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What trends in warehouse management are driving best practices? What can we expect in terms of innovation and growth when it comes to logistics and inventory management? What is the ROI of the various tools for warehouse management? Are warehouse management systems the key to keeping up with today’s supply chain issues?
These are the kinds of questions that call for hard numbers to support our answers. And they are exactly the things that one expects to learn by searching for articles containing warehouse management stats. Fortunately, the industry is awash in data—and we’ve collected some of the best studies here.
Importantly, most of the available statistics about warehouse management found online today are “pre-pandemic”: They reflect studies done prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic fallout that ensued. While the basic principles of warehouse management might not have changed with coronavirus, there is a lot that did. Supply chain pressures, automation in the wake of labor shortages, and a willingness to invest in new technologies have changed the warehousing and inventory management landscape. It’s time, then, that warehouse managers were given an updated snapshot of the state of warehouse management.
In just 10 years (from 2011 to 2020), the number of warehouses and storage facilities in the U.S. grew by 26%. (source)
We calculated this from data collected by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. If warehouse growth were on par with job growth, warehousing and logistics would be one of the fastest growing professions right now.
87% of decision-makers in warehousing, logistics, and retail said they are in the process of, or planning, the expansion of warehouses by 2024. (source)
So, not only are there more warehouses and storage facilities going up, existing ones are being expanded and making heavy investments in everything from handling equipment to information systems.
Why is there such a surge in growth? Consider:
In the U.S. a mere 5% increase in business inventories would require companies to add another 700 million to 1 billion square feet of warehouse space. (source)
(And that increase is just for “occupied space”—i.e., the increase in space needed for products and shelving. Much more will be needed once we put more humans in these buildings; think walkways, offices, breakrooms, etc.).
So far, inventories have been growing at that pace. In other words, as the economy has grown, so has the need for raw warehouse space…and its efficient use. Supply chain concerns are also pushing wholesalers and retailers to stock up on critical items, which means carrying more inventory at any point in time.
But are warehouse managers simply expanding? Or are they also investing in warehouse management systems to coax out what performance they can? Turns out, they are investing…just maybe not at the speed needed to keep up with the industry.
The global warehouse management systems market size was valued at USD 2.94 billion in 2021; it is expected to expand at a CAGR (Compound Annual Growth Rate) of 16.1% from 2022 to 2030. (source)
That puts the niche on par historically with computers (16.68% cagr), metals and mining (16.57% cagr), and health information technology (15.87% cagr), and also well above the total market average (11.77%) (source).
But knowing that there is a growing appetite for warehouse management solutions is one thing. Seeing in the data what’s trending, and what is poised to become best practices, is another. So where does the future of warehouse management lie?
When asked where they are likely to invest their money in the next 12 months, a majority of warehouses (60%) said that they would invest in new equipment or equipment upgrades—more than in 2021 or 2020. In close second was staffing and labor, where 50% of warehouses said they are likely to invest. (source)
These stats come from a survey conducted in December 2021 by Peerless Research Group and reported in the Annual Warehouse and Distribution Center (DC) Equipment Survey. Together they show that warehouses are not just expanding willy-nilly, but are focusing on investments that help get products out the door quickly. In fact:
80% of organizations in warehousing, logistics, and retail are planning to invest in new technologies to stay competitive. (source)
Median expected spend on materials handling equipment and information systems solutions has surpassed pre-pandemic levels. ($98,458 median average vs. $97,905 pre-pandemic). (source)
OK, that’s a modest increase. But think of it this way: Company leaders have had every excuse in the book to put the brakes on further investment in equipment and/or software, which are often seen as cost centers in these organizations. But those brakes simply have not been pumped.
Growth in interest (as measured by % of warehouses looking to invest in a piece of equipment) when it comes to materials handling is highest for racks and shelving (from 35% to 49%), bar coding (26% to 37%) and packaging, including palletizers, pallets, and dunnage (25% to 40%). (source)
Keep these in mind when you consider that…
The number one information systems investment (over the last three years) was in barcoding and automatic data capture. This was also the highest growing investment area, with 32% to 40% of companies prioritizing these investments. (source)
In other words, barcoding and data capture are becoming the lynchpin of warehouses' efforts to modernize and optimize their processes. This signals a greater role for Warehouse Management Systems (WMSs) that can integrate barcode scanning, inventory management, product flow, cartonization, and so on.
This is all unsurprising given that, in an often-cited (but now unavailable) Stitch Labs survey:
67% of respondents reported losing customers after errors led to overselling or being out of stock after an order was placed.
Ouch. That just reinforces our first rule of inventory, which is to always have enough inventory on hand to meet demand. And the only way to do that is to keep close tabs on the inventory coming in and going out the door.
Given the above, one would expect WMSs, barcode scanners, and other such information system investments to be everywhere, right? Or at least growing at a steep rate?
But what we see is that:
The share of warehousing and logistics providers in the U.S. using a warehouse management system (WMS) in 2021 was 83%. This is down from the high of 93% in 2018. (source)
In fact, WMS use is hovering just below the seven-year average of 86%. Thus, 2018 was an unusual spike for WMS software. What’s going on? We suspect that many warehouses tried newer software hitting the market, but were disillusioned when that software did not deliver the promised benefits. Some of those warehouses then simply reverted to more manual methods, such as spreadsheets.
That said, many are simply slow to change and so late to the party:
77% of respondents agree they need to modernize their warehouse operations but admit they are slow to implement new devices and technology. (source)
Again, why? After all, these professionals are stating commitments to invest in better warehouse management. What is taking so long to get that done?
Part of it might be fear: Fear that implementation will be a long, difficult process. (This is why Infoplus software is supported by a team of consultants that help with both the discovery and the implementation process—this is worth asking about if your organization is dragging its feet when it comes to a modern WMS.)
The other reason uptake is slow comes down, frankly, to the other area where warehouses struggle to keep up: Staffing and labor.
As supply chain disruptions continue, 72% of professionals said the number of functions they perform on the job has increased in the last two to three years. (source)
We think that’s just code for saying, “warehousing and logistics professionals are overworked, often having to cover multiple roles due to labor shortages.” In fact:
60% [of professionals in warehousing, logistics, and retail] report labor recruiting and/or labor efficiency to be among their top challenges. (source)
Again, this probably isn’t a surprise to anyone. “The Great Resignation” has been talked about extensively, and warehouses certainly feel the pinch.
Labor shortages are the context against which conversations around automation and efficiency must be had. The increasing demand for better warehouse management reflects a dire need for fast, efficient workflows that can run with minimal supervision. That is the only way to get record amounts of product on shelves, and then out the door, while labor issues persist.
And the first facilities to get out of tortoise mode and make the plunge will be the ones that survive into the future.
Did some of these numbers surprise you? That’s natural, as the warehouse management game has changed radically in the past few years. If you want to invest more in technology to manage your warehousing operations, it is worth talking to the experts here at Infoplus. Reach out, and we can arrange something.
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