If we learned anything over the last few years, it is consumers wanting their product at a competitive price, as quickly as possible, and via the channel of their choice. Supply chains have been in an accelerated transformation to meet those needs.

While many consumers have returned to in-store shopping, e-commerce has quickly become the preferred shopping method for a large percentage of the population. Who among us has not first gone to our phone or tablet to search for a product, and if the price and availability match, hit the “check out” button. For retailers, two to three days to fulfill an order might be too long for some consumers. 

This rapid shift to e-commerce and the customer-centric focus caused a reassessment of supply chains. Regional distribution centers are still critical nodes, but the need to locate products closer to the customer is driving supply chain executives to look to other strategies. This may mean fulfilling orders from the front of the store, or the backroom for omni-channel retailers. For other industries, such as manufacturing and wholesale, making the move into e-commerce or reacting to increased demand for their products, establishing micro-fulfillment centers, or pop-up facilities closer to that demand is becoming the strategy.

Fulfillment is Quickly Evolving

Businesses that have already started this journey are quickly finding that micro-fulfillment centers share some similarities with their regional distribution center (DC) counterparts, but goals and dynamics of the operation are quite different. The term micro-fulfillment can mean any variety of near-customer locations, such as a dark store or the backroom of an active store. These sites may have some level of automation, but many are paper-based or managed by spreadsheet. Experienced staff know the facility well enough to find items to fulfill orders.  This structure may work for a single micro-fulfillment center, but as the business expands and looks to open more centers, the issues that come with manual operations create larger challenges.

It is time for a digital transformation across your micro-fulfillment centers. A traditional DC is hundreds of thousands of square feet specifically designed to move goods as quickly as possible from the receiving dock to storage and efficiently enable picking, packing, loading, and shipping. The goal is high throughput at the lowest possible cost. For micro-fulfillment centers, the requirements are different.  These sites are often much smaller and are required to operate with higher inventory turns.

While throughput is important, these sites are customer-focused around getting the right order to the right customers where and when they request it. In many cases, these sites may operate temporarily, so detailed implementation and training processes common with highly complex regional DC’s simply do not work. These micro-fulfillment centers are very different compared to their regional DC counterparts, and the technology that enables them needs to meet these unique requirements.

The Challenges of Micro-Fulfillment

Supply chain executives tasked with activating micro-fulfillment centers across their network face several challenges: 

  • Speed: They need to quickly open and activate micro-fulfillment centers to service customers expected delivery time windows.
  • Accuracy: Order accuracy is critical to customer experience. Slow, unreliable and manual, paper-based processes that are error prone lead to missed shipments, lost inventory, low inventory accuracy, and the inability to scale the operation.  
  • Resources: Labor turnover continues to be high. The technology used in the micro-fulfillment center must be intuitive and require little to no training.

Competition for customers has never been greater. With the supply chain disruptions over the last few years, customers are experienced in making the pivot to find the product or materials they need. Supply chain executives who can maximize their micro-fulfillment centers will gain a competitive edge.

Enablers for Micro-fulfillment

Blue Yonder’s Adaptive Fulfillment and Warehousing is built to meet the unique needs of the micro-fulfillment center. A SaaS-native, simple, scalable, and versionless solution, Adaptive Fulfillment and Warehousing delivers specific capabilities to meet unique requirements of micro-fulfillment and deliver. The intuitive, mobile interface allows for the configuration of personalized mobile workflows and streamlines the onboarding process, requiring little to no training. Based on Blue Yonder’s decades of Warehouse Management System (WMS) expertise, Adaptive Fulfillment and Warehousing delivers best-in-class capabilities purpose-built for the near-customer fulfillment use cases.

The scalable solution allows manual facilities to quickly automate, bringing the breadth of the full warehouse workflow to provide real-time feedback for active decision-making. As a native-SaaS solution leveraging microservices, the newest feature sets and innovations are automatically provided to keep up with market trends, with additional capabilities available to grow with the operation. Designed for rapid site activations and fast time-to-value, pilot sites can be configured and activated in weeks, with subsequent sites activated in days.

Turn Micro-fulfillment into a Competitive Advantage

Responding to continuing e-commerce demand, the number of micro-fulfillment centers will expand in the next few years. With Adaptive Fulfillment and Warehousing, rapidly activating new sites and onboarding staff is simplified. The digital transformation of the facility ensures real-time inventory accuracy, improving order fulfillment accuracy and improving the customer experience.

Please watch this short Adaptive Fulfillment and Warehousing video and learn more by reading this introductory brief.