when trying to calculate and synchronize multiple tools on availability, as well as tools that use different data models. It is a challenge that I think we’ve solved particularly well. Overall, my recommendation is that tracking components and the ability for your tool and the other tools in your ecosystem is extremely important if you’re going to be successful.
Lippis: Now, how can your clients be provided with vision into warehouse operations?
Bobka: Because everyone’s needs are different and have different levels of what we call data literacy, we aim to provide several different reporting models that present themselves in the flow of day-to-day operations. For example, shift supervisors usually require tactical, real-time reporting that they can take action on. We bake reporting right into their operational screen, so things they’re using every day provide them with export functions, filters, and quickly modifiable interfaces. So they can get the type of reporting they need to take those tactical actions. Managers, on the other hand, might need something more on a daily or weekly basis. So for this case, we’ve leveraged series of canned reports based on common use cases. Again, these are quickly modifiable right in the UI. Give them the data that they need with just a click of a button. But then there are some organizations, on the other end of the spectrum, looking for something more robust and presentable. So we’re also providing some advanced embedded BI tools for that – things that provide fully customizable data visualization and scheduled reports exporting. We can leverage our API and webhooks to feed into like a data lake for a more data literate customer. The important thing with reporting is accessibility, accessibility in the flow of your operations, and what you need it for. You don’t want to provide an overcomplicated solution for something that just needs to be a tactical use case.
Lippis: Now, does slotting have a major impact on warehouse operations?
Bobka: Oh, absolutely. We touched on it a bit earlier when we were talking about putaway algorithms, picking strategies and making those more efficient item categorizations. We track all of the data that’s necessary to support these kinds of analyses. But executing depends on what the customer’s needs are. Some customers are a little more simplified. They just choose to use our in-house tools for putaway and inventory adjustments to make sure they’re slotted correctly. We have some customers, though, that are doing something a little more advanced. They might extract volume data or inventory and stock information, process that in a dedicated slotting tool, and use that to provide their analysis. So we’ve seen the whole range of those different tools, and they’re definitely very important.
Lippis: All right, Jamie. Now, should attributes be added to items to enhance inventory control?
Bobka: Yeah, I don’t think there’s really a way around it, especially with industry trends and where we’re going. More and more brands are bringing custom handling and packaging requests. Warehouses need to adopt these new workflows just to handle the variances and how to serve their customers. So being able to consume and leverage these additional attributes to impact operations is not only a great differentiator… it’s necessary to be competitive.
Lippis: Now, can multiple levels of inventory control be added with Logiwa’s solution?
Bobka: Yeah, absolutely. So we use a couple of different tools and different features for providing inventory control for customers. For example, when it comes to cycle counting or just counting in general, we like to provide that flexibility for the customer that might just have some one-off needs to do some quick counting. We have instant counting features where you can just walk up to a location, scan it, and perform some of those operations in real time. But we can also do things like create a cycle counting strategy and an entire job process around it where we’re going through different segments or groupings of locations and doing that on more of a cycle or a repeating basis. We also offer some more of those tactical functions that are often overlooked when it comes to inventory control. For example, if you have a picker and they go to a location but the location is empty. That often results in employees putting down what they’re doing and walking away to go find a supervisor. Then some kind of adjustment needs to be made. But we’d like to keep that process going, so we use things like a missing function where the user can just say, ‘I’m going to skip this momentarily and I’m going to continue with my picking run and come back to it.’ Then we’ll flag that inventory as problematic, so that it can be resolved and looked back at later. There are also several item and location level configurations that we put in for safety, stock limits and other things that really help inventory managers keep track of their stock and keep things in hand.
Lippis: What are Logiwa’s capabilities for integrating with marketplaces, web stores and the likes of shipping and accounting platforms?
Bobka: We host a series of different integration options that come right out of the box. We’re constantly adding them from ecommerce storefronts to accounting platforms to carrier services. There’s a ton that you can simply plug-in some credentials and they’re ready to go. For those that are looking for a connection that’s a little more obscure or something that we haven’t connected with yet, we use a feature requesting board for customers to provide feedback and vote on different items that are being submitted. That’s a huge source of insight for us for understanding what our customers are looking for connection wise. But ultimately, if there is a connection or something that we haven’t made yet or are unable to connect with, we also have our API, which provides our customers with a solution and support if they want to go a more custom route. This allows our customers to connect to a more obscure or maybe a homegrown system. We can really cover a wide range of different cases. We have a lot of fallbacks if there’s some other kind of connector we need to implement.
