How Mobile Devices Will Alleviate Supply Chain Headaches This Holiday Season
Retailers are hyperfocused on preparing for the holiday rush. In 2020, e-commerce spending in the U.S. was in overdrive, with the pandemic boosting online sales by $183 billion — the equivalent of an extra holiday season in the same year. In 2021, experts predict that e-commerce sales will continue to rise, leaving retailers with the substantial challenge of fulfilling orders with as much speed and accuracy as possible. One of the ways in which retailers can ensure speed, accuracy and as much efficiency as is possible within their supply chains this season is by relying on mobile solutions.
There are three specific areas in a retail setting in which mobile solutions achieve improved efficiency and communication: managing inventory, fulfilling smaller orders, and tracking last-mile delivery.
To inform staffing and spacing needs, retailers need technology capable of managing real-time and critical information such as each product’s whereabouts, delivery timing and tracking numbers. Retailers are enabling efficient inventory management in warehouse and fulfillment centers by equipping workers on the go with mobile devices that have voice picking capabilities, can be mounted to a forklift, and offer handheld barcode scanning. On the road, drivers use mobile devices to determine optimal routes, provide proof of delivery, and keep consumers informed of delivery times.
Edge computing also comes into play with inventory management. Edge computing allows data to be captured, analyzed and inputted, all in real time. Inventory visibility across the supply chain is incredibly important because the closer a business can get to the edge and connect to a central system, the faster the business can capture accurate information from the point of service. This is achieved by using beacons, sensors, RFID tags and other technologies that gather inventory information and data throughout various stages of the supply chain. The data can tell supply chain professionals and their organizations where inefficiencies may lie and where to improve operations.
Fulfilling Smaller Orders
In certain instances, retailers ship large pallets of the same product to a storefront so bulk orders can be fulfilled. Now, with the increase in customization and online shopping, consumers are ordering single items that need to be put into an individual box and brought to the customer's doorstep. Where workers were once able to move pallets by forklift, they're now picking and packaging smaller orders by hand.
An added benefit of using mobile devices with voice technology is keeping hands and eyes free. Voice technology allows the worker to talk to a warehouse management system about an order. Then, the system can relay information back to the worker, such as what to pack and where the product is located in a warehouse. This method allows workers to keep their eyes up and scanning for the correct item so they don’t need to look at a screen for certain information. This hands-free solution helps to significantly improve efficiency.
Tracking Last-Mile Delivery
Consumers expect a quick turnaround when ordering products, as the norm has become two to three business days or even overnight. Due to this heightened demand, transportation and logistics companies rely on technology to ensure transparency and traceability throughout the last-mile journey.
When working together, mobile devices and wireless networks collect and track — in near real time — the inventory data that gives business decision-makers, as well as delivery and retail employees, visibility into where their products are within the supply chain. This establishes greater collaboration with supply chain partners, lowers inventory costs and much more.
By improving visibility, efficiency and traceability, mobile solutions will help retailers prepare for and overcome the influx of consumer demand this holiday season. Even looking beyond holiday shopping, the continued use of mobile solutions will ensure retailers stay ahead of the growing demand for e-commerce.
Jim Dempsey is director of U.S. business development and partnerships at Panasonic, a provider of integrated supply chain and mobility solutions, among other products.
Related story: Driving Fulfilment Efficiencies With Artificial Intelligence