Warehouse Automation for Subscription Box Fulfillment | Step Two: Exceptional Execution

order packer adding insert to subscription box

December 14, 2021 | Dann Woellert

This blog is the second in a series focused on material handling systems and software that optimize subscription box fulfillment. Sign up for our newsletter to receive future posts!

3PLs for Subscription Box Fulfillment

Print and Apply labeling

According to the UBS financial services firm, the subscription economy will grow to $1.5 trillion by 2025, more than double its current estimated value of $650 billion. Our first blog in this series focused on using pick-to-light systems to rapidly scale subscription box fulfillment operations and efficiently manage monthly peaks in volume.

Fast, high-quality fulfillment is a big part of satisfying customers. However, offering more options for personalization is what inspires customers to click ‘renew’ vs. ‘cancel’ over time. Delivering a truly unique brand experience is essential, which adds complexity to the order fulfillment process.

This is especially true for third-party logistics providers (3PLs) who may fulfill orders for multiple subscription services from the same facility. 3PLs specializing in subscription box fulfillment like Capacity LLC have the expertise to craft operations that meet each client brand’s needs to produce those special unboxing moments. According to Ed Shapiro, Director of Engineering of Capacity, LLC, “Every fulfillment center effectively is shipping orders, but the means in which they do that needs to be tailored to the clients that they have, and the products that they are shipping.”

In addition to pick-to-light, there are other proven material handling technologies that help brands or their 3PL partners improve material flow, increase efficiency, and support specialization.

Synchronized Systems

Who wants a missing ingredient in a cookie box order or a meal kit? And what about a missing piece of evidence in a Crime Box subscription? That could ruin the entire experience the service hopes to create. warehouse execution system (WES) connects discrete warehouse operations and balances the flow of work to eliminate bottlenecks, improve accuracy for boxes with multiple items and allows employees tcollect real-time data on order status. Top tier WES products offer multiple modules that are ideal for automating and optimizing many key tasks throughout the subscription box fulfillment process, like the following. 

Think Inside the Box  

Cartonization engines are vital for fitting order contents into subscription boxes. The engines provide the maximum real estate of a box and plans for how much product can fit by pairing specific dunnage requirements and dimensions with individual SKUs. The latest cartonization technologies are more accurate than traditional liquid cube estimates, since they also account for exact item dimensions. Some cartonization engines even provide diagrams of how to properly pack orders into cartons. 

Superfast Sortation

Batch picking is an effective method of maximizing the productivity of each employee’s pass through the distribution center, by enabling them to pick multiple orders at once. Put-to-light can be used for sorting these batches of small to medium-sized orders into individual customer orders. This technology is relatively inexpensive and more put walls can be easily added depending on order volume. In addition, put walls can be brought out or put away to accommodate seasonal fluctuations in volume, and maximize available floor space as needed. Put walls are also handy for sorting shipping and promotional materials into the correct subscription box. Lights can also alert employees when orders are finished and ready for pack-out.  

Make it Mine 

Automated promotional flier insert

Subscription boxes provide a unique experience for consumers. While traditional businesses rely on creating a pleasant in-store experience, the only contact some subscription box providers may have with their customers is when they open their box. Customization is also a key trend for subscription box providers to create an individualized customer experience. As the main customer-facing element, presentation is extremely important. Automated order finishing systems can streamline processes for adding marketing materials, recipe cards, stickers, and coupons into the subscription box to communicate with customers and improve their user experience. In addition, print-and-apply lines can rapidly apply printed labels to boxes and verify their shipping weights and label information. 

Shopping for Shipping

The last step in the process is extremely important for saving money and expediting order delivery. Rate shopping helps determine which carriers, such as FedEx or UPS, are offering the best price and delivery time for orders. 

It’s important to incorporate robust, flexible warehouse execution software and automation that will facilitate growthimprove fulfillment speed and accuracy and consistently deliver exceptional subscription box services.  Come back to Automation Insights in early 2022 to see video of a leading 3PL using our pick-to-light carts, put walls, and WES-directed print & apply labeling and shipping sorter for ecommerce and omnichannel  order fulfillment! 



Dann Woellert, Matthews Software Product Manager, cut his professional teeth as a Process Controls Engineer in plant automation. Over the years he’s played the role of product manager in a variety of manufacturing industries. He’s a foodie, avid kayaker, and history geek.


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