Planning to Invest in Software-Driven Tools
As each industry grapples with the effects of the ongoing pandemic, the retail industry has been impacted by a number of changes to consumer buying behaviors that will likely last for years to come. With health and safety concerns enduring, brick-and-mortar retailers are seeing declining foot traffic. For example, in the third week of March alone, foot traffic in U.S. stores fell 58.4 percent, with the apparel sector experiencing a shocking 78.9 percent decline. At the same time, it’s no surprise that essential businesses like grocers are seeing sales increases, particularly online.
Whether a retailer has had to scale back its supply chain given decreased demand, increase its operational output given the essential products it's providing, or change operations to account for new health and safety standards, technology is at the heart of retailers’ ability to seamlessly shift processes so the consumer experience isn't disrupted.
More retail executives are recognizing the importance of technology as well: According to Total Retail’s 2020 Retail Technology Report, two-thirds of retail executive respondents planned to increase technology spending over the next 12 months. Even in this “new normal,” focusing on technology will remain crucial as retailers determine how to update operations in a post-pandemic world while still meeting consumers’ expectations for speedy order fulfillment and real-time tracking.
In addition to marketing and CRM tools, three of the top areas where retail execs plan to focus are software-driven: 36 percent on inventory management software, 29 percent on order fulfillment software, and 26 percent on security and fraud prevention software. These figures demonstrate that retailers are looking to supplement marketing by bolstering their supply chain performance.
So how can retailers use each of these technologies to improve operations and continue delivering a positive customer experience?
Inventory Management Software
Online ordering is surging, and consumer expectations for instantaneous delivery hasn’t gone away. As soon as a consumer clicks “order” or “purchase,” they expect to receive a delivery date, tracking number and real-time updates on order status. However, the difficulty for retailers is that inventory is no longer just in the warehouse — it’s in trucks, trains, sorting facilities, delivery vehicles or even shipping in from overseas.
With inventory management software, retailers can understand where their inventory is, how to manage it, and how to move it efficiently. These insights can help retailers appropriately staff each step of the supply chain while giving them an understanding of how much space is needed to store products. This information can then help retailers reduce overhead, in turn keeping costs down for consumers.
Order Fulfillment Software
As retailers leverage technology to understand where their inventory lies, they're also using technology to fulfill orders, whether these are in physical retail locations, through online shopping, or buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS) methods.
According to studies, 63 percent of all operating costs in a typical warehouse can be attributed to order picking. Deploying a voice picking solution can add significant improvements to order fulfillment processes, enabling warehouses to achieve greater order accuracy and improved productivity. By integrating voice picking into a company's warehouse management system or ERP solution, warehouse workers can more easily find inventory by using a headset that points them to the product, kicking off the order fulfillment process.
Security and Fraud Prevention Software
In a retail environment, security can mean anything from front-of-store cameras and facial recognition technology designed to stop shoplifters, to fraud prevention software at the point of sale. Security is critical for retailers to help prevent shrink, which is a loss of inventory due to theft, shoplifting, error or fraud. In 2017 alone, shrink cost retailers $46.8 billion, according to the National Retail Federation. Investing in security solutions throughout the retail supply chain, within physical locations and through effective POS systems can reduce these unnecessary losses and help retailers ensure optimal return on investment.
Delivering on the Customer Experience Promise
While most of us couldn’t have predicted the impact from the pandemic, investing in software solutions can help retailers prepare for the future. Reducing manual processes and implementing software tools throughout the supply chain can help retailers become more agile, enabling them to scale operations seamlessly without impacting the overall customer experience.
A retailer's ultimate goal is to provide consumers with the products they need in a timely manner — it’s time to rely on technology as the ultimate facilitator.
Jim Dempsey is director of U.S. business development and partnerships at Panasonic North America. Panasonic is a leading technology partner to businesses and governments, at the forefront of everything from electric batteries to smart cities to high-tech stadium experiences.
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