Inventory Best Practises for Shipping

As the economy improves and more shopping moves through the internet, companies are seeing an increase in shipping volumes and are looking to scale their operations. However many shipping processes in warehouses today are manually based and will result in a disproportionate cost increase if shipping operations are merely expanded based on current businesses practices. 

Shipping is the warehouse activity where the ‘rubber meets the road’. This function typically generates your invoice, ASN (advanced ship notice), a series of EDI transactions, and numerous metrics such as cases/totes shipped, inventory turns, on-time shipments or lines shipped vs scheduled.

Nothing less than 100% shipping accuracy and execution is acceptable; the general viability of your business is at stake.

With that in mind here 10 best practises to consider:

1.      Two Stage Shipping – at first this may sound like we’re imposing an extra step. However we’re advocating that the order be staged before it is shipped.  Too often warehouses don’t recognize the staging function as a critical part of the shipping processes. Staging is used to consolidate an order, pre-plan a load into a trailer, inspect the order, generate labels, and other documentation.

2.      Shipping Processes - take steps to automate basic shipping processing as a means of leveraging existing shipping resources as volumes increase. This could include functions such as automatic generation of the shipping and packing slip when picking is done or picking direct into the carton to be used for shipping.

3.      Hot Loading – increase flow through the warehouse by having product coming off the manufacturing line go direct to shipping. This involves developing the appropriate systems to divert picks to the production area and coordinated scheduling between shipping and production.

4.      Cross Docking – goods arriving in the receiving area where there isn’t sufficient quantity in the warehouse, means diverting picks to that area. Also certain products by their nature and value e.g. bread and dairy products must be cross docked. In any event systems, must support the cross dock processes and the shipping area or receiving area personnel must be trained to support this pick/ship process.

5.      Packing materials – kraft paper, foam, bubble wrap, and lined bags, allow for general re-use and are recyclable. Being green in the shipping area is an expectation by today’s environmentally conscious consumer. If you must use Styrofoam peanuts consider putting them a plastic bag.

6.      Rate Shopping Systems – Evaluate rate shopping software sometimes called Transportation Management Solutions to make carrier choices for each shipment. These solutions take into account cost, delivery time and daily shipment volume to arrive at the lowest overall cost.

7.      Packing Slip – Perhaps my biggest shipping pet peeve is that many companies pick by a packing slip and not a true pick ticket which would show locations to pick from, order of picking, and any instructions. Much happens during the pick processes such as substitutions, short picks and even over picks. Any change to the order means manually re-entering what was picked and re-printing the pack slip thus creating re-work and inefficiencies. The packing slip should only be generated upon completion of the picking and inspection functions.  

8.      Labelling – cases and pallets should be clearly labelled with scannable barcodes (smudges or badly printed barcodes) for proper identification by downstream workers and by the customer.  Amazon’s best practise for labels placement is no less than 1.25” from any natural edge. Multiple pallets belonging to the same shipment should have identifiers such as “1 of X.”

9.      Shipping Weights – for safety purposes cartons weighing no more than 50 pounds (and if over clearly marked with warning label). Pallets no more than 1500 pounds gross weight and pallet contents should be secured with stretch wrap or twine.

10.   Parcel and LTL Automation – Many solutions from freight forwarders and transport companies provide the means to develop a transportation strategy that encompasses optimal shipment of parcel and LTL/freight shipments. In fact many transportation consultants earn their living by keeping a portion of any savings when they develop a cost saving shipping strategy.

The exponential growth of online and mobile technologies has changed the way we shop and buy. Driven by omni-channel marketing and 24/7availability, same day fulfillment and delivery will become the new benchmark of warehouse performance.  

Warehouses today must absolutely evaluate, automate, and adopt best practices if they are to stay relevant in this new paradigm. 


All the best!

Jeff Lem