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How top 3PLs are Automating Warehouse Cross Docking 

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How top 3PLs are Automating Warehouse Cross Docking 

Cross docking requires the ability to validate and accept incoming stock with accuracy and speed and consolidate outgoing consignments based on last-mile destinations,”

— Shaun Hagen, CartonCloud COO/ Head of North America 

With the right management and workflows in place, implementing cross docking can save you hours, and reduce costly storage overheads. So what is cross docking, and how does it work? 

Cross docking (and transloading) is used frequently in American logistics and global supply chains to optimize delivery routes and transport legs, and reduce unnecessary warehouse storage periods. 

Logistics software provider CartonCloud summarizes cross docking as where a staging area within a warehouse is used for short-term holding, as stock is sorted, collated and assigned to outgoing runs based on delivery location. When implemented correctly, cross docking can provide the ability to optimize your supply chain to be as fast and productive as possible. However, navigating incoming stock, handling stock in staging, and collating stock to outgoing runs to optimize truck load and last-mile delivery can be extremely complex. 

Many American logistics businesses use the trusty pen and paper for cross docking operations, even when they have a WMS in place for other warehouse operations — however, paper records can be notoriously inaccurate, and create hours of admin time to manually enter data into warehouse systems after the fact. So why are warehouses still using paper? The recent Q1 2023 CCLI industry survey found a staggering 97% of companies currently use paper records for at least one operation in their day-to-day business. 

The nature of cross docking requires fast processing and allocations, and clear, concise reporting in real-time — something a lot of WMS software providers are unable to deliver, and paper processes miss the mark on. Having the ability to automate the process with cloud-based software saves time and increases accuracy. Until now. 

“For cross docking, you need to have the ability to easily validate and accept incoming stock with accuracy and speed— and also have the ability to consolidate and allocate to outgoing consignments for delivery, based on their last-mile destinations,” explains CartonCloud’s COO/ Head of America Shaun Hagen. 

“We work with a range of logistics providers to help them streamline their cross docking operations, ultimately moving them off pen and paper or other platforms, to use barcode scanning and automated allocation— which boosts their accuracy and saves a huge amount of time.” 

Many American and global supply chains often have freight passing through several warehouses before it is assigned to the delivery run for its final destination. Cross docking removes unnecessary miles and storage periods, by optimizing delivery runs based on grouped end destinations.

Mr Hagen explained using the cloud-based system to automate data entry and streamline freight validation and order details for optimized cross docking can maximize supply chain efficiency by coordinating outgoing stock within combined transport consignments. 

Ohio-based 3PL warehouse ODW use CartonCloud for cross dock operations and contract logistics order charge capture. 

“It has been valuable both as a stand-alone WMS and a complement to our own WMS,” said ODW’s Ms Gates. 

Want to know if cross docking is right for your business? CartonCloud’s powerful cross dock features provide logistics businesses across the United States and North America with transparency over incoming stock, in order to manage and track stock sorting and movement. Find out more at, and book a FREE DEMO today to see the system in action.


Pros and Cons of Different Types of Cross-Docking

There are, essentially, two different types of cross-docking you can choose to do. They are the pre-distribution cross-docking and post-distribution cross-docking. Whereas pre-distribution cross docking uses predetermined distribution instructions to allow workers to unload immediately, sort through the goods, repackage them directly, and have them shipped out then and there, post-distribution is different. In post-distribution cross-docking, the workers do not have predetermined distribution instructions.

As such, goods are unloaded and then must spend some time at the warehouse or distribution facility before the orders are properly sorted, and distribution instructions are drafted. From there, they are again packaged, loaded up, and delivered. Of course, the waiting period is not too long, even in this second type of cross-docking. To help you decide which of the two methods you’d like to use, let’s look at the pros and cons of different types of cross-docking more closely.

