Ecommerce now makes up over 25% of retail sales in large markets like the UK — up from less than 20% pre-pandemic1 . As a result, retailers are investing in their omnichannel strategies and improved in-store experiences to compete with online retailers. They strive to provide a seamless shopping experience across every touchpoint, including physical stores, websites, apps and social media.
However, operating costs (including raw materials and fuel) and inflation are rising in an evolving marketplace. Consumers are always shifting their behaviours and expectations concerning price, speed, availability and delivery convenience. Global labour shortages continue to challenge retailers too, especially in the warehouse picking and packing processes and in T&L. As the 2023 peak season looms, where should retailers be prioritising investment to stay competitive?
Omnichannel inventory visibility
There are indications that consumers are now shopping through digital and physical channels at almost identical rates. They value reliable in-stocks, easy returns and efficient shopping journeys when browsing and purchasing2 . Future-focused retailers are using their physical stores to fulfil online orders and offering BOPIS (buy online, pickup in-store). Omnichannel success therefore demands flawless inventory management and smart in-store management. An inventory intelligence solution with 100% stock accuracy and real-time visibility eliminates out of stocks, maximises margins, on-shelf availability and improves the customer experience. Retailers have agility to replenish stock quickly or relocate stock to fulfil orders. Unified inventory management allows customers to check in-store stock online and reserve items, ensuring a seamless and satisfying shopping experience.
No retailer can afford to waste stock, particularly when operating costs are increasing. There are several contributors, from excess inventory arising from poor (or lack of) forecasting, to time lost during distribution and transportation. Inventory visibility, mentioned above, helps drive down waste by maintaining optimal stock levels, managing spoilage of perishable items and preventing over stocking. This is particularly relevant during peak periods where unsold or returned seasonal stock can end up redundant. A modern cloud-based solution uses a combination of mobile applications and devices, plus barcode and RFID tagging to provide real-time visibility of stock throughout the supply chain. A robust inbound logistics solution facilitates efficient returns processing and allows retailers to put relevant items back into stock or refurbish/dispose of them, and minimise disputes. Furthermore, when retailers share and access unified data in real time, they become more agile through collaboration and highly effective dynamic forecasting. Besides economic and environmental benefits, reducing waste also boosts loyalty as consumers increasingly seek demonstrable sustainable practices.
Tackle labour challenges
One of the top supply chain technologies for investment this year is process automation3 . Warehouse and T&L managers are increasingly turning to automation to tackle labour shortages, optimise operations and reduce costs. Automated systems can be used in the warehouse across picking, inventory management, shipping and cycle counts. Multi-modal voice recognition technology and vision-based technologies result in faster picking with fewer errors, 100% shipping accuracy and end-to-end parcel tracking. Moving from paper-picking to voice can result in an impressive 20% increase in efficiency 4 . Offering simple scalability, these technologies also increase the capacity, agility and wellbeing of the workforce without expanding existing facilities. Faced with rising costs and fewer drivers, 51% of LSPs (logistics server providers), retailers and manufacturers are looking to increase last mile delivery efficiency, including automation in the form of ePODs5 . Automation can be achieved by integrating with the WMS or ERP, rather than overhauling systems, minimising investment risk.
Adopt agile, collaborative automation
According to Reuters/JLL, 37% of retailers, manufacturers and LSPs expect automation and robotics in their facilities to be core to their investment strategy in 2023. Autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) or cobots are one of the latest technologies to enable busy warehouse operations to increase fulfilment speed. The collaborative aspect of these automation systems is crucial. AMRs are designed to work alongside humans, complementing their abilities, reducing physical strain and allowing them to focus on complex or value-added tasks. They deliver a fast ROI and reduce reliance on short-term seasonal staff without requiring facility expansion. AMRs can operate around the clock and adapt to changing demand patterns and prioritise tasks based on real-time data. Offering rapid scalability and agility, retailers leveraging AMRs and other collaborative automation technologies can respond efficiently to fluctuating volumes during peak periods. Machine learning algorithms allow AMRs to continuously improve their performance based on feedback and experience.
In summary, online and omnichannel retail success is rooted in scalable supply chain technologies that optimise core operations, combat rising inflation and improve the customer experience. Collaborative automation and digital tools in the warehouse, on the road and in-store improve fulfilment speed and accuracy, even in peak periods. With greater visibility of inbound supply chains and inventory, waste is better managed, and retailers can adopt a more agile approach to maximise margins and deliver to the customer.
With greater visibility of inbound supply chains and inventory, waste is better managed, and retailers can adopt a more agile approach to maximise margins and deliver to the customer.