Improve omnichannel fashion distribution with Pouch Sorter technology

In this article we provide an overview of the pouch sorter system and explore how it can help fashion fulfilment businesses improve their omnichannel order fulfilment capabilities and achieve a smooth fulfilment operation.

By Gregor Baumeister

 

Are you struggling with today’s fashion e-commerce revolution? The ever-increasing service level requirements, unpredictable delivery demands, mounting order volumes, variation in items and the nightmare of handling returns?

The drive for omnichannel sales in the fashion logistics industry

The retail industry has undergone a dramatic change over the last 20 years with online retail continuing to rise. And the global pandemic pressed the fast-forward button on the trend, causing a major disruption of retail sales channels. In 2020, online retail volumes increased by 14 percent from the previous year, suddenly propelling the industry into an unexpected place.

While this rapid growth in e-commerce is not expected to stay at 2020’s high, it is expected to stay at significantly higher numbers than 2019.

As such, it has become critical for fashion logistics companies to integrate omnichannel into their operations.

Challenges in supporting omnichannel operation

But supporting omnichannel distribution is not always easy. Logistics providers now face a whole new set of order fulfilment demands which impact directly on how they operate:

  • Changes in consumer behaviour and demands: Fulfilment facilities are becoming ‘shops’ with consumers buying items to try on and return, expecting same-day or overnight delivery and beautiful packaging.
  • B2B vs B2C demands: B2B and B2C orders are structured differently in terms of the number of order lines and pieces per order, resulting in different fulfilment, packing and delivery requirements for the fulfilment facility.
  • Volatility in demand: Volatility in online sales creates resource challenges for fulfilment facilities, backlogs or “peak” overperformance. These changing order structures can negatively impact goods-to-person picking systems not designed to handle varying orders.
  • Returns handling: Returns are expensive to handle, requiring intensive quality checks, relabelling and repacking and must be made available for resale quickly to prevent revenue loss.

So how can fashion distribution facilities deal with the challenges of omnichannel order fulfilment effectively?

Pouch sorter technology – what is it and how does it work?

A flexible unit sortation solution that is gaining increasing popularity in the apparel industry for its ability to deal with omnichannel order fulfilment is the pouch sorter system.

The pouch sorter, also known as the pocket sorter, is exactly what it sounds like: an overhead sortation system which relies on pockets, pouches, or bags to store and convey products. It works like this:

  1. A single item is placed in a pouch.
  2. The pouch containing the item travels up in the air.
  3. Once in the air, the pouch travels into a dynamic buffer.
  4. The pouches are allocated to orders and then moved into a batch buffer.
  5. The pouches are released for sorting and sequencing.
  6. The pouch travels out of the matrix sortation to a pack buffer and then further on to unloading.
  7. After unloading, the orders are packed.

For a more detailed view and explanation of how the technology works, you can watch this short video.

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The pouch sorter system has the ability to simplify and streamline a number of process steps in omnichannel e-commerce fulfilment.

 

How pouch sorter technology supports efficiency

The pouch sorter system can support efficient picking, the smart handling of returned items and the processing of different order lead time requirements easily –all important factors in omnichannel fulfilment. Indeed, the benefits of the pouch sorter are endless.

The technology provides:

  • Direct access to a single product, as each pouch is for a single item.
  • Ability to handle small quantities.
  • Decoupling of storage and picking from the fulfilment process, so there are less touch points, boosting the picking capacity.
  • A goods-to-person solution, making it less vulnerable to changes in order structures through batch picking and reducing the long distances pickers have to walk to find pieces to fulfil an order.
  • Buffering which enables flexible reactions to changes in the business and customer behaviour.
  • Immediate availability of returns once inducted.
  • Sorting (bringing the order together) and sequencing (sorting the pouches within the order, such as shop-friendly order assembly, the merging of garments-on-hangers with flat packs and so on).
  • Optimisation of facility floor space usage.
  • Low maintenance as few spare parts are needed; a robust and simple design that is easy to clean, operate and maintain.

The positive impacts of pouch sorter technology on the fashion supply chain

For the fashion fulfilment facility handling B2B store replenishment, the pouch sorter technology can fulfil orders to fit the store layout. This can increase the store’s productivity and enable less focus on in-store replenishment and management and more on customer service.

For the facility handling B2C order fulfilment, the technology is ideal for single unit handling and is able to combine items in any desired sequence. It is perfect for providing value-added services such as placing gift cards or greeting cards in the order.

And for the facility providing omnichannel order fulfilment, the performance of the system is not dependent on order structure as it operates on a single item basis, meaning it doesn’t matter if the order consists of two items or 40 items.

This enables the fashion warehouse to make a seamless shift between handling B2B and B2C order structures while maintaining high output performance. Its buffering capacity and modularity can help with volatility of demand. And returns can be made immediately available for resale, eliminating storage and picking and a number of costly touch points.

 

Conclusion

The trend for omnichannel sales is not going to subside and fashion logistics providers need to find ways to successfully and easily integrate B2B and B2C distribution. The unit sortation solution of the pouch sorter system is a flexible and easy way for fulfilment facilities to beat the challenges of omnichannel order fulfilment. After randomly loading each pouch with a single item, the pouch sorter system takes care of the rest: it sorts a wide range of products, automatically prioritises orders based on cut-off times and inducts returned items directly into a pocket to fulfil the next order –making it possibly the go-to answer to today’s e-commerce revolution.

 

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