There’s an old saying: “it’s the carpenter, not the tools.”
While it’s true that technique, experience, and expertise all play a critical role in running a warehouse, your scanning equipment can make or break your success in an eCommerce business.
In this post, we’ll talk about the essential scanning equipment needed for running a warehouse and how to get the most out of your investment.
What types of warehouse scanning equipment are there?
When it comes to warehouse scanning equipment, there are three main categories: barcode scanners, RFID readers, and the software that stores your inventory data. These equipment types allow accurate asset tracking for eCommerce businesses.
Barcode scanners are the most common type of scanning equipment. They are used to read and store information about products via barcodes. Barcodes must also be paired with a barcode printer and labels for the most effective setup.
RFID readers track inventory via radio waves. This type of scanner is more expensive than a barcode scanner, but it can provide more accurate data about your inventory levels.
RFID readers also track tags, which can often be read through materials like paper and cardboard. This can significantly streamline your order-picking and organization processes.
Learn more about the difference between RFID vs. barcodes to see which warehouse technology makes the most sense for your needs.
The software that stores your inventory data is just as important as the hardware. Good inventory management software will make it easy to track your product levels, keep an eye on your budget, and generate reports.
What are the benefits of using warehouse scanning equipment?
There are many benefits to using warehouse scanning equipment, but three of the most important ones are that they save time, improve accuracy, and reduce operating costs for businesses.
1. Save time: Warehouse scanning systems can save you time in your daily operations. Instead of manual inventory checks, you can automate your process to get accurate and more reliable data in seconds. Modern scanning technologies can store many different product properties in a single barcode. Trying to manually record these properties each time a product is picked and processed wastes time and energy.
2. Improve accuracy: Manual inventory processes are often prone to error. With scanning equipment, you can be sure that your data is accurate and up to date. This can help prevent downstream issues like stockouts.
3. Reduce costs: Scanners can help you reduce inventory costs by preventing overstocking and stockouts (in addition to saving you all the costs associated with the previous two points, such as customer returns and payroll).
How a barcode scanner works with order picking
Using a barcode scanner for order picking is a simple process.
Barcode scanners come in many different shapes and sizes, but they all have one thing in common: a light source and a photosensor.
The light source shines on the barcode, and the photosensor detects the reflected light. The patterns of dark and light bars in the barcode are converted into digital data that can be stored on a computer.
First, you’ll need to print out labels for each product in your inventory. These labels should include the product’s name, SKU, price, and barcode.
Next, attach the labels to each product.
Finally, when you’re ready to pick an order, simply scan the barcodes of the products you need. The scanner will automatically add the products to your order and keep track of your inventory levels.
If you don’t have a barcode scanner, you can also use a smartphone or tablet with a barcode-reading app.
Barcodes will also be scanned any time a product is moved throughout the logistics pipeline, such as:
- When you receive it into your warehouse
- When you perform an audit
- When it’s picked, packed, processed, and shipped
- When it arrives at the end user
Scanning technology coupled with an inventory management platform gives you full insight and control over every physical product in your warehouse at any given time.
How to use an RFID reader for inventory management
An RFID reader is a bit like the more sophisticated older brother of the barcode scanner.
First, you must acquire and attach RFID tags to each product in your inventory. These tags will store information about the product, such as the SKU, price, and barcode.
When you’re ready to take inventory, simply walk around your warehouse with the RFID reader. The reader will automatically scan the tags and update your inventory levels.
Unlike barcoding, which requires you to point to the photosensor and scan the physical barcode, RFID readers detect and read nearby tags automatically.
You can also use an RFID reader to track the location of each product in your warehouse. This is especially helpful if you have a large or complex warehouse.
To do this, you’ll need to attach RFID tags to each product and also to each location in your warehouse. Then, when you’re ready to track a product’s location, simply scan the tag with the RFID reader.
How to choose the right warehouse scanning equipment
There are a few things you should consider when choosing warehouse scanning equipment. Here are some of the most important factors:
The size of your warehouse
If you have a large warehouse, you’ll need a system that can handle a lot of data. This means reliable scanners and printers, as well as an inventory management platform that can handle multiple sales channels and lots of SKUs and can scale with your business.
The type of products you sell
If you sell perishable items, you’ll need a system that can track expiration dates and lot numbers. While it’s fairly simple to create barcodes that include these things, you’ll need to invest in a system that supports the tracking of these properties.
Obviously, the bottom line is the bottom line. We don’t recommend going into exorbitant amounts of debt to acquire scanning equipment. If you’re a small business, one scanner and one printer may be all you need, plus an inventory management platform that can grow with your organization.
