Even in the smallest stores, order and inventory management can be a monumental task. However, keeping track of product quantities and customer orders is crucial to your business’s bottom line. And there’s no better way to do this than with functional labeling for all of your racks, shelves, and other product locations. Whether you’re trying to organize a few shelves in a tiny stockroom or you’ll be applying these tips to a massive warehouse, here’s some advice from the pros about best practices for creating a useful labeling system.
Plan Your System
There’s no one single standard labeling technique. All warehouse environments are a little different, so it makes sense that each one has different warehouse rack labeling methods. Plan your labels carefully, drawing up different ideas on paper or a whiteboard. Ask yourself these questions to get started, but don’t limit yourself to just these!
- Which shelving units will I be labeling? Do other location labels, such as floor labels, make sense for my situation?
- What is the best way to make these labels make sense to the largest number of people?
- If integrating labels with a warehouse management system (WMS), how can I add barcodes, SKU numbers, or other details?
- Where in the warehouse will the labels be placed?
- How will I train employees to use and understand these labels? Is it an efficient process?
- What labeling systems have I seen work for other warehouses in the past? Which ones needed improvement?
Consider Foot (and Machine) Traffic
How do your employees pick orders? It’s inefficient and not cost-effective to send them hurrying back and forth between the same two racks when they could be moving up and down in even rows. While not all warehouses have the luxury of separating foot and machine traffic, keeping pedestrians and machine operators separate as much as possible reduces the chance of collision. If you’re losing a lot of time due to poor shelf labeling, you definitely need to rethink what labels you’ve located where — and how you can go about fixing the problem.
Label From the Ground Up
Especially if you’ll be adding warehouse labels to high shelves accessible only by machine, it’s important to label from the ground up. For example, your lowest rack might be 01, your second-lowest 02, and so on. Adding a 0 to the beginning of your numbers will help avoid confusion and standardize the character length of the labels.
Integrate Your WMS
You should already be using a warehouse management system for your inventory, but it’s also a great idea to integrate it into your location labeling if you haven’t already. This way, new employees can easily find their way around the warehouse as they learn to pick orders.
Create Useful Labels
No matter what types of labels you end up using, all warehouse labels should be:
Easy to See
If you can’t find a label at all, all the work you put into label design is useless! Labels should be large and noticeable, with bold sans serif fonts to catch the eye.
Easy to Read
Legible labels make data entry faster. For instance, if you’re using barcode labels, invest in a retro-reflective label material that’s easy to see when light bounces off it. This makes the scanning process quicker, reducing pick times.
Another essential part of keeping labels clearly legible is ensuring they remain free of dirt, debris, and water. Paper stick-on labels are easy to write on and affordable in bulk, but they can quickly become smudged or filthy. If you’re using wire mesh decking or another metal material on your racks, you can use magnetic labels that are easy to move around and reposition as needed. However, remember that these labels also have their drawbacks (they can be knocked loose, fade away, or be too expensive to constantly print).
Easy to Understand
Understanding your labels should be easy with minimal explanation. Alternating between letters and numbers can be an effective way to clarify locations or product specifications. For instance, the third-from-lowest rack on the second shelf could be called “3B” rather than “32.” Because B is the second letter of the alphabet, it can be used instead of the number 2. This reduces pick errors and ensures labels can be understood at a glance.
Color-coding may be able to help you — provided that it’s done logically and that you never rely solely on color. For instance, having one type of product sorted under a specific color label rack makes sense, but putting shelves in order using color labels isn’t intuitive or logical.
Consistency is key for any organizational system, especially as you organize your warehouse using a new rack or shelf labeling method. Especially if you’re labeling used shelving units that don’t necessarily all look the same, resist the urge to make stylistic changes to labels based on what looks good. If labels are always on the right, keep them on the right. If you always use a light blue background when you have your labels printed, keep using it no matter what. Warehouse labeling is about consistency, not aesthetic appeal.
Be Open to Feedback
You might be an expert on your warehouse’s products and understand exactly how
the international supply chain affects your inventory, but as you design your warehouse labeling system, keep in mind that your employees are your best resource for warehouse organization. What labeling systems work for them? What causes confusion? Don’t hesitate to speak with order pickers, machine operators, and supervisors as you design your new organizational system. Be open-minded and take their suggestions into account. After all, they’re the ones who spend the most time staring at warehouse labels!
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