Technology has moved at an incredible rate over the past decade. If you think back just 12 short years there was no iPhone, definitely no iPad and computers were certainly larger than the laptops that we all now happily tap away on day after day. Warehouse stock control systems have had a similar rise in capability and sophistication; they’re now able to handle more data, provide greater insight, and all in a shorter space of time.
So if you have a system that tells you how much stock you have and where it is, no matter what the time of day, or day of the week, is there really any need for additional and manual stocktakes? The answer is yes – but if you’re not convinced then let us explain why…
It’s not just about technology
It stands to reason that technology is only as good as the information that is put into it; one error at any stage and the integrity of the data and stock it holds can be significantly out. If this error goes unnoticed for some time then the impact of that small error can quickly grow and become very large.
The computer won’t know if an error has been made. It won’t make according adjustments to rectify that error. The problem can very quickly grow, meaning that no matter how sophisticated the system, the need for regular stocktaking is still prominent.
The complexity of warehouse stocktaking
Distribution warehouse stock control systems are able, and sometimes need, to process millions of items and pieces of information each day. This can include goods inwards, storage, the location of bulk bins – then onto replenishment and bin picking locations. There are pallet barcodes, case barcodes, item barcodes, and that’s still not the end of it! How about returns to suppliers, wastage, inter-branch transfers…?
Pickers then pick the orders for your stores and may place them on paIlets, boxes or cages which also carry barcodes. The stock then moves to the loading bay and is scanned into trailers and sealed for distribution to your stores.
Each of these steps represents an opportunity for stock to be misplaced or for a mistake to be made. If you consider that each of the items travelling to suppliers, stores and other warehouses across the UK or Europe goes through this process then it’s easy to understand why and how stock levels can quickly come a cropper and fall awry.
The answer, again, is for regular independent stocktakes to ensure that the best possible business decisions – based on current stock levels, product demand and supply – can be made.
So how do you support your system and ensure that stock is correct?
We’ve already said that no matter the sophistication or expense you’ve invested into your internal stocktaking system, independent stocktakes are still a necessity; it certainly shouldn’t be seen as an either/or scenario between internal systems and external experience. Our most effective warehouse clients use both to give themselves the most accurate understanding that they can, through a simple programme of compliance auditing, which validates the system, stock and staff at all stages of stock movement.
The pitfalls of using internal teams
Many operators have their own internal teams that carry out this role, and this can certainly work very well, but in our experience we’ve seen it fail for a number of reasons:
- Staff shortages
When staff shortages occur, auditors are often moved from their normal role to the pick. Clearly this is only natural, as a distribution centre is all about distributing stock – after all, lorries must leave on time; deadlines must be kept.
- Internal pressures
For the same reason, internal auditors who are under pressure to achieve high sample levels in short periods of time will often cut corners by checking what can be seen on the side of a pallet/cage rather than by stripping down the entire cage. It is also common when checking stock integrity by bin; the more easily-accessed bins will be checked more frequently and the harder to count, higher or remote bins will be audited far less.
This means that more errors will creep through and store stock availability will suffer – sadly, inevitably resulting in lost sales in your stores.
So what’s the answer?
The first thing to say is that technology is great – it gives us far superior information than in the past and this can only be a good thing. The answer to having the best possible handle on stock levels in your warehouses right now, lies in harnessing and combining that information with an independent, impartial stock taker that understands and has experience in the complexities of distribution centres.
A programme of sample checks to cover all staff, all shifts and all bin locations over a period of time will improve your stock integrity at all levels of your business, which at the end of the day means increased stock availability and therefore increased profits.
We’ve been working with warehouses for more than 30 years. If you’d like to discuss stocktaking for your warehouse or distribution centre, please give our team a call on +44 (0)1637 874609 and we’ll be happy to answer any questions you have.