A Beginner’s Guide to Mobile Scanning

Date: September 22, 2020


It’s clear that most warehouses claim to process orders accurately, but how exactly can warehouses define an acceptable order accuracy level? More importantly, what is your warehouse actively doing to boost order accuracy? After all, the average cost of a single mis-pick for a warehouse without warehouse management system (WMS) software is $22. Given the sheer volume of orders processed per day and rising customer expectations for 100% order accuracy, the cost of mis-picks can quickly add up to thousands of dollars per month, not to mention damaging customer relationships by packing or shipping incorrect orders or shipping orders to the wrong address.

We understand that the success of your customers’ operation is paramount to your 3PL’s success, and rightly so since you are an extension of your customer’s business. Mobile scanning empowers 3PL warehouses to cut costs by improving picking accuracy, automating order verification, and eliminating mis-picks. Also, by using barcode scanning 3PLs can not only optimize labor efficiency, but also boost customer satisfaction.

For many third-party logistics (3PLs) warehouses, adding a modern mobile scanning solution to your warehouse technology can provide a competitive edge. Whether you’re brand new to mobile scanning or have done your research on available scanning solutions, we suggest asking the three following questions to ensure you choose the right mobile scanning solution for your logistics business.

What types of barcodes do I need to scan?

Before choosing the right scanner consider what types of barcodes your warehouse will use. The two most common barcodes are 1D and 2D barcodes. 1D barcodes are typically used for labeling raw materials and inventory management within warehouses. The advantages of 1D barcode scanners and similar laser-based scanners include being low cost and offering more accurate inventory tracking than using manual Excel or paper-based methods.

While 1D barcodes display information in one-direction with vertical lines, 2D barcodes can store more data in vertical and horizontal directions with 2D shapes. An example of 2D barcodes are QR codes, which are often used in retail applications because they can store more information like website URLs, geolocation data, and plain text. Most warehouses don’t use QR codes because the 2D imager scanners needed to process them are more expensive than laser scanners for 1D barcodes.

Pro Tip 1: If you want to save money: stick with 1D barcodes.

Some industries like retail, manufacturing, and pharmaceuticals also require that inventory is barcoded and compliant with industry standards such as GS1, which enable your customers to track products as they move throughout the supply chain and trace products in case of a recall. Depending on your market, your customers may have industry-specific barcoding requirements like UCC-128 for retail.

What environment will my scanners be operating in?

Now that your warehouse has decided what types of barcodes will be processed, it’s time to think carefully about how mobile scanners will operate best in terms of ruggedness, scanning distance, and form factor. Like many 3PL staff, warehouse employees operate in fast-pace environments with concrete floors. Let’s face it – anything that can go wrong usually does. Scanners could be dropped and damaged multiple times in the process of day-to-day warehouse activity. Over time, fragile glass in laser scanners can easily break from repeated impacts. Consider rugged warehouse-grade scanners like the ones from Emkat that can withstand the day-to-day wear and tear of warehouse operations and accidental drops.

Second, warehouses can boost productivity by using long-distance scanners. Scanners with advanced long range or extended range capability can scan 1D or 2D barcodes from up to 50 feet away. This may be helpful if you have to scan pallets across the warehouse floor or inventory on higher shelves that would require a forklift to reach. Time is money and every unnecessary step or forklift run a worker performs ends up increasing labor costs.

Pro Tip 2: Quality barcode scanners are worthy investments to maximize productivity.

Third, the form factor of your device could impact your worker mobility. Some warehouses prefer corded barcode readers that attach to a mobile laptop or computer workstation. Others use mobile device cameras or wireless barcode readers for more mobility across the warehouse floor. Your choice really depends on your optimal warehouse inventory management process and whether workers need to frequently move large distances across the warehouse to scan inventory and verify orders.

Before you cut your cords and join the wireless bandwagon, consider this potential downside. If you go wireless, then there are more hardware costs associated with this decision like buying wireless access points (i.e., routers for your warehouse to enable Wi-Fi across the space). To cut costs, you might consider using corded or mobile devices for mobile scanning if mobility is not a huge concern for you or if you have mobile workstations.

How can I integrate mobile scanning with my WMS?

Once you have successfully chosen the right mobile scanners to meet your warehouse workflows, warehouse staff can easily access all of the valuable inventory data from within your WMS. The data captured using mobile barcode scanning can be shared with warehouse customers for complete visibility of their inventory and order accuracy levels. Warehouses can also insert an order verification process into their mobile scanning to guarantee order accuracy. Like an expert chef, having all the right ingredients, namely hardware and software in place to track, control, and monitor order accuracy comprises a key part of your recipe for effective mobile scanning.

Pro-tip 3: Collect your inventory data and generate insights using a cloud-based WMS like 3PL Warehouse Manager.

Mobile scanning software like SmartScan gives warehouses the capability to verify orders at once, tracking and assigning pick jobs directly from a mobile device or scanner. This automates mobile scanning and order verification, reducing the chance of manual picking errors and boosting worker productivity. In turn, your warehouse will operate at 100% order accuracy, keeping your customers happy and their customers even more satisfied with your quality and service levels.

To learn about how you can implement mobile scanning best practices with SmartScan and how it fully integrates with 3PL Warehouse Manager, request a demo.


Nathan Schlaffer

Written by Nathan Schlaffer

Nathan is an experienced SaaS product marketing manager who is passionate about creating compelling product messaging. Working closely with product, marketing, and sales teams, he is responsible for crafting effective product strategies and content to share the benefits and features of 3PL Central's solutions for third-party logistics warehouses. Previously, he has shared technology solutions with state DOTs such as the New Jersey Turnpike Authority and wireless solutions for warehouse AGV manufacturers.