Retailers can set themselves apart from the competition by adopting advanced technology in their warehouses and fulfillment operations. Here are 5 ways they can do that.

Johannes Panzer, head of industry solutions, ecommerce, Descartes

Johannes Panzer, head of industry solutions, ecommerce, Descartes

2019 was the year of shifting consumer expectations—and 2020 will likely be no different. The modern consumer is increasingly driven by choice—from how, when and where they shop to how long they’re willing to wait to receive their purchases. In order to meet consumer demands, organizations need to take a hard look at their ecommerce strategies to ensure they are set up for success.

Getting a product from cart to doorstep requires more than simply an online presence. Rather, retailers need to ensure their products are delivered quickly, accurately and without issue—and fulfillment processes and operations can often make or break their success. In fact, industry-leading fulfillment workflows and automation technologies can do more than improve customer relationships: they can serve as a key advantage over the competition.

While robotics won’t entirely replace the human aspect of fulfillment in the near term, it’s important for organizations to identify how different types of technologies can help them find success with automating specific workflows.

As we approach 2020, ecommerce fulfillment operations will serve as an even more significant differentiator for organizations looking for a competitive edge. Below are five of the most meaningful trends reshaping ecommerce fulfillment in the New Year and beyond.

1. The Bots Are HereThe Rise of Automation: Automation technologies will continue to play a vital role in helping organizations to improve overall productivity. Companies looking to streamline internal processes will need to continue to invest in automation and while some technologies may come with a hefty price tag, the potential cost savings down the road hold significant benefits.
Amazon’s fulfillment centers are already utilizing robots to help improve overall shipping times, maximize inventory processes and assist associates in a variety of ways. While robotics won’t entirely replace the human aspect of fulfillment in the near term, it’s important for organizations to identify how different types of technologies can help them find success with automating specific workflows.

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2. Real-time Data is a Necessity: The New Year will see us continue to grow increasingly interconnected as more marketplaces, logistics providers, carriers, payments, consumers and other stakeholders enter the ecommerce ecosystem. As a result of this connectivity, real-time data will play a significant role in an organization’s demand planning, order fulfillment, shipping execution processes and more.
As consumer expectations around shopping experiences and acceptable delivery times continue to put pressure on retailers, it’s crucial that organizations are positioned to meet these needs, and analytics can better inform strategies and decision-making practices both in the marketplace and in the warehouse.

3. More Marketplaces, More Customers: The ecommerce market continues to grow at an almost exponential rate, with industry predictions that platform provider revenue are expected to reach $40.2 billion in 2022. Much of this growth can be attributed to the rise of online marketplaces.
Marketplaces allow organizations to tap into a larger customer pool, both domestically and internationally and, as a result, retailers are flocking to these channels to help drive sales. In fact, Google is launching its own marketplace with Shopping Actions and, while this service is currently only available in the United States and France, it holds the potential to introduce vendors to a global market. By expanding beyond brick-and-mortar stores and leveraging online marketplaces, retailers can set themselves up for success by ensuring their products are accessible to as many customers as possible, regardless of where they’re located.

4. Countering Costs: In the face of improved wages for employees and rising costs associated with marketplaces, transportation and more, financial health will be a major focus for many organizations in 2020. Driving costs out of fulfillment operations and streamlining logistics processes using technology can help organizations counter rising costs, preserve margin and even create new revenue opportunities such as selling value-added services (e.g., setup/installation of large format deliveries) or offering free or reduced cost delivery options (e.g., one and two-day shipping windows, next day delivery, etc.).
By finding innovative ways to offer added value to customers, companies can better stand out from competitors, improve customer relationships and drive increased revenue overall.

5. Emerging Tech in the Warehouse: Emerging technologies like augmented reality (AR) are already used in the ecommerce realm, for example, allowing consumers to virtually try on makeup, clothes and other products before purchasing all from the comfort of their homes. One new AR application for ecommerce companies to take note of is in the warehouse, where it can be used in a variety of ways to help automate internal processes and enable more intelligent, productive decision-making.
For example, this technology can help staff to find, count and sort bin-locations, as well as determine empty bin locations faster than ever before. This not only saves productive time in the warehouse, but also improves accuracy in item selections.

eMarketer projects that ecommerce sales could reach as much as $6.5 trillion by the end of 2023. For retailers focused on participating in such a high growth arena, it’s important to remain attuned to the key trends shaping the industry—and examining fulfillment processes to identify opportunities for improvement and innovation will be one critical key to success.

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Descartes is a provider of logistics technology and services.

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