Picture this: you’re watching your favorite show when it dawns on you that the toilet paper is nearly out. The situation is critical … but these Netflixes won’t binge themselves! So you grab your smartphone, tap a couple of buttons, and boom: twenty-four hours later, a mound of extra soft shows up on your doorstep.
And you whisper to yourself, how the heck did they do that?
Now, at this point you might be imagining a neatly organized warehouse, massive in size, where all the types and sizes of tee-pee are stored in alphabetical and perfectly symmetrical order. A hurried mix of robots and humans are working in beautiful unison. And you’d be right about one thing:
That warehouse is freaking massive.
The inventory management system running that big bad warehouse, though, is likely far more chaotic. Most retailers that deliver this kind of rapid order fulfillment—next-day tee-pee, for example—for thousands upon thousands of disparate items, tend to use chaotic storage, also known as dynamic put away.
What is Dynamic Put Away?
Dynamic put away is the opposite of the tidier, more static inventory management techniques that you’ll find in smaller operations or those that still use manual inventory management processes. Under a dynamic put away model, items coming into the warehouse or fulfillment center are stowed anywhere they can fit.
That’s all there is to it.
Well, that and a system of barcodes, handheld barcode scanners, and highly intelligent inventory software. When an item is ordered from a dynamic put away warehouse, the order triggers a set of operations from machine learning to business logic that beautifully orchestrates the optimal route to pick that item or items. Items are always sorted and picked in a seemingly random fashion, but always tracked under the watchful eye of the central inventory management software.
On the backend, that software is automatically updating and maintaining optimal inventory levels and making the most efficient use of employee resources and warehouse space. Unique barcodes for each item, lot of items, and shelf space are the lifeblood that constantly keeps both inventory management software and warehouse employees happy and productive.
Fast, agile, and scalable—the benefits of dynamic put away
Impossible, you say? Prone to error? On the contrary. Under the right circumstances, dynamic put away actually uses warehouse space more efficiently. It’s something akin to agile software development, where the closest best resources stow and pick items, all of it controlled and optimized by software.
It helps drastically reduce inventory errors, too. Dynamic put away can dramatically improve your inventory per square footage, improve inventory accountability and visibility, and help ensure that the right items ship.
It also makes warehouse employees more efficient. Why schlep all the way across your 50k+ sq ft warehouse to pick the leather iPhone 8 case when there’s already another picker close by? What if there was a system that knew a better route to that same item PLUS pick up any other orders along the way? Inventory management software can handle this automatically so warehouse employees don’t waste time and energy.
How Amazon does it
There doesn’t seem to be much that’s random about Amazon, which ships more than a billion items a year and whose warehouse facilities can be larger than a dozen football fields. But “random stow” is exactly what you’ll find inside an Amazon fulfillment center.
One look inside one of the e-commerce giant’s warehouses will reveal Lady’s Speed Stick next to copper-plated pans—a family pack of BBQ sunflower seeds next to the first season of That 70’s Show on Blu-Ray. On the floor, a bustling, ever-steady flow of flesh-and-bone employees and high-capacity robots stow, pick and move inventory around the clock.
At the end of the line, an automated sorting system packages, labels, and sorts items before sending them through a maze of conveyor belts to the trucks that they’ll be shipped in.
It’s chaotic, it’s seemingly random, and it’s the inventory management technique that has allowed Amazon to continue scaling in the face of unprecedented consumer demand.
You don’t need to be Amazon to have Amazon-like efficiency
Amazon changed the way retailers retail and they changed the way warehouses operate. But I want to let you in on a little unknown secret: you don’t need to be Amazon to have Amazon-like efficiency.
The beauty of retail software that is focused on the customer-first experience is you can have those Amazon-like features and capabilities that put them where they are today without spending all that Amazon moola. By leveraging proven processes and data across multiple industries, you’ll not only grow while staying lean, but have a real quantifiable return on investment.
Sometimes, the secret to success runs counter to common logic. Yes, there’s a certain beauty in simplicity. On the front end of a dynamic put away facility, it’s just barcode, barcode scanner, and the employees sustaining thousands of inventory operations a day.
Not without inventory management software, though. Because what happens on the back end isn’t so simple. For one, most inventory management software runs on a powerful algorithm and machine learning that is capable of handling many variables at once to maintain the most efficient form of “chaotic storage” as possible.
Even the brightest minds aren’t capable of managing that many variables at once without error. Even Amazon relies on proprietary, self-made inventory management software to execute its random-stow system so well. The truth is, to achieve the benefits of dynamic put away, you need the right inventory management software solution in place.
We’ve got just the thing.
Optimize and outperform
Make dynamic put away a reality for your retail business.