Dan Marchant, e-commerce director of Vape Club, saw an unprecedented growth in sales during lockdown, peaking at nearly 300% above their normal run rate. He was able to refine his operations from his warehouse in Watford, leading to his business receiving praise from reviewers who were delighted with the fast shipment and efficient service. Here he provides his insight on how other companies can continue to grow alongside increasingly higher expectations to stay on top of warehouse demand:
Warehouse and employee management
Dispatching 2-3 times the usual orders while maintaining social distancing rules proved to be a real challenge, and it was necessary to shift the warehouse layout so that picking and packing zones were in separate areas.
This minimised crossover contact between workers by restricting the picking team to one area and the packing team to another. We were able to utilise unused areas of our warehouse to install additional packing desks which were spaced over two metres apart and had plastic sheeting separating each area.
We also implemented a one-way system in the warehouse for the pickers, meaning that all traffic flow was in the same direction and that pickers could maintain physical distancing of two metres easily without disrupting productivity too much.
Keeping one step ahead
Space and supply have provided two of the biggest challenges in scaling up the Vape Club warehouse to meet demand. When business more than doubles overnight it’s hard to keep up. Fortunately when it came to the pandemic we could see the direction the wind was blowing before lockdown actually occurred.
Working as closely as we do with suppliers in China, we were aware of it before it was considered serious in the UK. We had already started to bolster supply, and moved from a six-week order pattern to 12 weeks because we were worried about supply continuity. This eventually meant we were not overstocked but had to work very hard and fast to keep up with supply.
Maintaining a safe environment
Ensuring a Covid-secure workplace means looking at every aspect of the space – and every part of the working day. Staggering break times helps to ensure canteens and break rooms are not overcrowded and staff can physically distance (also it’s a good idea to limit the seating and clearly mark where people can sit).
Keep the building very well ventilated. We keep shutters open as much as possible to allow the fresh air to circulate. If possible, designate a separate entrance and exit, so people leaving the building do not have to cross paths with people entering the building. Put hand sanitizer everywhere!
Using warehouse technology
We have developed a suite of bespoke stock management tools to help us automate ordering of products based on patterns, highlighting any anomalies in sales patterns so the purchasing team can react proactively. All purchase orders are managed through the e-commerce platform which gives full visibility of stock movement to finance, management, warehouse and customer service.
Stocking in deliveries can often take a long time and creates an opportunity for data entry mistakes. We have a single click stock-in option, meaning if the delivery matches the PO then we can stock all the items in one go.
Smoothing supply chain operations
Optimising e-commerce supply chain operations allows you to plan for surges in orders ahead of time, as well as establish a strong collaborative relationship with your suppliers to ultimately meet customer demand.
In order to ensure we always have enough stock to meet demand and keep our supply chain operations running smoothly, we use proprietary stock movement and monitoring APIs that show us daily and weekly sales per stock keeping unit. The purchasing teams then use these bar charts to see what increases or decreases we’re seeing in product sales and buy the correct amounts.
Prioritising the customer experience
Whilst warehouse management, supplier concerns and looking after staff are all hugely important components of keeping an e-commerce business afloat and thriving, your business wouldn’t exist without customers. It is crucial to set up systems so that customers can get the information they need and have their questions answered at all points in their purchasing journey.
Identifying what works in the long run
Some of our changes will remain in place and some won’t. For example we will be sticking with the split shifts as this really allows for additional growth in the future, and we’ll keep the hand sanitising stations as hygiene is always a good thing. But people are social beings, and the physical distancing is both unnatural, and impractical in the long run, so when it is safe to do so we will not continue with the distancing measures.
The warehouse layout changes have also been very positive, and although we may not have to stick to the one-way system so rigidly it works well, and will stay in place.