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Let’s face it – online customers have it easy now.
Instead of the following scenario to make a purchase (circa 2005, without e-commerce)…
Total Time Required: (336 hours, 21 minutes, or 8,085 mins)
…getting what you want today consists of the following (2019, evolved e-commerce):
Total Time Required: (48 hours, 7 minutes, or 877 mins)
Net reduction in Total Time Required to receive your item = 288 hours, 14 mins
A lot can happen in 288 hours, 14 mins. That is the equivalent of 12 additional days that could’ve been used enjoying your item in your possession. In fact, with those 12 additional days, you would have gained enough time to use the item 2 or 3 times, re-sell it on Kijiji or eBay, then meet with, and receive payment from your new buyer.
Now indeed, 14 years have passed between Scenario I and Scenario II, but process this for a moment. In the time between placing a single order on June 1, 2005 till receipt June 15, 2005, today’s online customer placing the same order on June 1, 2019 would’ve received 9 additional items* during that same two-week time span. (*based on ordering a new item every second day following the initial order)
(Source: Government of Canada, An Overview of E-Commerce Trends in Canada, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, 2018).
This is progress, but not necessarily from where you’d think. It’s not fleet efficiency, as vehicles have not become 10X faster since 2005. It can’t be the transportation routes, as the roads used to move that order have not become 10X bigger and the vehicles traveling on the roads have not decreased in volume by a factor of 10. In addition, we can’t attribute this to the retailers and manufacturers, as we know they have not opened 10 additional locations to cover a broader territory since 2005.
The paradigm shift has been in the process behind these elements of: Fleet, Transportation, Infrastructure and Retail. The tip of the iceberg that lies beneath the surface is the Logistics, Warehousing and Distribution. It is in this area that we have seen gains of 10X in e-commerce home delivery efficiency since 2005. This has been essential to better serve a consumer who has clearly seen their patience dwindle over the past 14 years.
In this post, we will focus on a single, but crucial component of warehousing and distribution – the Sortation process.
The ability to move quickly to meet demanding delivery expectations is essential. For e-commerce retailers, sortation is defined as the “preparation and organization of items in advance of final mile delivery”. This area has been a key component to increasing overall retailer value for consumers.
Sortation covers batch picking, organization, assembling and routing and loading items by geographic area to prepare them for delivery.
We sort tens of thousands of packages per night in a number of strategically placed sortation centres. Our focus has been on helping some of the more successful online retailers scale their business and shorten turnaround times for delivery to meet the high demands of consumers – 71%, expecting delivery same-day or next-day according to a recent survey about last mile retail.
(Source: EFT, Eye For Transportation Last Mile Retail Study, 2018).
To help meet this demand, our team focuses our efforts on collaboration with clients to create efficiencies at our sortation centres. We have broken this process down into five steps that help get items in the hands of customers with accuracy: Induction, Sortation, Audit and Inspection, Staging, Loadout.
Induction is the step of receiving a shipment of items from suppliers, other delivery service providers, or retail partners direct at our docks by the truckload. A team of warehouse associates uncrates and loads items onto a conveyor belt to be fed into the sortation centre. Speed must be tempered with care in order to ensure that items are not compromised during this entry point into the final mile ecosystem. During this step, associates take on varied responsibilities including: offloading the trailer, uncrating packages, placing packages on a conveyor belt, and scanning packages individually.
This is the core component of the process, in particular, the initial sort is the meat of the sandwich (apologies to all vegetarians). Separating items by size and location is done rigorously so they can be assigned to designated routes for delivery. A lengthy sort line similar to an assembly line, scans the package to determine whether it belongs to their designated sort station. If it does, the package is pulled off the line and bagged accordingly in advance of staging.
Once items have entered the system through the initial sort, they are examined to ensure that packaging has remained intact and that unaccounted items are located and logged into tracking software. This step is essential, as during transport, invariably some items get labeled improperly or have their packaging compromised. Audit and Inspection is a continual process during the five step sortation and is carried out by select individuals trained to spot common issues with items entering the sortation centre.
This is where associates at each sort station assign their parcels to routes and separate them accordingly to be handed over to delivery associates. At that point, the delivery associate will then load their vehicle to deliver items to customer homes. During staging, it is key to load each vehicle in the same sequence as the assigned delivery route for the driver. This ensures that the packages to be delivered at the beginning of the route are located at the back of the trunk or trailer, minimizing the effort to identify items while on the road. This results in crucial time savings and delivery efficiency.
At this point, each delivery associate has a pre-loaded mobile device detailing the safest travel route for delivery, with optimal travel time. A routing representative confirms that each device is fully functional and communicating accurately with the system prior to vehicles leaving the sortation centre. Once this check is complete, each driver exits in a co-ordinated sequence and is processed by a marshal who authorizes departure to begin getting items to customer homes.
The five step sortation process has been the result of years of process execution and optimization. As a logistics company for 3PL, e-commerce and retail, the sortation centres we operate, consistently meet the demands of “need it now” consumers.
With the guarantee that our sortation process has been stress-tested for high volume periods and shifting weather conditions we can ensure delivery accuracy that allows our partners to meet and exceed delivery promises to customers.
If creating the most efficient, scalable sortation process for your retail or e-commerce business is a priority, let’s talk.