The pros of pre-distribution cross-docking

Faster distribution

The first difference between the different types of cross-docking and a pro in pre-distribution’s favor is, of course, that it’s a lot faster. Since a distribution list is complete, the workers can immediately load up the goods without delay. Before you even know it, your goods will move to their final destinations. This also makes it a lot easier to avoid missing deadlines. However, it’s not smart to reduce them further to give yourself enough time in an emergency.

No need for a lot of storage space

The second pro in favor of pro-distribution when comparing the different types of cross-docking is that you don’t need much storage space. You need enough space to park your trucks and some for the necessary equipment. But since the goods are moving from one truck to another, that’s about it. You don’t need to learn a ton about logistics to glean the benefits of this. Primarily, of course, saving money you’d typically need to spend on large warehouses.

The cons of Pre-distribution cross-docking

Lots of potential for human error

Since pre-distribution requires much work to be done quickly, the first con is that it also increases human error chances. Sure, it can effectively alleviate warehousing and fulfillment stress, but when people rush to unload, pack, and load up goods again. Eventually, a mistake will crop up, which can be anything from damaged items to wrongly labeled packages.

Little time to account for accidents and problems

We mentioned responding to emergencies in the first pro of pre-distribution cross-docking. Well, you need to give yourself enough leeway with deadlines because this method is not excellent at responding to problems. Since everything is supposed to happen as one continuous action, if a problem pops up anywhere, everything grinds to a halt until it’s resolved. You need to be extremely careful and plan ahead to avoid this effectively. And even then, road congestion and similar unpredictable accidents still adversely affect your operations.

The pros of post-distribution cross-docking

More time to plan your deliveries

The first pro of post-distribution is the fact you have time to plan. While you wait for the distribution instructions to be complete, you can chart the most optimal routes. Make plans for emergencies. You even have time to double-check that all your goods are in proper condition! The pre-distribution does not allow this, and it’s a significant advantage.

Less pressure on your workers

The second significant benefit of post-distribution is that your workers do not have to push themselves so much. They can take a proper break with a delay between unloading and packaging. In the long term, this keeps the workplace happier and your workers healthier and more effective at their jobs. In turn, they can more reliably avoid common types of packaging damage and a host of other human errors that can seriously hurt your business if they keep happening.

The cons of post-distribution cross-docking

The need for warehousing space

The first and the biggest problem of post-distribution cross-docking is, of course, the need for warehousing space. This means your business will have to expand many more resources to furnish warehouses with everything they need to function. Take into account that cross-docking is also popular for more temperature-sensitive items. This is because they can be moved from one climate-controlled to another quickly. In other words, you also need to ensure the warehouse has the suitable condition to protect the items from degrading, which is yet another additional expense you’d need to bear! 

The process has the potential to stall

The final con of post-distribution when comparing the different types of cross-docking is the chance for it to stall. You need to wait for the distribution list to be completed. This is not an issue on a good day since you can expect to earmark most of your inventory at least. But, when interest drops, you need longer waiting times to create a distribution list. In turn, many of your trucks and workers are just idling and waiting for instruction.

Picking from the different types of cross-docking

Now that you are familiar with the pros and cons of different types of cross-docking, you can decide which works best for you. Just remember to take into account everything about your business when making the decision, including, of course, your current and predicted levels of demand.

Author Bio

Jack Bailey is an experienced manager who works for the Royal Moving Company and has plenty of experience with arranging the quick and efficient transfers of equipment and other items needed for the company.



What Warehouses Should Keep in Mind When First Implementing Cross-Docking

Warehouses that want to improve labor and space utilization without expanding to a new location or breaking ground may consider cross-docking because of its potential efficiencies. Unfortunately, it can also come with many pitfalls for those trying it for the first time.

Cross-docking requires a detailed understanding of your team, space, partners, and technology. For new warehouses, that means implementing cross-docking should come with significant testing and preparation, especially in terms of your inventory management, scheduling, spatial allocation, and the training you give your team and partners.

