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While some things about the warehouse industry may seem to be timeworn and eternal, the fact of the matter is warehousing is just as susceptible to industry trends and changing technology as anything else.

Particularly in this day and age of rapidly expanding ecommerce, warehouses will be faced with unexpected changes in the processes they use and the technology they need on a near-daily basis. You’ve likely already experienced some of these growing pains throughout 2019, and in this connected world of instant gratification and faster delivery times, certain trends will continue to grow in popularity among both consumers and other product vendors – and if your warehouse is able to keep up, you’ll find yourself experiencing greater success and fewer headaches overall.

Here’s a few of the trends we think your warehouse, distribution center, or fulfillment center is most likely to encounter in 2020, and what you can do to stay ahead of the curve:

Increased dropshipping

A lot of you reading this have seen the term “dropshipping” and already remembered your previous experiences with getting products to customers in a timely fashion without the need for a retail intermediary. The good news in all this is that as dropshipping grows in popularity, the process behind it will begin to streamline and be easier to maintain overall.

Whether you sell products directly to customers or you serve as a dropshipping fulfillment center, this increased reliance on dropshipping will allow you to improve profit margins and create direct relationships with customers. Your warehouse will need to keep up by making sure you’re properly staffed and have adequate warehouse shelving for the increase in overall inventory this will bring along with it, but by providing additional help on busy shifts and smartly-arranged storage capacity, your facility will be able to reap the benefits of this shift.

New avenues for reverse logistics

Nobody likes the idea of returns or recalls, but they remain a necessary fact of life for nearly every business, and with the advances in options that customers have for returns, your team needs to be more prepared than ever.

These days, customers don’t need to just initiate returns at the store – they can go online and begin a return/refund process through channels like email, online chat, or even with the use of social media bots. To keep up, your warehouse will need to make sure they have the capacity for handling all these returns, including well-stocked workstations at your shipping/receiving areas to process incoming returns and get them ready for resale, as well as making sure your pallet racking is arranged in such a way as to allow for items to be replaced (including making a designated area for ‘open box’ return items as necessary).

Improved visibility for inventory

In the modern warehousing environment, inventory will need to be tracked across several different metrics both physically (as in being able to locate them on your shelves) and in your inventory tracking software. As the new year begins and the holiday season winds down, take a look at your current inventory standings and your tracking methods and see where any gaps have appeared.

Are any items consistently shorted, or encountering errors that need to be re-counted? The start of a new year may be the perfect time for your team to review their counting methods as well as the equipment they use to track and store goods to prevent these errors from cropping up again. If you’re considering a move to RFID or barcode scanning from your current system, make sure your shelves are compatible with the sort of label holders required for your new inventory tracking methods.

More need for fulfillment

As ecommerce continues to ramp up and take over many of the dollars that would have been attributed to traditional retail channels, many businesses will begin to seek fulfillment options in new areas that they previously didn’t have warehouses available in.

If your warehouse has the space and capacity to handle fulfillment for other businesses, you can quickly find yourself becoming an in-demand property. Make the proper adjustments to your budget and review any needed shipping rates as well as your available staffing & space capacity, and offer your services up to businesses that need to get in on those Amazon Prime shipping rates without already having a warehouse in your service area.

By preparing yourself for these trends, and being more flexible about change overall, you can make 2020 a more productive year for your warehouse and start the new decade off on the right foot.

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