Industry Insights From Renewal Logistics:
The Best Warehouse Management Systems
Choosing the right WMS is absolutely critical
As a 3PL company, we feel strongly about the importance of using a robust and airtight warehouse management system. This is absolutely critical to running a smooth operation, avoiding losses, and optimizing business strategy.
When choosing a WMS be sure to consider the functions included, availability of integrations, and pricing.
What is a Warehouse Management System?
To start, let’s explain what a warehouse management system is. A warehouse management system, or WMS, is a set of processes and software platforms used to track inventory as it moves through every step of fulfillment that takes place at the warehouse.
At large warehouses, new product arrives from the factory nearly every day. When new orders arrive, each unit must be counted, tagged with a barcode, scanned and stored in the proper location in the warehouse. Then, when orders are filled, the right items need to be located, retrieved, packed, and shipped as quickly as possible without any mistakes.
Warehouse management systems are designed to make this whole process work efficiently and without confusion.
6 Steps of the Warehouse Management Process
While warehouse management is quite complex, we can distill the process down to six major phases that all inventory must move through. These are:
1. Receiving – New product is received from the factory. It must be counted and have barcodes applied before being put away.
2. Put-Away – After being processed at receiving, the newly arrived units must be stored somewhere in the warehouse. In a well-organized warehouse, every product type has a designated location where it should be stored.
3. Picking – After an order is received, the correct items must be retrieved from their storage location in the warehouse.
4. Packing – After picking, the items for each order are packed and prepared for shipping.
5. Shipping – Packages are transferred to a shipping partner like UPS or FedEx for delivery to customers.
6. Returns – The last step in the process only occurs in some cases, when a customer decides to return an item, or items, from their order. The returned items must be re-processed and incorporated back into the warehouse system.
A great warehouse management system accounts for all the major phases of the process that take place in the warehouse. They also may include features to help with labor management, optimized warehouse configuration, and finances.
Technically, a warehouse management system can be as simple as a handwritten ledger or basic Excel file. However, we will focus today on specialty WMS software platforms. These are overwhelmingly the norm among today’s e-commerce businesses. And with good reason! WMS software is much less prone to human error and easier to use for reporting than simple systems set up using spreadsheets. Like most industries today, warehousing and supply chain management has gone digital over the last several decades, making software a vital tool at the center of modern operations.
Top Picks From Renewal Logistics:
Best Warehouse Management Systems
Now, time for the main course. Below are our picks for the best WMS software platforms available today. Browse the list to find the one that best fits your business needs!
SAP’s Extended Warehouse Management software is one of the most comprehensive single-platform tools available in the industry. In addition to the basic functions of inventory tracking and unit scanning, SAP’s EWM solution integrates a variety of other functions which would otherwise require a separate platform. These include labor management, transportation management, and billing. The major benefit of this WMS is that it combines all of these functions into a single platform, making your oversight and management work easier and more consolidated. While SAP’s EWM does include all of the features needed for warehouse management, there are other non-warehouse business functions that are not included in the platform but are supported by other SAP products. These other SAP products (SAP s/4HANA, for example) integrate well with SAP’s EWM platform.
In addition to the robustness of this platform, SAP is also renowned for its analytics reporting and insights. This platform includes an easy-to-use digital interface which you can access from any computer to get quick stats on inventory levels, worker productivity, and order trends. Users are able to split out their data by date, shift, staging area and more, to get an in-depth understanding of what goes on at the warehouse every day. Furthermore, machine learning technology offers optimization recommendations, which can help workers find the most direct paths to take in the warehouse, help warehouse managers store their product in a way that optimizes space, and more.
SAP EWM Pros:
- Combines many solutions within one platform.
- Easily integrates with other SAP platforms like s/4HANA.
- Straightforward user interface for reading data.
- Offers optimization recommendations generated by machine learning technology.
- This software is a great fit for large companies and enterprises
SAP EWM Cons:
- No free trial available.
- More expensive than other WMS options.
- While highly customizable, this comes at a cost. Everything must be manually set up and this will require significant IT resources
- This software prices out most small businesses, and even some middle market businesses.
