“Don’t put the cart before the horse” is an old proverb that we have all heard. For those of you who don’t own a horse – let us explain: this is an analogy for doing things in the wrong order. A horse always pulls the cart – and not the other way around.
Conventional wisdom tells us that a process moves from A to B and we generally don’t challenge this idea. But there’s a catch : conventional wisdom doesn’t always keep pace with new systems and technologies. So what if the horse has evolved? What if the process has evolved?
When it comes to warehousing manifesting, the e-commerce cart has definitely changed – and it’s time to switch up your horse.
Manifesting in a warehouse is defined as printing documents specific to orders such as: packing lists / shipping labels or invoices. Normally, a “manifest” is created AFTER a picking order is created. Your warehouse team picks an item off the shelf, delivers it to the shipping department, and then the documents needed for shipping and invoicing are created.
When we reverse this process, it is called PRE-manifesting; simply put – the documents are created BEFORE you create a pick-order.
So, why would you want to put the cart before the horse?
Marketplaces such as Amazon & eBay monitor “seller performance” according to a variety of metrics. One of these metrics is how quickly a seller can ship an order. By pre-manifesting, your company is able to submit shipping information to the marketplace: this makes it appear that the item has already shipped. This gives you an edge – and never underestimate having an edge.
With pre-manifesting, a UPS tracking number can be assigned to the shipment BEFORE the item has even been picked. Depending on your billing system, you may also be able to charge the customer’s credit card earlier in the process. This can be helpful for your company in the event that the customer credit card is declined. It’s critical to know you have been paid before you actually ship the product. This new process will increase your payment security and minimize picking orders that are not viable.
Naturally, charging a customer’s credit card before shipping can be overzealous if you have a time-consuming order (eg. custom orders) that might take a while to ship. However, for many standardized products that have predictable order-to-shipment time frames, pre-manifesting can be a great way to improve your ranking in many marketplaces. It also means you will get paid faster and more reliably.
How do you know if pre-manifesting will work for you? Here are some questions to consider:
Q: Do you have an excellent system in place to monitor your inventory levels and shipment efficiency?
– It would be bad news to pre-manifest only to find out the item you declared shipped is actually out of stock. Now you have disappointed your client & the marketplace.
– Your document and information flow must be functioning at a high level. An effective and dependable OMS (Order Management System) must be in place before you even consider pre-manifesting.
Let’s assume you have a solid OMS and your processes are predictable and well regulated; what are your next steps?
Your operations can be more efficient. Instead of having paper documents on the warehouse floor with the pickers – eliminate that step. A lost piece of paper can be a huge time waster.
A good WMS (Warehouse Management System) will enable you to have a paperless warehouse. Your shipping label can be created just as the product is packaged and ready to head out the shipping door.
By manifesting documents at the shipping station you avoid double-handling of picked items. All your warehouse / picking processes happen before paper is created. A record of the future paperwork will virtually exist and be waiting to print at the shipping station.
Moving the paperwork to the end of the process means a faster and more efficient process. Anyone who has lived through old-school paper-picking knows how many times pieces of paper can go missing in a big warehouse.
Less paper, means less mistakes. This also expands your opportunities for batch-picking techniques.
When you send a single warehouse picker to get all “blue widgets” to fill a large number of individual orders. The “blue widgets” which are associated with different sales orders are only separated and packaged when they hit the shipping department.
The profit impact of increased accuracy and more efficient picking makes a tremendous contribution to warehouse efficiency, and therefore, profit.
Naturally, there are things you ought to plan for when moving to a pre-manifesting system. – An automated (RF technology) method of scanning the picked items to associate them with the paperwork for a particular order is critical. Buying RF guns is a small investment these days considering the efficiency benefit you will immediately see. RF gun prices and support hardware costs are so affordable nowadays. – Order accuracy must be monitored and systematized. Again, a robust and scalable WMS is critical to ensure that your picking, paperwork and inventory work together seamlessly. Your WMS is the brain that runs the show. – In the event that an erroneous inventory record or pick occurs, your WMS will know when and where the mis-step took place. Identifying the source of data conflicts then lets you optimize your process to improve and anticipate potential conflicts.
A solid WMS will highlight where pre-manifesting might not work, for example: – if the shape or size of an item isn’t known prior to picking – agricultural items might have pre-manifesting limitations
A sophisticated WMS can even identify which items will benefit from PRE-manifesting – versus which items require traditional manifesting.
Shake off your ideas about the horse and cart cliche. Technology is breaking the status quo everyday. Once you empower your warehouse with a modern WMS, the old rules simply do not apply.