Processing return shipments more smoothly and more quickly

Posted November 16, 2009

Zebra Z4M PlusOtto ranks as the world’s largest mail order company and offers its products by way of two main catalogs it publishes each year, but also through numerous seasonal and special interest catalogs and via electronic media.

Otto’s core business is catalog selling. Therefore, access to a robust Warehouse Management System that allows the company to process return shipments effectively is of great strategic importance. Within this context bar code printing is of particular importance. For example, identification of an article that has been returned takes place solely using bar codes. This means that the printing quality of the bar codes is of the highest importance in identifying items that have been returned and managing all of the other related processes.

In 2001, Otto implemented a new and more efficient system for managing stock and returns. Wolf Hartmann is department head of the returns day shift at Otto in Hamburg. He decided to implement bar code printers from Zebra Technologies in Obertshausen, Germany. This brand of printers has been used successfully by Otto for many years and has proven to be extremely reliable. In addition, Otto was convinced that ZebraLink, the innovative method of connecting and controlling printers, could be of great value to their company.

The objective to be achieved with the help of the new system was to handle the huge burden of identifying up to 117,000 returns Otto receives each day. The decision was made to install Zebra’s robust and high capacity Z4M bar code printers that feature a metal casing and include ZebraLink, a technology that Otto had successfully tested prior to purchasing. Other elements of the complete solution included scanners, PCs, software, as well as a special emulation program that allowed for the information displayed on the monitor to be entered onto labels.

ZebraLink offered Otto several invaluable advantages because it shortened the reaction time necessary to perform service tasks on the Z4M printers that are occasionally necessary, by localizing the problem. It also provides immediate information on whether the printer problem is of a mechanical or network related nature. An advantage that ZebraLink offers is that it allows for mechanical problems to be resolved without affecting the remaining parts of the system.

In total, 800 Z4M printers were installed at Otto, 450 of which are located in Hamburg and 350 at the company’s facilities in Hanau. They are used to process returns, to label electronic devices and to produce labels for sample products that are required for internal purposes. Zebra printers are also used by Corso, a wholesale establishment that is part of Otto.

“Because of its ease of use and low operator training requirements, our new system has gained rapid acceptance among our 2,400 users,“ Wolf Hartmann says. “The application was implemented on a step by step basis once we had witnessed how well 200 of our people had worked with the printers over a span of one month. Otto plans to extend the use of the system to other locations in 2003, such as Alba Moda in Bad Salzuflen.

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