Test inventory management tools

Cross-docking prepares companies for just-in-time (JIT) shipping and distribution, making immediate use of inventory as it arrives. Companies that want to start utilizing cross-docking will need a robust inventory management system that can understand and differentiate these inbound shipments.

Your tools must be able to understand inventory utilization. If half of the goods on an inbound shipment are for JIT purposes, then the inventory platform must be able to split received goods and correctly update both inventory levels and the number of products you list for sale. If this action would require ongoing intervention from you or additional inventory counts, it could introduce higher labor costs that negate cross-dock benefits.

Ultimately, cross-docking can help with inventory management and often keep companies from needing to expand physical infrastructure for the products they hold. It might also help you expand operations to support backorders. This takes time, however, and requires tools that help you understand and manage inventory levels without adding burden.

Robust scheduling includes flexibility

Cross-docking is intense choreography. You’re going to need smart people and reliable technology to manage the planning of how people and trucks are moving in and around your site. Cross-docking and JIT operations demand having the people available to handle inbound shipments and process them while helping your team know what inventory is ready to use and what needs to be put away.

Dock availability and the time of truck arrivals and departures must be flexible so that your operations can run normally. Every cross-docking team plans on a smooth day where everything runs on schedule. However, that’s rarely a reality. Paperwork, traffic delays, accidents, or even someone needing to use the bathroom can cause a small delay. Something as simple as an employee driving through the parking lot can force a truck to wait.

If you schedule everything down to the minute and don’t give your team and partners flexibility, it’ll cause greater delays. In most cases, as you’re expanding and learning, arriving trucks will end up waiting because it’s hard to predict the time people need, but you also don’t want docks sitting empty for extended periods. So, ensure that you have people ready when trucks are there and test the time you give teams for inbound and outbound.

Dock door assignments should consider space and traffic

One other caveat that many warehouses don’t consider when they first start cross-docking is the physical space that people, trucks, and inventory required. Cross-docking effectively requires that dock door assignments be efficient and allow incoming and departing trucks enough space to maneuver safely and quickly. Adding extra points to a turn will slow the entire process down, for example.

If your warehouse wasn’t built with cross-docking in mind, test this thoroughly. Often, warehouses need significant reconfiguration of internal elements or will install new doors and adjust the building design to facilitate cross-docking. Multiple teams, doors, trucks, and the equipment everyone is using are going to take up extra space and need to be able to move freely and safely. Start by giving everything and everyone more leeway than you think they need.

Some new inventory and dock management platforms support cross-docking and can make suggestions based on timing, assignments, and other aspects of your operations based on historical and current data. When your tools offer this, try out their analysis and recommendations to see if you can maximize your efforts.

The entire supply chain requires competencies

Cross-docking is an advanced management and utilization technique for any warehouse or distribution center. You’re managing dock door assignments, transshipment, vehicle routing, product allocation, barcode scanning and putaway, new warehouse layouts, and the network and systems required to manage it all.

Your team needs competency in each of those areas and activities. Partners should have their own understanding plus the ability to support you. Inbound expertise is required, across the board, for JIT requirements and scheduling to be effective.

You’ll eventually want to build out appropriate penalties for time windows to keep things running smoothly, but that requires your team not to cause delays. In many instances, cross-docking is complicated mathematics disguised as people and trucks.

Take your time to test and implement it. Work with partners proactively to help understand what they need from you and explain what you need from them. Train your team specifically on the new processes and requirements. Simulate, test, and optimize procedures and layout continually.

Cross-docking can save warehouses significantly on a variety of costs and size requirements. You might reduce material handling and make labor more efficient. Customer satisfaction can be improved, too, as you’re relying less on backorders or older products. Achieving all of those wins is a lengthy process, and it’s important to walk into the situation with patience.


Jake Rheude is the Director of Marketing for Red Stag Fulfillment, an ecommerce fulfillment warehouse that was born out of ecommerce. He has years of experience in ecommerce and business development. In his free time, Jake enjoys reading about business and sharing his own experience with others.