Weigh These 5 Factors When Selecting Shipping Tools

To keep a distribution center running smoothly, managers look to technology to help maximize efficiencies and solve recurring problems. As these tools—both hardware and software—proliferate, it can be a challenge to decide which will be the best fit.

Make the best selections for your business by opting for tools that address these five considerations:

1

Versatility

Hardware used in a warehouse should optimize the time and productivity of staff across multiple departments. Find devices that work for different areas of the distribution center and different steps in the process.

Finding the right devices that can adapt to picking, packing and shipping stations can help stop human error, eliminate wasted time and prevent injuries.

Look for:

  • Barcode and RFID readers to automate data collection when picking and packing
  • Hands-free scanners to streamline inventory management when stocking shelves
  • Adaptable mounting systems to hold devices whether on a vehicle or where inventory is kept
2

Durability

Devices should also be outfitted to last against the elements. Distribution centers can undergo drastic shifts in temperature, and tools might be exposed to dust, debris or water.

Look for:

  • Protective cases to put another layer between devices and accidents
  • Sunlight-readable displays to defeat glare and make screens readable anywhere
  • IP65 rating or higher to protect against damaging particles

An Ingress Protection (IP) rating shows how well a product can withstand certain elements, with 1 being least able to withstand and 10 being most able. The first number represents the rating for solids and the second number represents the rating for liquids.

3

Integration

Employees need quick, simple and secure ways to utilize shipping systems and tools. Cut down on redundancies and wasted time by eliminating writing and typing.

Look for:

  • Voice-enabled technology to increase productivity throughout your processes
  • Integrated software that cuts out repetition of information across systems
  • Biometric devices to securely connect employees to systems

Biometrics incorporates fingerprint scanning, face recognition and other voice or behavioral identification so your employees can access systems in less time.

4

Flexibility

Warehouse management systems (WMS) should be as flexible as any other internal tool. Choose a web-based Software as a Service (SaaS) subscription for quick onboarding and agile adjustments as your business scales.

SaaS models deliver web-based programs through the cloud. As your company grows, subscriptions can, too, which eliminates the need to buy into a totally new WMS.

Look for:

  • Low monthly fees to cut down on initial entry cost
  • Dynamic features to improve your WMS functionality as your business grows and your needs change
  • The latest technology to help you stay competitive
5

Diagnostic Capabilities

In-house software should track and measure data to maximize efficiency. Use programs that help forecast demand and sales to optimize warehouse performance.

Look for:

  • Programs that integrate with existing systems to avoid technical glitches that can hinder analysis
  • Data tracking to show changes and patterns which help find areas for streamlining

Tracking actions, such as how often items are picked from a certain bin, can help your company forecast sales and keep the right inventory in stock.

In Summary

Focus on these considerations to better outfit and optimize your shipping process. Finding tools that help enable these benefits can help streamline your warehouse operations and set up your business for success.

Tutorial: 4 Shipping and Mailing Tools on the Business Customer Gateway

The Business Customer Gateway (BCG) provides mailers as well as shipping and logistics managers a single login to access online business services from USPS®. When a business registers for a BCG account, it gets access to a variety of shipping, mailing and business tools. These tools help streamline efficiencies for commercial businesses.

Here, we highlight four of the most valuable mailing and shipping tools that small and medium-sized businesses can access through the BCG, and then guide you through setting up and implementing each one.

1. Click-N-Ship Business Pro™

When a business regularly ships batches of packages, any optimization makes a big difference. The Click-N-Ship Business Pro™ software makes it easy to create shipping labels so that shipments can go out more quickly and efficiently. Plus, customers receive lower Commercial Base rates—a big draw for many users.

Use Click-N-Ship Business Pro™ to:

  • Automate label generation using your customer database
  • Verify shipping addresses using the official USPS® address database
  • Print shipping labels in batch
  • Track packages after they’ve been shipped
  • Easily provide return shipping labels for customers

How it works:

Once registered for the BCG, you’ll find the Click-N-Ship Business Pro™ application under Shipping Services. Before downloading the software, you’ll have to complete your contact information, set up your shipping locations and add a method of payment.

You’ll set up your account, which includes inputting your business’s return address, Mailer ID (MID) and Customer Registration ID (CRID), after downloading the Click-N-Ship Business Pro™ software.

If you don’t yet have an MID, you’ll automatically receive one, as well as a postage permit, when you sign up for a Click-N-Ship® account.

