The Future of Distribution

As we have discussed in previous entries, the world of distribution is rapidly transforming. But how do our expert Pickologists see the future of warehousing? We asked our sales managers what they expect to see in the next decade.

How will the warehouse of the future look different from today?


Warehouses of the future will become more like true distribution centers where supplies that come in, immediately go out without storage of the products. With less storage, more cross-docking operations will occur. Cross-docking is a practice in the logistics field of unloading materials from an incoming truck and loading these materials directly into outbound trucks, trailers, or rail cars, with little or no storage in between. The reason this is occurring is because more retailers are supporting omni-channel fulfillment operations that include fulfillment at stores instead of fulfillment from a warehouse. Stores will have visibility into inventory levels across all retail outlets and have the ability to fulfill orders in-house or get inventory from other stores to fulfill orders.

In the immediate future, what new methods, practices or products do you see in the next one or two years?

In the immediate future, there will be a continued growth in cross-docking operations and true omni-channel operations. Retailers will have visibility into inventory across all operations and will share inventory to meet customer orders. Some cross-docking best practices include:

  • Handle each piece of freight only once.
  • Make dock layout as compact as possible.
  • Match staff to shipment volume.
  • Keep the dock floor clean and organized.
  • Use materials handling tools to speed movement. Conveyors will allow cartons to travel directly from the unloading trailer to the loading trailer, eliminating travel time and extra handling.

What is the biggest source of inefficiency in most warehouses?

Inventory management is reported as the most challenging source of inefficiencies, as well as an area where it would be easiest to gain cost savings through technology. Most warehouses have issues with items that don’t get sold so they carry a stagnant inventory. These unsold items just continue to take up space in the warehouse, where their value is lost. To rectify this, warehouses need to act more like a distribution center and push these products out to the retail stores. They need to not hold onto the inventory and instead sell it in the stores. Retail stores, on the other hand, need to have areas within the store to handle fulfillment operations.

How do you rectify it?

Companies need to turn their warehouses into modern distribution centers focused on optimizing inventory. They need to know where inventory is, make sure it is replenished on store shelves so it will sell.  Utilizing systems such as RFID-tags that identify, diagnose, and prevent out-of-stock conditions, will help to remove uncertainty from in-store inventories and prevent lost sales.

Moving inventory out to the storefronts using automation to push products from the warehouse will help rectify the situation. Conveyors, picking systems, sortation units are all material handling automation equipment that can improve throughput and increase efficiencies. Order pickers spend about 60 percent of their time walking product or moving product around. Using conveyors or sortation systems can reduce travel time and improve throughput.

What does a warehouse gain from increased efficiency?

Retailers can maximize the profit out of their inventory by increasing efficiency. Reducing inventory provides an increase in working capital, which leads to bottom line profits.

UNEX Manufacturing helps retailers meet omni-channel fulfillment requirements by moving inventory closer to pickers for easier and more accurate picking, improving productivity with increased seasonal demand and utilize warehouse and worker assets to their fullest. UNEX Roller Racks optimize efficiency, safety and FIFO (first in first out) rotation on the pick line so that inventory is replenished from the back without interrupting order picking in the front. Let UNEX design your warehouse of the future with our seasoned experts and industry experience.