There are several overarching themes driving the push for more automation inside the four walls. Some relate to changing demographics in the labor force, others to how consumers are shopping today, and let’s not overlook the constant striving for more efficiency, productivity and cost reduction.
Collectively, these forces are creating an almost manic effort throughout the industry—spanning the continuum from material handling manufacturers all the way to warehouse operators—to automate operations wherever possible. Let’s take a look at what’s driving warehouse automation and how it’s manifesting in new equipment, technology and processes.
E-commerce and omni-channel retailing
Without a doubt, e-commerce and omni-channel retailing together are largely responsible for a significant amount of activity surrounding warehouse automation. It’s fair to say there has been a full-on explosion in the number of consumers who are using smartphones and computers to purchase goods and services, and every segment of the retail sector is being impacted from apparel and electronics to food and beverage.
Allan Davies, CMO of Symphony EYC (formerly Aldata), says that, “In the United States, there is an increasing demand to use online and mobile technologies to improve the grocery shopping experience. Shoppers want easier, more personalized, and more control over their choices and will make decisions on where they shop based on the level of these services.” The company, a provider of retail and distribution improvement software, conducted a survey of one thousand U.S. consumers over the recent holiday period with a focus on the benefits and motivations of using mobile technology for grocery shopping, in particular.
Among the findings, the most compelling advantage for grocery shoppers to use mobile technology is to avoid lines and waiting, with 54 percent of respondents citing this reason. When asked specifically about the advantages of using smartphones to shop for groceries, 60 percent of respondents said receiving personalized promotions on their favorite products would make online shopping easier, while almost 73 percent were attracted by the ability to compare prices via their smartphones. However, the survey also revealed that 88.5 percent of those polled had not yet used their smartphone to actually buy groceries during the past 12 months.
Of course, the lack of robust online grocery sites and options could definitely have something to do with this revelation. At the very least, it should serve as a wake-up call to the industry that consumers are actively looking for new ways to purchase groceries and there’s a sizeable opportunity here for retail grocers. As for grocery pick-up and delivery options, 68.7 percent said they preferred traditional store shopping for groceries with 40.2 percent preferring to order online with home delivery. When asked if they would also like to be able to order their groceries and select the relevant pick-up or delivery service through a mobile app, almost half said, “No.”
Leading warehouse automation solution providers are introducing new products and services to address the migration towards online shopping, which in turn impacts how orders are fulfilled by the warehouse. Dematic’s order fulfillment solution set supports multi-channel distribution operations from receiving to shipping.
“The Dematic solution set for multi-channel distribution operations is centered around flexible modules that scale to changing operational needs and growth,” explains Mike Khodl, vice president of solution development. “Most designs incorporate a storage buffer strategy that shares inventory across multiple distribution channels, but Dematic solutions have peak capacity flexibility built in to accommodate seasonal, promotional and weekly order surges.”