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How e-Commerce Is Changing Your Business

25 Jul 2017

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packagingRight now, one out of every three people buy the products they want online directly from the manufacturer. This tidal wave of direct-to-consumers (DTC) trade is forcing many companies to rethink the way they do business.

Many businesses today are investing in more sophisticated materials handling solutions that optimize and maximize throughput while minimizing mistakes that can instantly damage their reputation.

Changes in Packaging

One of the most immediate changes many companies are making is changing their packaging. Shipping bulk products to retailers require bulkier, less costly packaging like pallets and cases secured with shrink wrap.

But with DTC commerce, individual products often need to be packaged individually using new materials, such as polymer bags. While most consumers will gladly absorb the cost of this packaging, businesses are left to figure out how to restructure their shipping departments to accommodate packaging that can change size and shape with every order.

Costly Mistakes

When manufacturers sell their products to retailers, there is a lot more room for error. Packages that are mislabeled, spoiled, or damaged can be easily returned and replaced with end-user customers being none the wiser.

With DTC commerce, however, errors in shipping and damage to products can damage a company’s reputation. Rather than giving the manufacturer time to apologize and rectify the mistake, consumers are often compelled to write and post a nasty review on their social media accounts or elsewhere online immediately.

While it’s not fair to businesses, it is one of the new realities of DTC commerce. As a result, manufacturers are motivated to minimize mistakes with every order they ship.

Speeding Up Delivery

Another new reality in the DTC business environment is that consumers expect and demand faster shipping. With companies like Amazon, Wal-Mart, and others promising next day or even same day delivery for online orders, other companies are challenged to find faster and more efficient ways to get their products into the hands of web-based buyers.

As a result, many businesses are investing in automated conveyor systems with modular conveyor platforms that allow retailers and system integrators to process and ship orders faster and more accurately than ever before.

These types of platforms include automated features that offer more flexibility and customization while allowing for the rapid handling of smaller and lighter packages in a variety of configurations. This can result in dramatic reductions in package damage while allowing more accuracy in hitting smaller, tighter delivery targets.

DTC commerce is here to stay. Businesses that can’t adjust to this new reality may not be.

Photo by Hash Milhan (via Wikimedia Commons)

Photo by Hash Milhan (via Wikimedia Commons)

Adding a suggestion box to your workplace offers a number of immediate advantages. For one, it allows ownership and management to get recommendations from line level employees that can actually streamline operations and improve processes.

But a simple suggestion box also offers workers the chance to have their voice heard, reinforcing the idea that they are a valued part of the business. Workers who feel as if management cares about them work harder, stay longer, and produce better results.

Boosting Employee Morale and Motivation

An employee who feels as if their company doesn’t care about them, doesn’t know who they are, and has no interest in what they have to say isn’t going to be a motivated worker.

These employees aren’t going to be loyal to the company, are more likely to bad mouth the business to others outside of work, and are more likely to quit sooner, leaving the business with another job to fill.

Yet something as simple as a suggestion box can help workers feel as if their opinions matter and that management is actively interested in what they have to say, improving employee morale and overall job satisfaction.

Revenue Builder

Line level workers have a perspective of the operation that management often doesn’t. They can see ways to save money, reduce expenses, and improve efficiency that may not be obvious to executives and other bosses.

When they share these ideas in the workplace suggestion box, it can open up new improvements to operations, potentially increasing revenues and growing the company’s market share.

Case in point: The Minnesota-based company 3M Corporation posted a suggestion box in their employee break room and a worked dropped a slip of paper into it with the idea for Post-It Notes, a product line which has helped grow the company’s market share to more than $34.7 billion in annual revenues.

Cost Cutter

Suggestion boxes can also help companies save money. Every dollar businesses save thanks to employee suggestions goes right to the bottom line.

Some businesses encourage employees to come up with money-making or cost-saving ideas, rewarding them with bonuses for suggestions that actually result in increased profits. In the early 2000s, Nevada-based Harrah’s Entertainment Inc.’s “Big Idea” program paid out thousands of dollars to line level workers whose ideas helped add millions of dollars to the casino company’s bottom line.

Suggestion boxes are a little thing that can result in big ideas that can result in dramatic improvements to employee relations, operations, product offerings, and cost savings.



Photo by Ndungukamau via Wikimedia Commons

Photo by Ndungukamau via Wikimedia Commons

Enjoying a cold Coca-Cola or Pepsi on a hot summer’s day is as American as apple pie or baseball.

