Order Fulfillment Mistakes: A Talk with Brian Barry

September 29, 2022 by Amware Fulfillment

We recently chatted with fulfillment operations expert Brian Barry, president of F. Curtis Barry and Associates, about the most common order fulfillment mistakes he sees B2C brands make. Here’s his top five list. For the full detail, listen to Brian's appearance on the unboxing fulfillment podcast.


Mistake #1: Waiting to Act

Brands are understandably cautious about any capital expenditure, particularly as it relates to fulfillment operations. But there's a cost to waiting.

order fulfillment mistakes

Let's say each holiday season a brand struggles to hire the needed temporary workers, bringing in 20 people to hire just one. It's a wildly expensive revolving door each year with huge training and HR costs. Automation can help solve the problem, but not if a P.O. sits on the decision maker’s desk for weeks awaiting “committee approval.”

Brian also points out the practical reality today that, even after a purchase decision is made, it will likely take 6 to 8 months to secure the equipment.


Mistake #2: An Absence of Data

Warehouse design should be 100% data-driven, but for many brands it's more art than science. According to Brian, there's nothing more helpful to a fulfillment consultant than a good order history file with detail on peak months, peak days, peak hours, lines per order, pick locations, and other data.

“The data signals areas of opportunity,” says Brian. “It also helps us eliminate automation and warehouse picking strategies that simply don't work with the profile.”

Next on his list is an accurate item master with units per case, cases per pallet, cubic dimensions and weight. “This data dictates space requirements, bin sizes and a host of other decisions,” Brian says. “But you'd be surprised at how often this data is inaccurate or even missing.”


Mistake #3: Incorrect Slotting

This is a frequent order fulfillment mistake brands make. One example: many locate the fastest moving SKUs together in the warehouse. But all that does is create a traffic jam in the aisle as multiple pickers wait their turn to access the pick location. Proper warehouse slotting has huge potential to shrink a warehouse footprint and improve productivity, but it takes good data and a disciplined analysis.

“We had a client with a 40,000-square-foot footprint, thousands of SKUs and a very undisciplined slotting strategy,” says Brian. “There were no standardized days of supply in the pick locations, slots were random, and there were many, many different bins sizes. We analyzed the data and applied some solid warehouse fundamentals to shrink the footprint by 50% and gain 40% efficiency.”

Slotting can be one of the biggest aids to optimize pick and pack fulfillment and should be reevaluated regularly. It's not a set-it-and-forget-it exercise since order profiles change.


Mistake #4: Not Measuring Productivity

“It's difficult to work with a client where the goal is increased productivity but that's not something that's ever been tracked accurately,” says Brian.

While the solution does not have to be an expensive labor management system, it should be automated. You don't want associates keying data into a spreadsheet. It's inefficient, not to mention that self-recording is bound to be inaccurate. That’s a huge order fulfillment mistake.

Says Brian, “Sometimes the most elegant solution is not realistic It could be just a matter of working with the IT team to figure it out. For instance, can you put a barcode on a batch header and record the start time, who's doing it, and then the time of the next batch scan to close out the first batch? Once you have this data, you can put it into an external database and build reporting on top.”


Mistake #5: YouTube Shopping

It's fun to check out the latest warehouse automation by surfing YouTube and by walking the aisles at MODEX. But people can become enamored with what they see.

“All of a sudden they're all in on a ‘LiDAR-driven AMR solution for space optimization’ when, two weeks before, they weren't even sure what it was,” says Brian.

The better approach to automating eCommerce fulfillment: start with the problem, apply available data, then let that data point you to a short list of relevant technology solutions that can be evaluated and tested.

If these order fulfillment mistakes hit a nerve with you, let’s talk about how to fix them. Amware Fulfillment operates a nationwide fulfillment center network for growing B2C brands that need unlimited scale in their distribution operations. Contact an Amware fulfillment expert today.

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Filed Under: Fulfillment Operations