By George Pepes, APAC Vertical Solutions Lead, Healthcare and Retail, Zebra Technologies

With the 2019 festive season of retail activity fast approaching, forward-thinking retailers are already ramping up their preparations, to ensure a smoother and more profitable holiday season fuelled by fevered consumer spending. The on-demand economy has transformed customer experiences, with retailers facing mounting pressure to ensure today’s omnichannel shoppers get what they want, when they want it.

All of these is putting massive pressure on retailers during this time of year. Christmas is a big trading period for most retailers, with many depending on Black Friday and Christmas shopping to bolster annual sales results. Similarly, in Asia, retailers depend heavily on shopping events such as Singles’ Day in China. Also known as 11/11, Singles’ Day surpassed any other one-day shopping events around the world by a wide margin, with consumers spending 231.5 billion yuan (US$30.8 billion) over a 24-hour period in 2018.

With the bulk of shopping activity set to take place online, retailers and logistics providers have been rapidly improving their delivery offerings. Meanwhile, consumers are taking no chances on missing home deliveries so “click and collect” deliveries are expected to grow at twice the rate of normal deliveries. In fact, many traditional retailers are encouraging store-based click and collect via free or cheaper in-store collection to drive add-on sales. Right now, click and collect accounts for one-sixth of the overall online delivery market. This presents a huge opportunity for retailers who are suffering from dwindling footfall. However, Zebra’s 2019 Global Shopper study shows more than three-quarters (76 percent) of retail decision makers agree that accepting and/or managing returns of online orders is a significant challenge.

The 2019 Global Shopper Study also revealed that 55 percent of surveyed retail store associates agree that their company is understaffed, and nearly one-half (49 percent) feel overworked. And these numbers would surely be higher among those working tirelessly behind the scenes to fulfil and maintain the stock levels along with managing orders and the activity spike during the peak of the festive season.

So what of the logistics elves working behind the scenes who work tirelessly to pack, ship and deliver the much-coveted sales items? While the pressure mounts on retailers, it’s worth taking time to consider those in the warehouses and delivery vans making sure Santa’s gifts are delivered on time.

Reducing Injuries, Increasing Productivity

A distribution centre at peak time will probably conjure images of boxes and parcels along conveyor belts and staff furiously lifting, packing and scanning. It would be easy too, to imagine any complaints of injury would be a result of heavy lifting. In fact, one of the biggest causes of pain is repetitive strain injury (RSI). The nature of repeated scanning at such huge frequency has a knock-on effect on the front-line users.

To combat this, logistics firms and warehouses are investing in technology that better marries capability with ergonomics. Toll Global Logistics, a leading provider and innovator of logistics services in Asia Pacific, saw its service offering – Customised Solutions, implement the TC8000 enterprise mobile computer, through a pilot with Zebra. Not only did it experience productivity gains, Toll also saw elevated workforce user experience at its Altona distribution centres.

Maximising the Capabilities of Workers

Beyond front-line workers’ safety, technology is revolutionising the efficiency of warehouses worldwide. The use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is becoming increasingly prevalent – one look at the Ocado warehouse demonstrates the absolute wonder of robotics in distribution. But similarly, clever tweaks and upgrades have helped staff in all points of the logistics chain to maximise efficiency and better manage inventory, supply chain and customer satisfaction levels.

Radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology and inventory management platforms are expected to grow by 49 percent in the next few years, accordingly to Zebra’s Future of Fulfilment Study. RFID-enabled software, hardware and tagging solutions offer up-to-the-minute, item-level inventory lookup, heightening inventory accuracy and shopper satisfaction while reducing out of stocks, overstocks and replenishment errors.

In one customer warehouse, Zebra is helping staff track goods by pairing RFID and drones. The combination speeds up discovery of goods and dramatically increases the accuracy of stock management.

During the busy peaks, when temporary workers are being utilised and time is at an absolute premium, it is crucial that logistics firms have technology on hand that is easy to train staff on and reduces risk of error. Maximising use via extended battery life and rugged design is also an absolute coup. Having one device offers these benefits plus maximised staff efficiency and less injury.

In the lead up and during the year-end festive season, logistics and retail businesses employ additional seasonal workers in significant numbers. With its advanced Android devices and understanding of retail and logistics, Zebra is also working with businesses to develop on-device training using videos to speed up the training process and help workers to be more productive.

All Hail the Logistics Heroes

According to a 2018 eMarketer survey, consumers in Asia and around the world reportedly spent more than $1 billion in the first 90 seconds of the day. It was also reported that Alibaba’s logistics affiliate Cainiao delivered their first 100 million parcels in 2.6 days, and that altogether, a total of 1 billion orders from the Double 11 shopping spree were made.

The exponential increase in delivery volume, and complexity of omnichannel retail has undoubtedly made the supply chain more challenging than ever. Combined with huge peaks around sales offerings, retailers and logistics firms have never had so much to plan for. While retailers ensure that customers’ needs are being fulfilled, they should take a step back and show their appreciation to the thousands of  people (and technology) who are working tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure all of the gift giving that happens this time of year is as frictionless as possible.

For more information, please visit: Zebra’s retail solutions.

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