But a changing marketplace and increased focus on the potential health risks of these sugary drinks has sent ripples through the soft drink industry in recent years.

Amazon’s Effect on Soft Drink Sales

More and more consumers are seeking to buy the products they use every day online, rather than in actual stores. In fact, a recent study stated that a third of all US consumers buy at least one product through Amazon or another online retailer at least once per week.

This is bad news for the soft drink industry because soda pop is dense and requires tight packaging to protect containers. But it’s also relatively low cost compared to other products weighing the same. So selling and shipping it to online customers can be cost-prohibitive.

Last week, PepsiCo Chief Executive Indra Nooyi said the company is looking at new, lighter packaging that would help its drinks travel better.

Governmental Interference

Another new hurdle facing the soft drink industry is soft drink taxes that take aim at the alleged health effects of sugary drinks.

A circuit court judge in Chicago earlier this month temporarily blocked a new penny per ounce county tax on all sweetened drinks set to go into effect July 1. Prior to the judge’s decision, the soft drink industry launched a full court press to attack the unpopular tax, including TV commercials and full-page newspaper ads aimed directly at consumers.

Suing Soda Makers 

Then there are legal assaults on the soda industry, including a lawsuit filed last week by a Washington, D.C., pastor against Coca-Cola, claiming that the soda pop giant was deceiving customers about the health risks of sugar-sweetened beverages and ravaging poor, inner city communities with subsequent health risks such as diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.

Pastor William Lamar, of the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church, said he is tired of presiding over funerals of parishioners who died from health problems stemming from a steady diet of soft drinks.

Lamar claimed that soft drinks and other poor diet choices were killing more people in urban communities than street violence.

Next Steps for the Soda Industry

As consumers become more concerned about eating and drinking healthier and the beverage industry looks for better, cheaper, and faster ways to deliver its products to buyers, big soft drink producers like Coke and Pepsi will need to develop innovative ways to keep people wanting their products.

An Amazon Fulfillment Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee. (Courtesy: Bill Haslam at

An Amazon Fulfillment Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
(Courtesy: Bill Haslam at

When you imagine a factory, one of the most common images that come to mind is a conveyor belt.

Conveyor belts, ball transfer tables, and other conveyance devices have been a part of industrial manufacturing since the Industrial Revolution of the 19th Century. And they have been burned into the public consciousness in popular media, such as when Lucy and Ethel try to keep up with production at the chocolate factory by stuffing candy into her mouth on “I Love Lucy”.

But laughs aside, conveyance devices are critical to most factory, warehouse, and dock operations for a very simple reason: They make it easier to move boxes, products, and other objects from one place to another.

Manual vs Automated Conveyors

Requiring workers to lift heavy loads from one place to another just isn’t good business. Not only is it inefficient, but it can lead to workplace injuries, increased employee turnover, and a lot of bad feelings towards management.

Commercial conveyors, on the other hand, are typically inexpensive, highly efficient, and can boost productivity and profits by double digits practically overnight in many cases.

Photo by Jorge Anoro (via Wikimedia Commons)

Photo by Jorge Anoro (via Wikimedia Commons)

Common Conveyor Types

Conveyors are a common site at airports, in scrap yards, and in many factories. But there are nearly as many types of conveyors as there are uses for them.

Chain belt conveyors are designed to carry a high volume of objects very quickly. Also known as chain edge conveyors, they are typically found on work floors and are used to transport waste materials out of the way. Examples include sorting feed lines, mixed lines, and feed side ejector balers.

Steel belt conveyors can carry very heavy weights, up to 20 to 50 tons, every hour. They come in two main types: Piano hinge and steel apron conveyors. They are found mostly in compactors, heavy-duty waste lines, and heavy industrial 2 RAM scrap balers.

Slider bed conveyors are used for operations that don’t need the speed of a chain belt nor the capacity of a steel belt conveyor. Slider bed conveyors generally can carry from 1 to 15 tons per hour and often have variable speeds.

Of course, there are many systems that use a combination of two or more different types of conveyors. Known as MRF sorting lines, these conveyor systems more different weight items at different speeds during separate stages of the industrial process.

Benefits of Conveyors

In addition to saving labor, reducing injuries, and making workplaces more productive, conveyors also can speed up processes, move materials up and down inclines quickly and safely, and automate operations to reduce costs and improve efficiencies.

