The last mile is a well-known and integral step in supply chain operations. Failures within the last mile often usurp all previous steps in the supply chain That said, the same value placed on the last mile should equal the first mile, and as a result, the first touchpoint. Supply chain leaders that wish to excel in last-mile need to understand why the real value begins with this very first point and how effective first mile management enhances the entire process.
As explained by Supply Chain 24/7, digitalization of the logistics industry, including warehousing, continues to drive the market. Faster processing amounts to speedier delivery and happier customers. With so much emphasis on getting orders delivered on time, it’s easy for supply chain leaders to focus on the last mile, and rightfully so. The last mile involves direct customer interactions—a facet missing in earlier stages for e-commerce consumers. Although most orders come to fruition in the last mile, it does little good if the previous steps fell short. This is where supply chain leaders misconstrue the nature and value of the last mile. It’s valuable, but it’s only as useful as the weakest link in the supply chain.
The first touchpoint of a product is typically associated with picking processes. When an order is placed, the order details are sent to pickers. Pickers choose from bins and add the product to a tote. Totes are organized and picked items are packaged. The process continues until the order ships. Even with the aid of robotics, the risk remains. Any problem in the supply chain could lead to delays. So, warehouse leaders must consider two sides of the first touchpoint—the stage of picking the item and the actual inbound logistics of how it arrived in the warehouse or distribution center.
Enhancing logistics begins with better management of inbound logistics. According to Supply Chain Digital, the first mile contains the highest level of risk. Short orders and a movement to just-in-time fulfillment increase the risk of an item going out-of-stock. More importantly, failure to account for changes in demand will amount to both overordering and underordering. In a sense, it’s all linked to effective inventory management. While advanced supply chain management platforms, including a warehouse management system (WMS), optimize inventory and warehouse operations, supply chain leaders must also focus on the actual inbound logistics processes.
Warehouse managers need to approach replenishment and inbound logistics from the standpoint of control. Suppliers and vendors routinely enjoy reduced accountability and low visibility. How can a warehouse know what a supplier/vendor does and does not do? That’s where a WMS can make all the difference. Advanced WMS functions integrate with supplier and vendor systems. Even those with limited technologies and resources can take advantage of APIs and back-office supportive services, accessible via the internet, to increase visibility within their operations. As a result, warehouses gain visibility into inbound logistics, including the full scope of metrics and KPIs to track and manage supplier performance.
More touchpoints amount to higher risk, but even the best-laid plans for fewer touches will fail if the first pick does not go as planned. Problems and errors happen, but by building a better warehouse management strategy, including the use of an integrated WMS and full transparency, supply chains can achieve end-to-end success in fulfillment and delivery. Kickstart efficiency in your supply chain by focusing on better picking through first-mile processing.
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