In the tool, you can import customer details to create shipping labels even more quickly, or manually add them. The tool will run these addresses through verification and correction, working against the USPS® database. This helps you to eliminate duplicates and avoid sending mail to undeliverable addresses. You can also choose to save the list after it has been checked so that you have the most current addresses for your next job.

Once all of your labels are created, the tool will consolidate them into one manifest. This is a form that files these mailings under a specific MID and is scanned by USPS® for billing when your shipment is dropped off or picked up.

From there, print your labels (single ones or in a batch) and attach them to their corresponding shipments.

2. Facility Access and Shipment Tracking (FAST)

Business shippers can effectively schedule package pickup or drop-off with different postal facilities using this tool. Track shipments, receive notifications when items are redirected and manage scheduling online, all from one platform.

Use FAST to:

  • Manage recurring pickups for drop-ship and origin-entry packages
  • View important details about USPS® facilities that will handle pickups
  • Read personalized information about facilities, schedules, appointments and performance
  • Communicate with other partners (such as publishers, printers and logistics managers) to see each step in the process

How it works:

The FAST dashboard lets you manage appointments, mailing facilities and business profiles.

To create an appointment, search for a location—based on area, district or facility name—where you can enter your shipment. You’ll be able to see your existing appointments (and who scheduled them) at the same time.

For a one-time appointment, you’ll first search for the desired date and class of mail. Then you can schedule your appointment at a specific facility.

To create a recurring appointment, you will first search for a facility, then enter your CRID, date range, appointment time and days of the week for the recurring pickup or dropoff to occur. Next, you’ll indicate your mail class and content before submitting and confirming your appointments.

When any appointment is scheduled, you’ll receive an appointment ID, which is a reference point for your scheduled pickup or drop off.

3. Intelligent Mail for Small Businesses (IMsb) tool

This tool is built for mailers sending 10,000 pieces or fewer of First-Class or Standard rate mail at a time. The web tool serves a similar purpose to Click-N-Ship Business Pro™ but is exclusively for mail. It generates a unique Intelligent Mail barcode for the address block to which you are mailing. Using IMsb gives these smaller-quantity mailers discounts for having Full Service barcodes.

Use the IMsb tool to:

  • Create presorted Intelligent Mail barcodes and pay for postage
  • Set up a database of verified addresses
  • Easily enter mailpieces sent in bulk into the Post Office™

How it works:

To use the IMsb tool, you must first have a postage permit, and it must be validated through your account on the BCG.

When you’re ready, select “Create New Job” from the IMsb tool dashboard. Then:

  • Fill in your mailer information (including whether you’ll be dropping off the mail at a BMEU or USPS® retail store, your CRID and your Mailer ID)
  • Select the permit you’d like to use to send this bulk mail
  • Choose your class of mail and other service type ID information
  • Detail what type of mailpiece (such as letter, postcard, flat, etc.) you’re sending
  • Enter any additional mailing options (such as return address, etc.)

Once you’ve reviewed and confirmed your job, you will upload an address list into the IMsb web tool from a spreadsheet or CSV. This contains all the addresses of your mail recipients.

The tool will run these addresses through verification and correction, working against the USPS® database. This helps you eliminate duplicates and avoid sending mail to undeliverable addresses. You can also choose to save the list after it has been checked so that you have the most current addresses for your next job.

From there, you’ll create and print your Intelligent Mail labels for your pieces and submit your job. When you take your labeled mail to the BMEU or USPS® retail location, you’ll have a barcode to scan that enters the job into the Post OfficeTM system easily and speeds up the mailing process.

4. Mailer Identifier

The Mailer Identifier (MID) is a field within your Intelligent Mail barcode used to identify who is sending the piece(s). These MIDs are 6- or 9-digit numbers assigned based on your annual mail volume criteria: a 9-digit MID is for mailers sending fewer than 10 million mailpieces a year and a 6-digit MID is for mailers sending more than 10 million.

This number can be used to identify Mail Owners or Mail Service Providers. Mail Owners are those who most directly interact with the mailpieces, while Mail Service Providers represent multiple Mail Owners.

Use the MID service to:

  • Search a Customer Registration Identification number (or CRID) that can tie your account to an existing business location
  • Set up a data distribution profile for acquiring scan data related to the services you use to send mail
  • Send bulk mail using the IMsb and other mailing services

How it works:

Once you register for a business account on the BCG, you are assigned a MID number. If you want additional MIDs for your business to allow other entities to manage mail, you can request them through the BCG.

