Talbots, one of the largest specialty retailers of women’s fashion in the United States, was founded by Rudy and Nancy Talbot in Massachusetts in 1947. More than seven decades later, you can find Talbots' 550,000 square foot distribution center (DC) located less than 45 miles from the spot where it all began.
In 2012, Talbots came under new ownership, and the focus changed to direct to consumer (D2C). They now ship roughly 35 million units annually, 10 million of which are D2C, and offer customers as many as 60,000 SKUs. After suffering for years with accuracy, and being asked to support considerable growth in the company, Talbots turned to voice to help them achieve their goals.
Prior to voice, Talbots had to put in extensive procedures to ensure the correct orders got to the customers, but still struggled with mispicks. “We had an external accuracy rate of 99.97 percent, which sounds great on paper, but that still meant we were making as many as 25,000 internal picking errors per year,” recalled Scott Campbell., Distribution Center General Manager for Talbots.
Within days of implementing voice, Talbots saw their internal pick accuracy rate jump significantly and after just 8 weeks, it reached 99.92 percent. “We saw a huge jump in internal accuracy, but I still think that number will increase." said Campbell.
As for all the mispicks, Campbell says those have become few and far between. “Before voice, we had up to 150 mispicks a day. Now, that number has dropped to the low single digits. We have been able to maintain our external accuracy at 99.97%, but have to do far less work to keep it there.”
When it came to productivity increases, Campbell said Talbots didn’t have high expectations. “We actually didn’t add productivity gains into our ROI calculations. We were told we would get them, but we were just looking at improving accuracy.”
It may not have been a goal, but Talbots quickly saw a 9 percent increase in productivity. “Once we implemented voice, the associates themselves were the ones telling us they were faster,” said Campbell. “They said ‘Voice forces us to focus. As you walk up and down the aisles, you can’t stop and talk to the people around you. You have to continue moving and listen to what the headset is telling you.’”.
Another factor that Talbots didn’t anticipate with voice was the large improvement in training time. “Prior to voice, it took up to a month before I would say a worker was 100 percent up to speed. With voice, it’s less than a week- we turn associates loose on the warehouse at the end of their first day.”
On top of training time being faster, Campbell also noticed an immediate change in post-training accuracy. “When we were using manual processes, we could teach someone to follow a sequential order when walking down the aisles, and how we picked, but that didn’t mean they would do it accurately,” said Campbell. “With voice, there is a high level of involvement up front, but once they complete training their accuracy is off the charts.”
With the increases in accuracy and productivity, Talbots also gained the ability to sustain growth without an increase in operating costs. “On average, we would use as many as 6 full-time employees to fix picking errors. With voice, we should need less than one,” stated Campbell. “I can foresee being able to see 12 percent growth without having to increase our staffing levels.”
To learn more about Talbots’ reason for choosing voice, the implementation process, and their future plans for voice, you can download the full version of the case study here.