I typically don’t associate automation with something intangible such as a brand. It seems in my world the way customers understand the value of a product or a system is through demonstrating an operational ROI. Though we must prove there is ROI, there are also non-operational things to consider that automation provides.
1. Cost of Mistakes
When looking at any capital improvements on a spreadsheet, it becomes clear what benefits will be realized and how long it should take to see a return. However, what is the cost of doing nothing?
- The true cost of order mistakes. If you are fulfilling your own orders or you are a company who fulfills orders for others (3PL or fulfillment house), this should be considered the most important question. There is a higher cost than the item that was mistakenly sent or forgotten.
- Brand perception = brand reality. Mistakes such as wrong item shipped, lost package, and the hassle of the returns process (hopefully very little hassle) may determine if the customer orders from you again.
2. Data is King
There are key benefits to capturing data throughout the fulfillment process. Automated processes such as scanning, weighing, dimensioning, produce consistent and traceable data points that can be recalled if ever needed. Further validations such as matching order ID with shipping label and weight verification protect the company and brand with the ability to track items to a particular shipment.
- Data capture. Automated scanning, weighing (and dimensional data if required) make it easy to call up an order number and verify exactly what was packed and shipped. This is very useful in several situations:
- Customer complaints of missing items. Often times the items are actually in the package and are found with proof of packing data. Photo capture of contents, proof of scanned items into the box, etc. are valuable tools. Though the philosophy “the customer is always right” may come into play, the ability to review what was actually packed versus automatically eating the cost every time will reduce friction (and cost) of customer
- Charge backs from carriers. Most major carriers charge by a DIM weight factor, particularly for air shipments. If you capture this data with a proven system, it is much easier to have the data needed to have these charges removed.
3. All Hands Off Deck
With an automated system, there is far less labor that goes into converting orders to shipments. The less touches needed from order picking to shipping means less cost of labor and less chance for a mistake.
I wrote about many labor saving tips in an article last year. The same argument holds true – the most savings found in a distribution center is in labor and accuracy. Reducing the number of people needed to process an order and ensuring the proper measures are taken to be 100% accurate (as close to 100% as possible) will keep cost per order metrics at bay as well as protecting the brand from perceptions of inefficient or difficult – and can help preserve loyal customers with future orders.