- The functionality of this software is also overly complex for most small and mid-sized businesses.
Like SAP’s platform, the WMS software from Manhattan Associates combines multiple functions like labor management and transportation with standard inventory tracking. Apart from its single-platform advantage, a major plus for Manhattan’s WMS is that it is highly flexible. Warehouse operations across the country use a wide variety of approaches – wave vs waveless, omnichannel vs multi-tenant, cross-docking, etc. Manhattan’s WMS can be configured to work well with any of these approaches. Additionally, Manhattan offers industry-specific guides that can be used to customize your setup for your product type.
Like SAP, this platform also offers productivity insights in the form of real-time data, which managers and owners can access through an online user interface.
In a Gartner user comparison, Manhattan edged out SAP with 40% of its customers giving the product a 5-star rating while just 28% of SAP customers gave it 5 stars. Both products, however, received very few 1- and 2-star ratings, which speaks to their popularity in the industry.
Manhattan Associates WMS Pros:
- Combines multiple solutions in one platform.
- Flexible configuration for different warehouse setups and industries.
- Optimization recommendations and data insights.
- Many positive customer reviews.
- Gamification features to motivate floor workers.
Manhattan Associates WMS Cons:
- More expensive than other WMS options.
- Customization is required and expensive.
- Some users report slow response times.
- Steep costs and degree of complexity also prices out lots of small and midmarket companies.
- If you pay for customized programming, that programming is usually pushed out to everyone (at no additional cost) in the next product version. So, you finance their innovation.
Fishbowl’s WMS offers all the basic functions of warehouse management – inventory tracking, barcode scanning, employee management, order management, etc. – along with robust data reports that can be easily accessed through a user interface.
A major advantage of Fishbowl is that it is designed to seamlessly integrate with Quickbooks. If you already use this platform for billing and financial planning, adding Fishbowl to your software toolkit should be simple.
Because of its relatively low price, and mobile phone capabilities, Fishbowl is a favorite for small business owners, who may not need all of the AI power and endless features of bigger competitors like SAP and Manhattan.
Fishbowl WMS Pros:
- Built to integrate with Quickbooks.
- Platform is simpler than bigger competitors.
- High user satisfaction reported.
- Less expensive than other WMS platforms.
Fishbowl WMS Cons:
- Less established in the industry.
- May lack the functional power or complexity required of large operations.
NetSuite WMS is Oracle’s warehouse management software platform. Similar to the products we discussed above, NetSuite has all the basic functionality needed for inventory tracking, order filling, SKUs, scanning, and more.
While other platforms emphasize their multi-functionality, NetSuite’s WMS is more specifically geared toward inventory management. However, NetSuite, as the name implies, offers an entire suite of business software applications, which integrate well together. This means you get to pick and choose from the functionality that you need for your business.
Other benefits of the NetSuite WMS include its native mobile app, which allows you to manage warehouse activity from anywhere, and its real-time data reporting.
NetSuite WMS Pros:
- Mobile app for remote management and analysis.
- Integrates well with NetSuite’s other business software.
- Favored by small and mid-sized businesses.
NetSuite WMS Cons:
- More expensive than other platforms favored by small businesses.
- Some users found the user interface and reporting features difficult to navigate.
The Other Option
If you’ve considered these WMS options and just are not excited about the prospect of onboarding, integrating new software, and riding the learning curve, there is another option to explore. Third-party warehousing allows you to skip the process of configuring a warehouse, choosing a warehouse management system, getting your facility onboarded and paying for the software as your company scales.
Instead, you can leave inventory and worker management to a 3PL company like Renewal Logistics. The best part of this option – besides the load of work off your hands – is that you still get access to highly accurate, real-time reporting on your inventory. This means you retain the inside knowledge you need to continue to make good business decisions like ordering new shipments, adjusting prices, and tweaking marketing strategy.
Interested in outsourcing your warehousing and inventory management needs? Let’s talk! We’d love to hear more about your business goals and do what we can to help you reach them.