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Between the rise of ecommerce and the changing landscape of on-demand delivery services, the term ‘adaptable’ has come into vogue for warehouses of any size or any industry.

It makes sense on its face—due to the number of options customers have for getting products delivered to them as quickly as possible, most warehouses could benefit from the idea of being able to adapt to customer needs and changing delivery/product availability as needed.

That sounds nice enough, but what does it really mean to be adaptable? You like to think your staff and processes are ready to handle anything that comes their way, but are you actually adapting to changing business needs or just reacting to individual orders and requests?


True adaptability stems from making sure your entire warehouse can handle customer demands and new influxes of product. For example, let’s say you have a new item that’s proven to be much more popular than expected. Do you have a good enough relationship with your vendors to be able to reorder popular items as needed, or can you source them from elsewhere in case of a shortage?


And what about your storage? Sure, everyone has the old standbys like pallet racks to fall back on, but true adaptability comes from being able to store—and retrieve—whatever you need to, whenever you need to. Consider installing some easily-customized/more modular shelving types like wire shelving and steel shelving so you can readjust them to your needs and make sure the most popular items are always close at hand. Being able to get to the items you need for rush orders, no matter what those orders are, is crucial for adaptability and may require some careful relocation of products to avoid delays and maintain KPIs.


Similarly, this will begin to affect your processes as well. Adaptable warehouses are ones that have the ability to react to whatever products roll in, and whatever demands are placed upon the orders thereof. This requires a careful balance—while it’s crucial in all areas of warehousing to have carefully documented and well-maintained internal procedures for things like picking, inventory counts, and shipment processing, you need to be flexible enough to keep up with customer demand. Two-day shipping isn’t going to help anyone if it still takes two business days for the order to be pulled from shelves, and this will lose you customers faster than ever in the new era of Amazon-style instant gratification. Make sure your processes allow for quick changes of plans when high-priority orders come in, make sure you have enough staff and labor power to keep your normal operations flowing smoothly even in the face of customer demand, and try to avoid over-promising when it comes to delivery dates and picking speeds.


Really, the point is to just keep your warehouse flexible. You need to be able to rise to customer demand without creating a lot of internal confusion in your processes or staff, and you need to be able to handle additional requests that may upset the apple cart, as it were, in order to keep competitive and make sure your customers keep coming back. It can be a lot to ask for, but you’ll be glad you did in the long run.

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