The global COVID pandemic reshaped work and daily life as we knew it. The good news: many aspects of life are starting to see some normalcy. The bad news: many warehouse challenges after COVID are likely to remain, at least for a while.
Warehouse operators predicted many of the trends that would shape the industry in 2020 and 2021. But they didn’t realize just how quickly those trends would accelerate — and how long they would last.
Many warehouses are still struggling to keep up with the increased demand spurred by online shopping. Like other industries, they’re affected by labor shortages, changes in working conditions, volatile pricing, and a lack of insight into what to expect next.
Addressing all of these and other challenges at once is an impossible feat that’s nearly destined to fail. Instead, warehouse leaders should direct their energy toward solutions that stand to make the biggest impact.
Here are the top priorities we suggest based on what we’ve seen from the warehouse customers we serve:
Challenge #1: Addressing the ongoing labor shortage.
Despite unemployment sitting at 6.1% in April 2021 (compared to 3.5% pre-pandemic), many warehouses are still struggling to fill key roles. The ongoing labor shortage is far-reaching, affecting nearly every industry and creating a myriad of bottlenecks for business owners.
A recent study from Zebra Technologies found that recruitment remained a top challenge for more than 60% of warehouse operators. Labor shortages can lead to a number of negative effects. One noteworthy one is making hiring decisions out of desperation.
For example, hiring based on availability rather than a best-fit candidate can mean recruiting unskilled or subpar talent. This may have a domino effect within the organization. For example, a decrease in order accuracy, slower fulfillment times, or costly higher turnover rates.
What’s more, simply hiring more workers is not enough on its own to address the many challenges facing warehouse workers. Companies may be better off in filling the gaps with technology. This can ease the demand on their current workforce and improve productivity and efficiency.
Tools that can automate manual repetitive tasks are the low-hanging fruit in this scenario. Automation can free up a smaller team to focus on more high-value tasks.
Challenge #2: Maintaining accurate par level stock.
If you’ve seen inventory moving more quickly through your warehouse in the past year, you’re not imagining things.
The COVID pandemic created shortages of many items on a local level. Consumers turned to other means to acquire the items they needed. This most certainly impacted warehouse operations who had to fulfill this increase in demand.
What’s more, a slowdown in the supply chain at large contributed to product shortages. In turn, companies were flying through their safety stock at record speeds because items simply weren’t replenished fast enough.
For example, food giant Kellogg’s saw a shift in sending bulk food orders to schools. because people at home suddenly had more time for breakfast. This led to constraints in finding enough paperboard for cereal boxes. In Australia, the company plowed through several weeks’ worth of safety stock in just days.
The challenge of maintaining healthy par levels is still very much alive today. Many companies simply weren’t prepared for the sudden surge in demand for their products during the pandemic.
Companies can help to mitigate repeat instances like these by using automation to calculate reorder points and set safety stock levels. Automating reorders removes manual calculations and guesswork and can save you from running dry on an in-demand item.
Challenge #3: Quickly adapting processes to evolving market conditions.
The word “pivot” was a common theme throughout 2020 and into 2021. Businesses that embraced this theme found they were better able to weather the COVID storm. Those that didn’t struggled to address customers’ changing needs and expectations.
Part of pivoting in business isn’t just about knowing when and how. It’s also about having the means to do so. Warehouses tied down by rigid processes and inefficient technology and tools may find it harder to adjust their operations during critical times.
Without scalability and flexibility, orders overwhelmed warehouses during the pandemic. They couldn’t hire fast enough, which placed extra strain on their current workforce. Inventory shortages meant lost business opportunities. Unpredictable fluctuations in demand can create unnecessary hardships. Operating costs increased. A general sense of uncertainty and low morale prevailed.
Moving forward, scalability and flexibility will become greater focuses in developing warehouse improvements. Both of these characteristics can help warehouses better manage sudden changes in demand, and thrive in the process.
Sources estimate that major supply chain disruptions — those lasting a month or longer — are poised to occur every 3.7 years for the average company. The time to start exploring and implementing scalable, flexible solutions is now.
Solving Warehouse Challenges After COVID with Zenventory
Many companies and warehouses are seeing more signs of normalcy. Now, they can begin to shift away from survival mode and start thinking critically about ways to improve.
Addressing these three warehouse challenges after COVID are not end-all solutions. However, they can provide a strong starting point for organizations to become more robust moving forward.
At Zenventory, our warehouse management platform inherently caters to these and other challenges. With automation, companies can help to fill the gaps left behind by a shrinking talent pool, monitor inventory levels and reorders, and quickly scale operations when market conditions demand it.
Take Zenventory for a test drive today — schedule your free demo.