Warehouse manager checking package ready for shipment.

Efficient Shipping Starts Long Before You Pick and Pack

If a disjointed packing process is delaying your shipping efficiency, it’s time for a change in how you manage your supplies. Try these tips.

The goal of any shipping department is to move packages in and out as efficiently as possible. But even the best-run department can see its shipping come to a grinding halt without easy access to the boxes, tape, labels and filler needed to pack and ship.

Avoid this potential peril by reviewing the way you stock, store and use the packing supplies you rely on. Even small shifts and innovations can net big efficiency gains. Try these tactics:

Stock Up and Keep Up

Warehouse space is valuable in almost every shipping department, so no one wants to overcrowd a warehouse with shipping supplies. But to be efficient, it’s essential to have what you need to pack and ship on hand at all times. If you don’t already, use the supply tracking feature of your inventory management software to set reorder prompts for the supplies you use. Periodically do a manual check on supply levels to ensure that nothing is overlooked.

A company’s supply base is one of its best sources for innovation, and this especially applies to your shipping products supplier. Ask your vendor for any new products which might lower shipping costs or otherwise enhance your packing and shipping. For example, customers appreciate green packing materials, and your vendor may be able to let you know about new shipping supply options as they emerge. Also, ask your vendor to alert you to opportunities to buy in bulk, assuming you have room to store the materials. Not all suppliers will provide shipping supplies in pallet-sized quantities.

Commit to Organization

Quick and easy access to shipping supplies means your warehouse runs high on efficiency and low on slowdowns. Focus on an organization system that supports your common shipping scenarios and clearly communicates where everything is stored.

In addition to posting signs and using labels to mark supply locations, create a master list of where all items are stored for reference. Also, use your inventory management software’s “location” feature to track where supplies are as things shift. Take a close look at which shipping supplies you are frequently using together — for instance, smaller boxes and bubble wrap. Store these items together to so warehouse workers won’t need to go back and forth between storage areas.

Invest in Tools and Tech

Check with your shipping supply vendor to see if your current output of daily shipments warrants the use of tools such as bubble wrap dispensers, strapping machines, tape machines, void-fill dispensers or stretch-wrap machines. Investments in these types of innovations can easily pay for themselves in increased efficiency.

Shipping managers don’t spend a lot of time at their desks, so consider using mobile apps that allow you to make shopping lists and quickly order from wherever you happen to be. For instance, if you are out in the warehouse and notice that you only have a handful of mailing labels left, you can scan a barcode and automatically add the item to your shopping cart. Using an app also removes the manual step of entering or searching for a product name. This reduces the potential for mis-ordering. The more you use these apps, the “smarter” they will become and the more re-order and other prompts they can provide.

Ask for Advice

In many cases, your vendors will be your greatest allies in combating shipping inefficiencies. Invite vendors to visit your warehouse and walk them through your supply storage and packing to highlight any areas they think could be improved. If a visit is not possible, you can try detailing your processes over the phone to resolve any issues.

After watching you pack a few boxes, for example, your vendor may point out that you are using more tape or packing material per box than you need. Your vendor may also recommend switching void-fill materials to gain efficiencies, better protect your products and otherwise improve what you are doing.

Large-scale warehouse changes will dramatically improve how you order, use and manage supplies. But even small tweaks to how you store and track supplies can have a significant impact on your effectiveness. Survey your setup to see what kinds of updates you can make.