Lippis: Now can Logiwa find the best rate among shipping services?
Bobka: Yeah, we can do that natively. We offer a rate shopping tool, or sometimes we just accept an assigned carrier from an external source. It really just depends on what’s best for the use case. Sometimes we leverage the great rate tool for just a certain job typem, a certain grouping of orders, or maybe a certain client set. For others, we provide automatic assignments. We’re flexible with it, and we make that offer for customers that want to use it. But if you have a use case that doesn’t need it, then we can turn that off and just provide the auto assign to make the process more efficient.
Lippis: Now what is a good strategy to prioritize orders and allocate the right inventories with the right orders?
Bobka: So the best strategy here is to divide and conquer between your separate workflows. So at Logiwa, we use several different tools to help drive that division of the different task types required and help prioritize orders. So your picking strategy needs to be flexible enough to direct your users to pick items in the proper order or proper priority and track real-time inventory to group your orders accordingly. That’s controlled through our picking algorithms. So what we like to do early on during onboarding processes is understand each of these different workflows and the priorities between them, so we can leverage these different tools to help customers achieve the ultimate combination of strategies and allocate proper inventories to the right to the right orders.
Lippis: How resilient is Logiwa’s cloud platform?
Bobka: This is a major part of our roadmap for not only 2021, but 2022. We’ve done a lot in terms of increasing monitoring. We’ve added some backend functionality around containerization, horizontal, and vertical scaling. We’ve put a massive amount of focus onto performance and stability. This, for us, is the most critical item that we work on coming into peak season. If your WMS system goes down or even just slows down, this has massive ramifications on your operations. We want to ensure that we provide a stable and extremely performant environment for our customers, especially in those areas. We recently did a presented on the topic of on-premise versus cloud solutions for warehouse operations. You could take a look at our QuickTake webinar recording for more insight on the importance of performance and stability, how that can impact your operations, and how that can help you with a decision of what tool to implement.
Lippis: All right, Jamie, now can you share a use case with our audience?
Bobka: Sure! We had a customer recently come to us with several problems. They were a customer that had an embroidery process baked into their workflow. They had an issue with getting quality of reporting that gave them good insights into what actions they could take. They needed the ability to implement a smarter picking strategy. They were using a lot of spreadsheets and a lot of paper, and it was very difficult for them to implement a new, better picking strategy. All the while, whatever tool they went with, they had to account for this unique workflow step of embroidering some of their picks. To support their operations, we actually ended up working with one of their third-party providers who provides the embroidery service, and we collaboratively diagrammed out all the different workflows: where the orders would come in from, how they would route between the two different systems, which workflow in Logiwa that they would fall into, what type of picking strategy we would use for those orders, and what kind of job types we define. We were able to come up with a solution capable of handling the embroidery step with minimal integration efforts or custom projects for getting the two systems to talk to each other. That really just came from going through a step-by-step collaborative process and really understanding the workflow. For me, that was a great internal reminder of how we can leverage the flexibility of our platform, as well as our internal expertise on the different types of implementations we’ve seen, to really come to a quick, efficient, and accurate solution – something that this customer needed.
Lippis: All right now, would you like to add anything else to our discussion before we wrap up for today?
Bokba: I don’t think so. I think we covered a lot of what we’ve seen and Logiwa’s approach to providing flexible and robust WMS features and feature sets. I guess the overall takeaway for us is that we like to provide flexible options for customers. We understand your business today might change in six months. I would encourage you to look for solutions and providers, whether it’s a WMS or another tool you’re looking for, that can be easily modified, tweaked, and adjusted because things are going to change. If you’re using a platform that’s carved in stone or set on rails that you can’t change, you’re stuck with that for a while.
Lippis: Now, Jamie, where can our audience get more information on Logiwa’s high-volume B2C and D2C fulfillment center WMS?
Bobka: I think I plugged it a couple of times through our conversation, but at logiwa.com/resources there’s a great listing of different white papers and webinar series that that provide insight into things like picking strategies, putaway strategies, comparisons, and those types of things. I’d really encourage you to go take a look, especially if there is anything from this discussion, or in general, that you’re looking to understand more about or optimize with your process.
Lippis: All right, and that Logiwa is spelled L-O-G-I-W-A.com, right?
Lippis: All right, Jamie. I certainly do appreciate you joining us here for another edition of the Outlook Series and wish you the best of luck with your endeavors over there at Logiwa.
Bobka: All right, thanks a lot for having me!
Lippis: Thanks for joining us today. And be sure to log on to the Outlook Series site for your business and technology news.