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Manual vs automatic warehouses

Managing a warehouse can be time consuming, and it can help to ensure your process is as efficient as it can be. After all, an efficient service means faster deliveries – and happier customers.

Think about your ecommerce fulfilment process – is there anything you can do to speed it up and impress your customers? Maybe you are doing everything manually, and this is causing human errors. Or, perhaps using automated equipment is the wrong choice for your business. Knowing whether to use a manual system or automation technology is a great way to start improving your warehouse efficiency.

Here, we talk you through how to choose the best option to ensure your customers really are getting the best service possible.

Doing things manually

Sometimes, there is nothing wrong with going traditional. Manual warehouse management might help you to feel more involved in the process. It can often be an ideal option if you have reliable staff and your company can keep up with your volume of orders.

A manual warehouse can provide the following benefits:

A manual warehouse may be ideal if you have a complicated process that is personal and unique to your brand. Automated processes, on the other hand, are much more effective for predictable, simple methods.

Manual logistics can help you and your staff feel like you play a large part in your e-fulfilment process. Being more hands-on in and using the human eye is a valuable aspect of ecommerce fulfilment for many businesses.

Save the high investment cost. Not all of us are prepared to fork out a large amount of money on automated equipment, and sometimes a manual process works better for your budget.

It doesn’t involve new training of current employees. New equipment means further staff training, and if you don’t have time for this – you might want to give brand-new automated equipment a pass.

So, does a manual process include no automated equipment?

No – just because a warehouse is referred to as manual doesn’t mean it doesn’t incorporate some basic warehouse automation equipment such as a forklift or a short-distance conveyor. In fact, most manual warehouses have some kind of automation equipment. Automated warehouses, on the other hand, use extensive conveyors, automated storage, sortation equipment, retrieval systems and other material handling solutions.

Can a manual process cause issues?

Things are more likely to go wrong when there are too many changes for your staff to keep up with. For example – manual data entry in spreadsheets is time-consuming at the best of times. If your company suddenly has a rise in demand and order quantity, it can lead to serious data errors. Many warehouses go through changes that are hard for a manual warehouse to keep up with. Staff can become tired or overworked – and this may be letting down your ecommerce fulfilment process.

Speed it up with automated equipment

Why invest in fancy equipment when you already have warehouse staff? Though investing in automatic equipment may seem like a hassle – an automatic warehouse can provide the following benefits:

Decreases overall labour costs and constraints. Using automated equipment means you don’t need to hire new staff when order demand rises, meaning you have more time to focus on that project you’ve been too busy to look at.

Inventory quantities can be instantly updated in real-time to ensure accuracy of product availability and location.

Reduces order fulfilment inaccuracies due to human error. Are your staff overworked and prone to errors? It may be time to finally invest in that automatic storage and technology.

Most importantly, an automated warehouse solution can improve productivity and efficiency. Getting things done quicker is a sure way to keep your customers happy.

Wait - won’t an automated warehouse be more expensive to run than a manual warehouse?

Automated equipment does mean a higher initial investment. However, don’t let this put you off. An automated warehouse can mean fewer labour costs and constraints, so it will likely benefit you in the long run. Automated guided vehicles and an automated storage system will mean less money spent on hiring new staff when order volumes increase.

Could an automated warehouse be a mistake?

Investing in automated equipment can be a game-changer for your e-fulfilment process, but try not to rush into it yet. You may want to consider the following before hunting for automatic warehouse equipment:

  1. Ensure you are prepared for a high initial investment. Although an automatic warehouse can be more cost-effective in the long-run – you still need to think about the high initial investment cost and whether this is ideal for your budget.
  2. Do you have time to train staff? Keep in mind that employees will need a certain level of training to safely operate new equipment. After all, you need confident staff for an effective process.
  3. An automated warehouse is typically more suited for repetitive and predictable methods, so if you have complicated, specific warehouse methods – you may want to stick with a manual process.

So, how do I know which option is the best for my business?

Choosing the right option for you depends on your budget, the time you have spare for staff training and the nature of your warehouse process. You may even find that a partially automated warehouse design is an ideal solution for your company. Try and list the essential processes for your warehouse and pinpoint what the right combination is to ensure a smooth e-fulfilment process that will delight your customers.


At Linney, we understand that getting your products to your customers efficiently and without errors is a key part of maintaining loyal customers. We provide a variety of services to help your ecommerce fulfilment process go smoothly – from managed ecommerce services to order fulfilment services. To find out more about how we can help you provide your customers with the best service possible, contact us here.

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