For Warehouse Workers, Technology Starts to Look More Like Home

hen Bert Hooper brings on new workers at TechStyle Fashion Group’s 450,000 square-foot warehouse in Perris, California, he tells them, “If you know how to use a smartphone and you know how to use an app, you can do about any operation that we have in our facility.”

As the head of global fulfillment at the online retailer, Hooper designed TechStyle’s five e-commerce warehouses to run on Apple Inc.’s operating system with a user-friendly application that he says cuts training time in half for new hires. Workers filling orders for the Fabletics, JustFab and ShoeDazzle brands simply open the app on an iPod Touch and follow the instructions, guiding carts along the facility’s long aisles of pink shoe boxes and bins of neatly-folded, individually-wrapped clothes.

Today’s retailers face an array of complicated logistics problems — including managing inventory across warehouses and stores, staffing-up effectively for seasonal peaks and tracking millions shipments across a multitude of freight and parcel carriers. But TechStyle and a handful of other sellers have found one hack by turning loose consumer technology in their back-office operations.

“It’s so obvious,” said Evan Garber, chief executive of EVS, a software firm that develops warehouse management systems. For more than a decade, EVS software has used Motorola Systems Inc. handheld scanning devices — called “bricks” by much of the industry — in warehouses.

EVS’s newest system, which runs on Apple’s iOS and uses iPhones, iPads and other Apple devices, “takes the chunk out of your warehouse,” Garber said. And having “one device that can do everything,” he said, appeals to the millennial workforce — a growing percentage of warehouse staff and managers.