(Photo courtesy of Atlas Copco)

(Photo courtesy of Atlas Copco)

Heat is one of the deadliest risks in any workplace. Whether it is working near red-hot smelting ovens in a steelmaking facility or laboring under direct sunlight outdoors, the risk to workers from heat is one of the most common dangers, causing more deaths than any other weather-related hazard.

Each year, more than 65,000 people require medical attention as a result of exposure to heat. Heat-related illnesses can come on fast and can cause permanent damage.

Dangers of Heatstroke

Heatstroke occurs when people’s bodies become so hot that their brain literally begins to overheat, cutting off oxygen and threatening essential body functions such as heartbeat and breathing.

The condition occurs when the body temperature rises to 104 degrees F or higher. Someone suffering from heatstroke requires immediate and urgent emergency care. The brain, heart, kidneys, and muscles can suffer permanent damage in just a few minutes.

Heatstroke is caused by overexertion in a hot environment. This can lead to a sudden increase in body temperature. Classic heatstroke after overexposure to hot conditions for a period of time, usually two or three days. Older adults and people with chronic illnesses are more susceptible to heatstroke than healthy younger adults.

Wearing too many clothes in hot weather can increase the risk of heatstroke because they prevent sweat from evaporating easily and cooling the body naturally.

Drinking alcohol in the hot sun or not drinking enough water also can make a person more likely to suffer from heatstroke.

How to Recognize Heatstroke

Symptoms of heatstroke include:

  • High body temperature
  • Confusion, agitation, slurred speech, delirium, seizures, and coma
  • Alternately sweats and chills
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Flushed skin
  • Heavy, rapid breathing
  • Racing pulse rate
  • Headache

If you notice any of these symptoms yourself or on somebody else, call 9-1-1 immediately.

Treatment for Heatstroke

While waiting for paramedics to arrive, you can treat the overheated person and possibly save their life by getting them into the shade or into an air-conditioned building, removing any excess clothing, and cooling the victim down by any means necessary.

This can include plunging their body into a pool of ice water, throwing them into a cold shower, or even spraying them down with a garden hose. You also can fan them while misting them with cool water, and apply ice packs or cold, wet towels to their head, neck, armpits, and groin areas.

The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration recently developed a free app for smartphones and tablets that keep users advised of the risk of dangerous heat. It can be downloaded here for iPhone and here for Android phones.


anti fatigue matWorkers who have to stand for a long time on concrete, tile or other hard surfaces are at risk for back aches. This includes production line employees, food service workers, dockworkers, and many others.

Standing on your feet for long hours at a time can be both exhausting and excruciating. At the end of their shift, many workers are hobbled by sore lower back muscles, foot pain, and leg cramping. These types of physical discomforts can affect a business’s productivity, reduce efficiency, raise workmen’s compensation claim costs, and even cause more employee turnover.

But soft, spongy anti-fatigue mats are highly effective and minimizing on the job injuries such as back, foot, and leg pain.

Providing a Protective Barrier

Anti-fatigue mats are cushioned surfaces typically made from rubber or plastic. They provide a barrier between hard floors and workers’ feet, improving ergonomics and reducing the risk of back pain even after long hours on the job.

This soft, spongy surface compress to prevent feet from absorbing all of the resistance of a hard floor so employees can work longer without the distraction or discomfort of pain.

One of the main causes of back pain from standing directly on hard surfaces is bad circulation. Standing in the same place and in the same position for hours at a time reduces blood flow, which can result in joint pain.

Anti-fatigue mats help blood flow naturally throughout the body to help prevent circulatory problems.

16312842993_b77130e0fe_mMore than Just Pain Reduction

But anti-fatigue mats do more than just reduce back, foot, and leg pain. They also help eliminate slip and fall injuries.

Work surfaces that are wet, oily, or covered with debris are at a higher risk for slip and fall accidents. But anti-fatigue mats that are ribbed, patterned, or slotted help grip worker’s shoes, reducing the risk of slip and falls.

Many anti-fatigue mats are oil, grease, and chemical resistant to minimize the dangers of a workplace accident. Some also come with runoff grooves or raised platforms which allow liquids, oils, and other materials to safely pool.

Protection against Dropping Accidents

Soft, rubber anti-fatigue mats also provide a barrier of protection between the floor and any objects or products that might be accidentally dropped. This can help reduce costs of lost products and save the time of cleaning up broken products or filling out incident reports.