To do that, log in and navigate to Mailing Services. From there, click Mailer ID. You’ll see an option to “Request a MID,” which will take you to the application page. Select the CRID you’d like the MID to correspond with, then request additional IDs.

As a Mail Service Provider, you can also look up MIDs associated with your CRID and see the company names and addresses linked with different MIDs. This is useful, for instance, if you are a regional manager of a business with a few different locations.

Key Takeaways

Using the Business Customer Gateway can help businesses optimize their shipping processes. One easy login provides access to a rich toolbox of USPS® resources that can boost the power of shipping and logistics. Save these helpful tutorials to refer back to when onboarding new resources through the BCG.

5 Technologies To Take Your Shipping Business Into The Future

The right tools can help your shipping business run as efficiently as possible. Today, that means integrating artificial intelligence, robotics and the Internet of Things into your day-to-day functions. It is predicted that robots will be in use in half of fulfillment centers by 2019, resulting in productivity gains of up to 30%.1

Technology is constantly developing new solutions for common hurdles in shipping and logistics—but which ones are worth your investment? Here, we’ll dive into five promising advancements that may improve your fulfillment processes today or in the future.

1

Warehouse Delivery Drones

Flying drones are now being implemented within warehouses to find and deliver inventory.2 When orders come in through a digital system, a message is communicated to the drone to find and pick an item. The small helicopter-style drone then brings the item to a packing area where a human employee can properly package and label the item for shipping.

These drones find and pick items at a faster and more efficient pace than a human employee. This frees staff up to perform the tasks that only they can do, such as quality control on products and preparing those items for shipment.

2

Smart Pallets

Smart pallets add track-and-trace technology to the basic shipping pallet to improve efficiency and accountability when dealing with bulk shipments. Most look similar to wooden pallets but are made from materials that can withstand multiple shipments.

They are built with radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips inside, which can gather different types of data—such as temperature if you’re shipping perishable goods or impact for delicate items—as well as track distance and location.

This data can help you better understand where issues arise when your items are in transport from your supplier: You’ll see that the pallet sat in a specific location in transit and can figure out how to eliminate that hiccup in the future. The collected data is also helpful in securing insurance for shipments, as the insurance companies get more information to assess claims.

RFID chips are also helpful for locating specific pallets and items within a distribution center.

3

Inventory Bots

These automated bots help monitor stock inventory, allowing human fulfillment workers to focus on picking and packing safely and accurately. Many are designed after pick carts so that they can be easily introduced into a distribution center.

Using LIDAR technology—which stands for light detection and ranging, and measures variable distances and enables autonomous navigation—these bots can locate and move inventory faster and more safely than a person can. They can also spot misplaced items, audit shelves and deliver real-time data on products so that the distribution center always has the right amount of inventory in stock.

Inventory bots allow businesses to better utilize the skills of employees by freeing up their time to focus on specialized tasks. These machines can help you optimize your distribution center, your employee workload and your fulfillment process.

4

Wireless Sensors and Indoor Location Tracking

Better manage what’s happening within your distribution center using sensors. You can set up the sensors throughout the area; by positioning them throughout the room, you’ll get the most accurate reads from triangulated data.

What can these sensors detect? Some monitor the warehouse space, measuring temperature changes, humidity, carbon monoxide and other elements that could affect the working conditions or product quality. Others are more specific, such as flex sensors that measure damage to shelving and suggest repairs or vehicle detection sensors to track when carriers arrive and leave.

Sensors can also communicate with one another. A wireless sensor that lives on a shelf or pallet can talk with those around the building so that you can locate items more easily. Overall, sensors modernize how you manage your distribution center, helping things to run smoothly with less hassle.

5

Wearable Barcode Readers

Optimize performance of your fulfillment staff with these wearable tools. By taking the scanner from a traditional gun to a wearable ring or glove, your employees can use both hands to handle items while still quickly scanning codes.

Items can be simply scanned with one hand and any shipping or product information can be updated using a connected screen that can be worn on the wrist. Without bulky equipment, your employees will move through the distribution center more efficiently and will pick and pack more productively.

Key Takeaway

These technologies are in different stages of entering the market and being able to deliver a positive return on your investment. Some, such as wearable barcode readers and wireless trackers, are readily available and quick to pay for themselves. Others, such as inventory bots and warehouse drones, are still in development and are out of reach for most small businesses.

Decide what you want to optimize first in your distribution center: inventory and picking, tracing and tracking, monitoring your space, or something else. Then, use these priorities to help you find the best technology to further your business.