The Little-Known Secret to Retail Resiliency? Quantum Computing
Against a backdrop of inflation, weakened consumer spending power, and lingering supply chain disruption sparked by the pandemic, retailers continue to face growing complexity and uncertainty. Traffic routing, inventory management, omnichannel purchasing, staff scheduling — all have contributed to increased challenges for the industry. Forward-looking retailers are embracing new technologies to help navigate today’s dynamic landscape, investing in artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics and, increasingly, quantum computing to drive operational efficiencies.
Quantum computing has emerged as an ideal tool for identifying high-quality solutions for retail’s complex logistics challenges. Classical computers are limited in the way they can process data, and in the face of growing volumes of data and unpredictable disruptions, new technologies like quantum computing can help solve these computationally intensive problems. And the retail industry is taking notice. A study from Hyperion found almost 50 percent of retail, e-commerce, and logistic companies surveyed are exploring quantum computing. Of those, over 25 percent of retail and supply chain organizations either have quantum use case analysis and prioritization underway or have started limited in-house pilot programs.
Quantum Computing’s Impact on Retail and Supply Chain Optimization Challenges
Retailers and supply chain managers are no strangers to the increasing amount of complexity brought on by the pandemic and the rise of e-commerce. To keep operations running smoothly, they’re juggling a myriad of variables across every process of the supply chain that are well suited for quantum-classical hybrid applications, including distribution center bottlenecks, materials procurement, bin packing, route mapping, inventory maintenance, store arrangement, staffing, and scheduling.
While classical computers alone can’t process the increasing complexity arising from these business applications, quantum hybrid applications can be used to tackle these optimization problems. Hybrid applications provide the best of both worlds because they use both quantum computers and classical computation to address data analysis, providing answers to questions that were out of reach only a few years ago. Quantum computing solutions can quickly and efficiently handle complicated tasks and solve sizeable combinatorial optimization problems to provide impact at enterprise scale. To do this, quantum computers process data using qubits that allow for a vast space of solutions to be explored quickly to identify better results to complex and high-value problems.
Fueling Retail Operational Excellence Through Quantum Technology
By leveraging the power of quantum hybrid applications, retailers and supply chain managers are able to harness relevant data, gaining better insights into their increasingly complex optimization decisions in order to foresee potential issues and mitigate impact. Organizations including Johnson & Johnson, the Port of Los Angeles, and Save-On-Foods are exploring the technology to find answers to their most computationally challenging problems, addressing everything from bin packing for shipping containers to movement of gantry cranes to grocery optimization problems. To help with tackling the ever-challenging issue of employee scheduling, Groovenauts, Inc. launched a commercial service integrating quantum annealing computing technology into its technology offering because it found quantum computing to be the best way to efficiently plan staff schedules for retail stores and distribution logistics companies.
Canadian grocery chain Save-On-Foods has become a pioneer in utilizing quantum hybrid solutions to solve complicated logistical problems and bring increased optimization into its business operations. The company has reduced the time a vital grocery optimization task takes from 25 hours to a mere two minutes of calculations. Even more important than the reduction in time is the ability to optimize performance across and between a significant number of business parameters in a way that's challenging using traditional methods.
SavantX, a quantum analytics company, worked with the Port of Los Angeles to create a quantum application specific to the port’s third largest terminal — Pier 300 — to optimize cargo handling and truck scheduling using D-Wave’s annealing quantum computer. With the application, truck drivers are directed to the right container based on a crane’s current location, reducing crane movement while increasing crane productivity. The result of this system is the reduction of wait-time for truckers, and increased movement of containers out of the port. Deliveries a day per crane went from 60 to 97 following implementation, a 62 percent increase in productivity.
Looking to the future of retail and supply chain management, those that embrace the promising capabilities created by quantum computing can unlock business value and drive operational efficiencies. Today’s quantum technology and quantum hybrid applications are well-suited to tackle the retail industry’s evolving optimization problems, with the potential to improve bottom-line growth, employee satisfaction and, ultimately, customer loyalty.
Murray Thom is vice president of product management at D-Wave Systems, the leader in the development and delivery of quantum computing systems, software and services.
Murray Thom is vice president of product management at D-Wave with nearly 20 years of experience in the quantum computing industry. In previous roles at D-Wave he was responsible for the development and delivery of the Leap quantum cloud service, and the Ocean open source tools. He has led teams engaged in customer projects related to algorithms, applications, and performance testing. He has even assembled a few early quantum computers by hand.