Keep calm and carry on: two ways a WMS can support Corona-hit warehouses


Economic indicators up to January showed an improvement in global business activity, with rising orders and output levels. Coronavirus has put an abrupt end to that optimism. Economists are now downgrading their growth forecasts and thanks to the threat of this virus, 2020 could become the toughest trading year since 2009, the height of the last global financial crisis.

Well over a half of food, fashion and health retailers in the UK have said that supply chain delays resulting from coronavirus are an issue for their business. A quarter of these have admitted corona represented a ‘significant’ issue to overcome. This was according to a survey by Retail Economics and global law firm Squire Patton Boggs.

Retailers also believe that their businesses will be permanently changed, with the need to switch suppliers, invest in automation, bolster online operations and identify risk mitigation strategies. They are also seriously concerned about the impact on consumer confidence. A separate survey showed that 39% of consumers are worried about product shortages as a result of the coronavirus, which has led to almost one in 10 consumers (9%) to stockpile. We have all seen the photos circulating of empty shelves of pasta and toilet paper in the supermarkets.

For warehouse management, maintaining an efficient warehouse is critical. Two key aspects that will be challenging and which can be eased using a WMS (warehouse management system) are: 1) having key personnel off sick; and 2) having to stockpile stocks and raw ingredients. Here’s how a WMS can help:


  1. A WMS helps manage the loss of knowledge if key warehouse personnel are off sick

When someone key to the daily operation of a warehouse is off sick, like a shift supervisor or pick team leader, it can create a void. In many warehouses, especially those run with paper-based systems, processes and workflows can be overly complex. After a WMS has been implemented, with structured processes backed up by technology to take care of decision making, the impact on business as usual is much lower if a key person is off sick and unable to work. By using a WMS, work schedules are systemised and optimised according to the day’s sales orders. There is no longer a reliance on a particular employees’ knowledge of how the warehouse functions. This is especially relevant for warehouses that have seasonal peaks, for instance with Easter on the horizon and spring bank holidays.  These calendar events can create intense resourcing pressures and by using WMS technology, companies can begin to ‘smooth out’ the impacts of extra busy demand peaks.


  1. A WMS helps maintain efficiency in an extra full and busy warehouse?

Many warehouses are having to stockpile as part of Coronavirus contingency planning. Using a WMS to control all aspects of warehouse operations – from the moment inventory arrives to when finished goods are shipped to customers – will help improve efficiency in these circumstances. Here are 5 ways a WMS will maintain efficiency and reduce the pressure of Coronavirus stockpiling in your warehouse:


Putaway management and location assignments

A WMS automates putaway by identifying the best place to store items based on available spaces, monitoring how frequently the items will be picked and where they should be placed in the warehouse and whether items need special storage considerations.


Pick route optimisation and planning

After evaluating the day’s order pool and assigning tasks, a WMS automatically evaluates the routes available and will direct operatives to fulfil pick instructions using the most efficient travel path for their immediate location. Goods are picked more quickly using fewer resources – perfect if you are a few operatives down.


Shelf life management and stock rotation

Using a WMS to optimise stock rotation ensures that items with a limited shelf life – raw materials and packaging – are carefully managed to avoid wastage. A WMS makes this easy by following first in first out principles.


Perpetual inventory (PI) stock counting

Cyclical counting is the most effective way to maintain inventory and also ensures business as usual whilst stock counting is in progress. Shrinkage is also minimised as all stock movements are accurately recorded with an electronic audit trail.


Traceability management

Using a WMS, it’s possible to create reports detailing lot/batch/expiry date information that conform to compliance requirements and conduct detailed trend analysis. A WMS provides a full record of what has happened to stock during its entire lifecycle across the entire supply chain, right down to the source and provenance of the original raw ingredients at the SKU, UPC and lot level.