Online fashion retail has a special requirement for flexible storage solutions, says Edward Hutchison, managing director of BITO Storage Systems.
Online fashion retailers face numerous challenges to be successful. They must constantly adapt to rising growth rates, broader product ranges, seasonal changes, peak periods and fast-evolving trends. Even the sensitive materials used in fashion design create their own special storage requirements.
Remaining in vogue means continuously updating and adding to product ranges in response to customer demand. This necessitates holding a large and diverse range of products in stock in order to deliver goods promptly to customers. Consistent product availability and ever-faster delivery times have become standard customer expectations.
Online fashion retail does not just require high capacity for holding stock: it must also be possible to expand or rearrange a storage system, This will allow the retailer to react as flexibly and quickly as possible to constantly changing market conditions.
Depending on order volumes and the number of items sold, it is worth considering whether manual or automated storage makes more sense. It might be that a combination of the two would be the ideal option for storage and picking.
How should goods be picked? In online fashion retail, multi-level picking is a common choice. Here, items are picked individually and only later consolidated into specific orders. Shelving systems with adjustable shelf dividers can be used as ‘put’ shelves for collecting orders in individual trays. Here, the trend for picking directly into the despatch carton has become particularly prominent.
The fastest sellers of all and the top products in general are sometimes held in an outer warehouse for cross-docking so that they can be picked direct from the pallet they were received on, saving time, money and travel distance.
Shelving systems: a flexible storage solution
Manual storage systems offer the most flexibility and shelving systems are therefore a key component of warehouse design – even in the e-fashion sector. Shelving systems should be designed so they can be easily assembled, reassembled or expanded to meet the user’s needs. If shelves can be serviced from both sides, this will make them ideal for storing and picking containers, cartons and items of various sizes. Shelving depths will depend on the items to be stored, or the containers or cartons in which they will be stored. Easily adjustable shelf heights will allow various numbers of shelves to be positioned at varying heights within the rack.
Light, individually positioned dividers and dividing walls can be positioned on shelves to create sections of different sizes, making it easier to organise products. Highly visible plastic dividers – with no sharp edges, mind – ensures that the size of each compartment is clear to see. Dividers can be positioned anywhere along a shelf to create compartments of any size. They can also be moved around easily.
Using dividers maximises the density of the storage space within a shelving system, making unused space available once more. This smart sorting aid efficiently simplifies every imaginable step in the storage and picking process, including the all-important returns process for online retail, saving time and money and making everyone’s jobs easier.
High-quality shelving systems should not have sharp edges and corners. This is particularly important for storage solutions in e-fashion. This way, sensitive textiles are not only kept safe during storage, but also the risk of accidentally damaging delicate materials and items of clothing is significantly reduced.
Easily view and pick hanging items
Manual hanging racks are also particularly good for carefully storing valuable clothes. Inserts integrated into shelving systems are an ideal solution for hanging clothes on rails to store them without the risk of creasing. This storage option is ideal for storage rooms in brick-and-mortar stores. This way, goods are clearly visible and can easily be picked up and taken out onto the sales floor.
Long-term solution for cartons
How can you store textile items such as shoes and accessories which do not necessarily need to be hung up, but which do need to be protected, conserved, well sorted and clearly organised? An ideal solution here is to use highly stable and moisture-resistant plastic containers. Units will be available in many different sizes and colours. They can be carry company logos and there are often numerous options for identification, dividers to better sort small items, and lids.
Trays are ideal for transporting goods or cartons, which cannot be transferred to containers for time reasons. These particularly stable holders allow you to safely move loads of various sizes on conveyors. They also help protect goods, since cartons are not impact-resistant and, in particular, do not have a very long lifespan.
Fashion retailers must process a particularly high volume of returns compared with other e-commerce sectors. Returns need to be received, sorted and returned to the warehouse as quickly as possible so they can be placed back in their proper position ready to be sold again. Where return rates are extremely high, it can make financial sense to set up complete returns warehouses using shelving systems with multiple tiers and shelf dividers. These ‘pigeonholes’ help with sorting and directly restocking returned goods.
These are just a few ideas that will help keep storage and order picking intralogistics flowing, as a vital part of addressing the challenges faced in the fashion retail sector.