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Empowering the backbones of e-commerce

The current industry model places immense pressure on retailers to bolster annual results by capitalising on sale periods. With the on-demand economy elevating customer expectations, in-store staff are busier than ever before. Yet another team is working tirelessly in the background to fulfil the delivery of the much-coveted products.

Mounting pressure on retailers have resulted in unmatched technological innovation; various tools and devices are becoming available to ensure the prompt processing and delivery of a product. With Australians spending $21.3 billion buying goods online by the end of 2017, it’s evident that the distribution centres are now a key and pivotal part to the retail ecosystem.

Supporting the heroes in the backend

Imagining a distribution centre at peak time probably conjures images of boxes speeding along conveyor belts and staff madly lifting, packing and scanning. To ensure the smooth processing of goods and minimising injuries from prolonged repetitive movement, logistics firms and warehouses are investing in technology that better marries capability with ergonomics. These new technologies have been hailed for providing the competitive edge to warehouses, allowing distribution teams to maximise their output and accuracy.

Some lightweight and flexible scanning devices are favoured by distribution centres for this very reason with some options allowing workers to increase productivity while ensuring comfort and reducing strain. Larger screen and design features can effectively eliminate the need to tilt and verify each scan, capturing barcodes, checkboxes, text fields and signatures simultaneously, ultimately reducing worker fatigue and injuries. Wearable terminals are also often deployed to improve productivity and efficiency of the mobile workers within its warehouses. Some ID Logistics’ operators would combine wearable tech with tablet computers to increase workforce productivity including barcode scanning, data entry and ruggedness for durability.

Beyond front-line workers’ safety and comfort, technology is rapidly revolutionising the efficiency of warehouses worldwide. The use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is becoming increasingly prevalent – we can already look to multiple use cases to see the absolute wonder of robotics in distribution.

Clever tweaks and upgrades have helped staff in all points of the logistics chain to maximise efficiency and better manage inventory, supply chain and customer satisfaction levels. For example, radio-frequency identification (RFID)-enabled software, hardware and tagging solutions offer up-to-the-minute, item-level inventory lookup, heightening inventory accuracy and shopper satisfaction while reducing out of stocks, overstocks and replenishment errors. Some retailers are already experimenting with staff tracking goods by pairing RFID and drones. The combination speeds up discovery of goods and dramatically increases the accuracy of stock management, giving the retailer a competitive edge.

During the busy peaks, when temporary workers are being utilised and timing is crucial, logistics firms must ensure that the technology on hand is easy to use with minimal margin for error. Maximising use via extended battery life and rugged design is also a much-welcomed bonus. An all-in-one device which offers these benefits plus maximised staff efficiency and reduced injury is therefore incredibly treasured.

Warehouse innovations are here to stay – according to Zebra’ Future of Fulfilment Study, RFID technology and inventory management platforms are expected to grow by 49 percent in the next few years.  As adoption increases, retailers need to recognise the need to remain competitive through utilising available technologies to maintain a performance edge.

As the retail experience continues to become more complex, the fundamentals behind logistics and fulfilment remain constant.  Technological innovations have greatly increased efficiency and productivity, and the onus is on organisations to adopt these or risk being left behind. Next day deliveries are now an expected option with offer two-hour delivery being offered in certain areas. Consumer expectations are paradoxically both an opportunity and a pain point for distribution teams who could either adopt and evolve or risk losing loyal customers.

By Tom Christodoulou, Regional Director of Australia and New Zealand, Zebra Technologies

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