How best to organise a warehouse for e-commerce?

24 august 2020

An e-commerce dedicated warehouse is different from a traditional warehouse which most of us associate with pallet handling, racks and large forklifts. E-commerce warehouses tend to feature sizable handling zones where goods like for example clothes, are checked, packed and labelled following the addition of leaflets, samples and invoices to parcels.

A handling zone should have packing tables, as well as designated areas for returns processing that accounts for a growing proportion of all sales operations in e-retailing and requires considerable operational expenditure. 

It is also advisable to design several light refurbishment stands where to dust packaging or products or refresh clothes with a steamer. Such a zone could include workstations where the height of desk tops can be easily adjusted. Both packing and returns processing tables should be equipped with appropriate shelves for accessories, paper and packaging film, computers and label printers.

What should the picking zone look like?

The handling zone should be connected to a picking zone where orders will be collected from shelf racks of various height. Such racks can be made from multilayer cardboard boxes, which make for an easy start of operations and faster adjustment of the picking zone in the case of seasonal changes or promotions during the run-up to Christmas, for instance. Aisles should be wide enough for forklifts to operate and pass one another freely, which is key during sales peaks or in the case of large order volumes which will frequently require additional resources or stepping up order processing. It is also advisable to arrange a separate secure room for storage of high value accessories and items. Depending on the need and assortment, the warehouse should also be equipped with a place for minor repairs to the sold goods. The photo below shows some rack examples. 

A picking cart used for everyday work, should be suitable for the range of products stored in a warehouse and adjusted to the size of shelves. It should also have a step ladder attached to enable easy picking from rack tops. Such picking carts are then wheeled on to the packing zone. With multi-order picking, a single person is able to pick up to 20 orders.

The ideal warehouse for e-commerce

Technical specifications are also important, including an appropriate column grid, an appropriate floor load bearing capacity for stored products, Lighting of the handling area should have natural light in places of permanent working place as well as artificial lighting or fire resistance. Such a warehouse should meet the requirements of the fire brigade in terms of adapting the facility to the stored goods, especially on a multi-level mezzanine if it is to be installed in a building - if more than 10 people are employed, the mezzanine should have external escape staircases , a smoke extraction system and should be made of materials safe for the employee, which will not pose an additional hazard in the event of fire.

It is also advisable to consider how many and what type of docks are needed (including docks for vans, grade-level doors or combi-docks), and whether to adapt sanitary, electrical and fire systems to accommodate future growth. It is also a good idea to think about installing a multi-level mezzanine, or equipment ensuring continuous operations such as power generators or UPS units.

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