Anti-fatigue mats not only improve employee comfort and reduce the risk of long-term injury, but they also help make your workplace more efficient, safer, and more profitable.




packagingAnytime a box, pallet, or container is moved, there is the risk of damage. Product loss due to damage during transportation can cost companies a fortune every year. And that money comes right out of the bottom line.

Reducing the risk of transportation damage is just good business. But you don’t have to spend a lot of money to get results. Instead, here are five simple, effective, and affordable ways to reduce the amount of product damage.

Avoiding Broken Pallets

When you load products onto pallets, wrap them in shrink wrap, and place them into the back of a truck, cargo container, train car, or another vehicle you expect them to arrive at their destination in the same condition as they left your facility.

But if the vehicle is not full and there is space between the pallets, even something as simple as turning a corner too quickly can cause the pallet to become unstable or even tip over.

The first way to avoid this is to apply more shrink wrap around the base of the pallet and the first row of goods. If you only wrap the top of the pallet or are chintzy on the shrink wrap around the base, the odds of a tip-over accident during transport are significantly higher.

Another solution is to overlap the shrink wrap as you move up the pallet. Leaving gaps unwrapped and unprotected can cause products to easily slip off and become damaged.

To ensure protection, each layer should have about a 50% overlap with the next two to three layers of shrink wrap.

Broken Cardboard Boxes

Have you ever opened up the back of a delivery van and found that cardboard boxes have been split open and their contents are spread out all over the floor of the van?

This is caused by several reasons. One is that the boxes were not properly secured. When boxes slide around, are stacked too high or aren’t secured to the sides of the van, they are prone to damage even if you drive extremely carefully.

Another problem may be the quality of the cardboard boxes you are using. The fibers in recycled cardboard boxes are typically shorter than new cardboard. This can make it more difficult for packing tape to stick to the surface.

Top-Quality Packing Supplies

Packaging is usually not the place to save money or cut corners. If you can’t afford new cardboard boxes, at least use high-quality packing tape.

It’s also a good idea to clean the surface of packaging before applying packing tape. Dust, dirt, and other debris can build up on the surface of boxes, especially in a busy warehouse or dock, making it more difficult for packing tape to adhere to the boxes.


Many businesses that offer their employees health insurance today also find ways to promote employee health. And that makes perfect sense because the more fit workers are, the less likely they are to suffer from an on-the-job injury or get sick enough to require professional medical care.POWER test

Promoting worker health can take a number of different forms. It can be something as simple as offering smoking cessation programs or offering subsidies on local health club memberships. It could even involve buying fitness equipment and opening a company gym.

Investing in employee health often pays dividends down the road in the form of lower health care premiums, improved productivity, and less absenteeism due to sickness or injury.

Measuring Physical Fitness

Everybody is different so there is no one-size-fits-all way to measure physical fitness. But generally, physical fitness consists of three areas:

  • Aerobic capacity or cardiovascular endurance as it relates to the heart and vascular system’s capacity to transport oxygen. People with a low aerobic capacity are at an increased risk for heart disease.
  • The strength of the body’s muscles to generate force. Upper body strength and abdominal strength are critical to overall physical fitness. People with low strength are more likely to experience upper torso or lower back problems.
  • Flexibility or the range of motion of the joints and muscles. People with little lower back flexibility are far more likely to experience lower back disorders.

Some jobs require minimal physical fitness standards. These include those serving in the military, police officers, and firefighters.

But all businesses can benefit by encouraging their workers to become more physically active and be concerned about their overall physical fitness.

Minimal Fitness Standards

While most companies can’t require their workers to meet minimum fitness standards, it’s often helpful to have something to compare one’s own physical fitness. One such standard is the Peace Officer Wellness Evaluation Report, also known as the POWER test.

This is the fitness test used by most police departments in the state of Illinois to measure the minimum physical fitness of their officers, including both recruits and on-the-job employees.

The POWER Test

The POWER test is composed of four components:

  • Sit and Reach Test — This test involves stretching out to touch the toes or behind with extended arms from a sitting position. The score is in the inches reached on a yardstick.
  • 1 Minute Sit-Up Test — This test measures how many bent leg sit-ups can be performed in one minute.
  • 1 Rep Maximum Bench Press — This tests the ratio of weight pushed during a bench press divided by the body weight.
  • 1.5 Mile Run — This tests how long it takes to run 1.5 miles, in minutes and seconds.

The required performance to pass each test is based on age and sex. In Illinois, many police officers are required to meet these minimum physical fitness standards annually.

