The unique requirements associated with e-commerce have played out with various degrees of success across the retail sector. Amazon stands out as an early adopter of e-commerce who continues to amaze with the number of products it offers to online shoppers. On the other hand, the grocery sector’s initial experiences were not nearly as successful.
“Many food home delivery services are going through a major transition as critical mass approaches—consolidating picking into dedicated distribution centers away from low volume, store-based operations,” writes Eric Lamphier, Manhattan Associates’ senior director, product management, in a recent Logistics Viewpoints column. “However, while the enthusiasm to address these challenges is important, recent high profile failures highlight the risks of investing in too much costly, fixed, inflexible automation. To achieve the goals of a multi-channel enterprise, agility is a higher priority than optimization to solve today’s problems in such a fast moving sector.”
Lamphier points out that the stakes are high for grocers when it comes to e-commerce. On the plus side, research shows that “online grocery shoppers end up buying more frequently and spending more money in each transaction as they come to rely on the service over time.” But on the other hand, “In the rapidly changing retail environment, supply chain inefficiencies will be exacerbated by the continued growth of online shopping and home delivery.”
Like Amazon, the giant multimedia retailer QVC is shaping the future of warehousing and distribution. Interoll provided various components, including rollers, conveyor belts and electric motors for a recent expansion of QVC’s distribution center in Huckelhoven, Germany. The DC is one of the most modern logistics centers in Europe, sending 90,000 packages daily to various points throughout the continent.
During the recent ProMat 2013 show in Chicago, Swisslog introduced its Click&Pick system. According to a company press release, “Click&Pick is a storage and high-speed order fulfillment system tailored to the U.S. e-commerce market that provides unparalleled use of retail warehouse space for faster and more efficient order fulfillment.”
It’s all about speed, emphasizes Swisslog’s senior vice president, Markus Schmidt. “As the e-commerce landscape goes mobile, we see more and more that the competitive edge will hinge on a retailer’s ability to deliver customer orders faster with better retention of profit margins,” he explains.
Mobile technology in both the consumer and commercial sides of the business is another factor that is playing a role in defining warehouse automation. Indeed, the consumerization of IT in the enterprise is so profound that many have awarded it a “disruptive technology” moniker.
In simplistic terms, one of the best examples is providing the warehouse manager with a tablet computer, or allowing him or her to bring their own device, with the intention of liberating them from behind the desk and ‘reacquainting’ them to the warehouse floor.
To get an idea of how widespread this trend has become, a recent survey of nearly 1,500 IT executives around the globe found that approximately 70 percent of companies believe a “bring your own device,” or BYOD strategy, improves work processes and will help them work better in the future, while an estimated 59 percent of IT executives think they would be at a competitive disadvantage without this ability.
Roger Bjork, director of enterprise mobility solutions for Dell Software Group, which commissioned the survey, stated: “We’re seeing dramatic changes in the way users interact with technology on their personal devices and the critical role BYOD plays in transforming business and IT culture. This global survey confirms what we have long suspected—companies that embrace a user-focused approach to BYOD may reap the biggest rewards, face the fewest obstacles and deliver real and immediate value in terms of greater efficiency, productivity and competitive advantage. Those slower to support BYOD or constrained by a device-centric approach may deal with greater challenges, including the risk of being left behind from a competitive standpoint.”