RFID readers generally hover around the $1,000 range. While the technology is very convenient, it may be overkill for a boutique eCommerce shop with just a few SKUs.
The features you need
Some scanners come with built-in printers, while others have the ability to connect to a computer or mobile device. It’s important to shop around for features that meet your specific needs (or your projected future needs).
The level of support you need
If you’re not familiar with technology, you may want to choose a system that comes with robust customer support. Building out your barcoding and scanning system from scratch has its benefits, but one of the downsides is that you are customer support.
Packing methods that pair well with scanning equipment
Item-by-item packing method
This packing method is exactly what it sounds like—each SKU is individually barcoded and scanned as it’s packed.
This is the most accurate way to pack orders, but it’s also the most time-consuming. If you have a small warehouse and sell a limited number of SKUs, this may be the best option for you.
Zone packing method
This packing method is best for larger warehouses that sell a variety of SKUs. In this system, each section of the warehouse is assigned a barcode.
When an order comes in, the items are pulled from their respective zones and packed together. This method is faster than item-by-item packing, but it’s not as accurate.
Rapid packing method
This packing method is best for warehouses that sell a large number of SKUs. In this system, items are grouped together based on similar characteristics (e.g., size, weight, destination, etc.).
The advantage of this method is that it’s very fast. The downside is that it’s not as accurate as the other two methods, so you’ll want to make sure you have the appropriate quality control measures in place.
How to choose a barcode scanner
There are a few things you’ll need to consider when choosing a barcode scanner.
First, you’ll need to decide what type of barcodes you want to scan. There are two main types of barcodes: linear and 2D.
Linear barcodes are the most common type, and they’re used for items like retail products. 2D barcodes are used for items like shipping labels and can hold more information than linear barcodes.
Next, you’ll need to decide what type of scanner you want. There are two main types of scanners: handheld and desktop.
Handheld scanners are portable and can be used anywhere. Desktop scanners are larger and must be plugged into a power outlet.
Finally, you’ll need to decide what features you want in a scanner. Some scanners can scan barcodes from a distance, while others require that you be close to the barcode. Some scanners can also read damaged or poorly printed barcodes.
How to choose a printer for your scanners
When choosing a printer for your scanners, you’ll need to consider a few things.
First, you’ll need to decide what type of scanner you’re using. Barcode scanners will require a different type of printer than RFID scanners. Many barcode scanners come bundled with printers, and if not, they will often mention a printer recommendation.
Second, you’ll need to consider the features you need. Some printers can only print labels, while others can also print receipts and barcodes. Some printers can connect wirelessly via Bluetooth, while others require a physical USB connection to a computer.
Take all these things into consideration against your specific warehouse environment when looking for a printer.
Third, you’ll need to decide how much you’re willing to spend. Printers can range in price from a few hundred dollars to several thousand.
The best way to find the right printer for your needs is to talk to other warehouse managers and see what they’re using. You can also read online reviews and compare features and prices.
And, of course, make sure that whatever printer you’re purchasing is compatible with your barcode scanner and inventory management software.
Some of the most popular printer brands are:
- Zebra Technologies
Choosing software for inventory management
There are a few things to consider when choosing software for inventory management.
First, you’ll need to decide whether you want a cloud-based or local solution. Cloud-based solutions often require a larger upfront investment, but they offer benefits like real-time data and remote access.
Local solutions are initially less expensive but require a large investment in setup, maintenance, and support (for which you’re responsible!). Conversely, SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) inventory solutions often have a customer support team that can help you through any business-breaking snags.
Next, you’ll need to consider the exact features you need. Some software solutions offer basic features like product tracking and order management, while others offer more advanced features like warehouse management and forecasting.
You’ll also want to consider things like scalability (will the software be able to grow with your business?), integrations (what other software platforms does it integrate with?), and ease of use (how easy is it for your employees to use the software?).
Finally, you’ll need to decide how much you’re willing to spend. Inventory management software can range in price from a few hundred dollars per month to several thousand.
The best way to find the right software for your needs is to talk to other warehouse managers and see what they’re using. You can also read online reviews and compare features and prices.
If you’re feeling tech-savvy and want to get your system started right away, learn how to make your own barcodes and pick the right barcode printer and scanner to get your warehouse online fast.
SkuVault is an inventory management platform built for businesses of all sizes. We’ve got dozens of built-in features to help streamline your picking, packing, and shipping process across marketplaces and make better purchase decisions.
To dive deeper into the specific ways SkuVault can help you grow and scale your eCommerce business, check out our features page or click the link on this page to sign up for a demo and see SkuVault in action.