While most businesses probably can’t require employees to be in as good a shape as police officers, the POWER test is a useful tool to measure personal fitness.




Photo by Gorkaazk via Wikimedia Commons

Photo by Gorkaazk via Wikimedia Commons

Last year, there were more than 40,000 people killed as a result of motor vehicle accidents, according to the National Safety Council. While drunk driving remains the biggest killer of drivers, distracted driving quickly gaining momentum as one of the leading causes for injuries and death related to vehicle accidents.

Every company is affected by vehicle accidents. Millions of people drive as part of their jobs. But an even larger number of employees drive to and from their workplaces.

Vehicle Accident Costs

Every year, companies spend millions on training their drivers to operate their vehicle safely. But most spend next to nothing on workers whose jobs don’t involve driving. But if they are involved in an accident while they are not at work, it can still cost companies money. in terms of lost productivity, higher health insurance premiums, or the cost of hiring and retraining replacements.

Off-the-job crashes account for about 80% of employer crash-related expenses. And half of crash-related injuries cause employees to miss work. In fact, the average cost of a vehicle crash was more than $1 million per fatality and more than $78,000 per non-fatal disabling injury.

Employer costs include lost productivity, decreases in employee health and well-being, and increased health insurance premiums.

Reducing Risks

Yet there are steps companies can take right now to reduce their risk of vehicle accidents for both their employees who drive for the business and those who drive outside of work:

  • Risk Assessment — Identify the risks workers face while driving then take action to address those risks, including implementing measures to track progress.
  • Defensive Driving Courses — Offer specific training in defensive driving to reduce the risk your driver face everyday.
  • Address Addiction — Offer programs for workers who struggle with alcohol, prescription drug, or illegal drug problems.
  • Restrict Smartphone Use — Create a company-wide policy banning the use of smartphones while driving.
  • Seat Belt Use — Require all employees to wear seat belts anytime they are in a vehicle, whether it is their own or company-owned.
  • Get Expert Help — The National Safety Council can assess your business’s road safety systems and help you to design an implement a more effective, results-driven program company-wide.
  • Journey to Safety Excellence — The NSC also offers a program that boosts safety in the workplace. You can sign up for the Journey to Safety Excellence program here.

Vehicle accidents are inevitable. But you can reduce the number and severity of vehicle accidents involving your employees both on and off the job by implementing these effective measures company-wide.


Warehouse dock. (Courtesy: Brooklyn Brewery at

Warehouse dock.
(Courtesy: Brooklyn Brewery at

Vehicles and pedestrians don’t mix. Whether it is forklifts running through the aisles of your warehouse, trucks backing into your dock, or cars pulling into your driveway or parking lot, the more you can do to separate people and machines, the safer your workplace will be.

Controlling traffic is essential to the safety of your employees and visitors. But it also can help build the bottom line of your business. Spending money to resolve lawsuits or pay hospital bills cuts into your profitability. Spending money upfront to improve traffic safety is a smarter investment that will save you money in the long run.

Here are five traffic control products that can help improve the safety of your workplace starting today.

Speed Bumps

Regardless of how many speed limit signs you put up or stern warnings you give, there are always going to be speeders. The one sure fire way to slow the down is to take away their choice in the matter.

Speed bumps made of 100% recycled materials will do the trick whether speeders like it or not. Unless they want to hit the speed bump at a fast rate of speed and risk damaging their vehicle, they will slow down.

Traffic Cones

Brightly colored traffic cones are a highly visible way to tell drivers what you want them to do. They also can be set up in any configuration you want.

Traffic cones can be used to block off restricted areas, prevent people from parking where they don’t belong and guide vehicles into the traffic lanes you want. They combine versatility with effectiveness.

Traffic Signs

In a city or town, putting up a new traffic sign literally takes an act of Congress … or at least the town council. But you can put up any signs you want on your property without asking anybody’s permission.

Traffic signs can designate parking areas, stop traffic at busy intersections, and create speed limits to slow vehicles down. Put them up along driveways and parking lots to create the traffic patterns and flow you want.

Delineator Posts

Delineator posts create a physical barricade that prevents vehicles from entering restricted areas. They come in both permanent and portable versions.

Parking Blocks

Rubber or concrete parking blocks tell drivers how far they can go when pulling their vehicles into parking spots. They are effective at preventing vehicles from rolling onto grass, adjacent parking spaces, and other restricted areas.

Traffic control products help you control traffic in your workplace.