Warehouse Automation Critical to Future-Proof Fulfillment Strategies and Operations

By Jeff Schmitz | 07/07/2019 | 3:36 PM

Most enterprises recognize that technology can fuel greater speed and efficiency in their operations. As a result, warehouses and fulfillment centers are evolving with the latest technology to keep up with the growing on-demand economy. Zebra’s 2024 Warehousing Vision study reveals the benefits of an intelligent operation and its impact on future growth plans. The study found that almost half (46%) of surveyed respondents cited faster delivery to end-customers as the primary factor driving their warehouse growth plans.

Zebra surveyed more than 1,400 IT and operations professionals in manufacturing, transportation and logistics, retail and wholesale distribution markets globally. More than 60 percent of those surveyed said IT and technology utilization was the most anticipated operational challenge over the next five years and a desired long-term outcome for increased asset visibility, real-time guidance and data-driven performance.

Sixty percent of organizations cited labor recruitment and/or labor efficiency and productivity among their top challenges. This is particularly relevant to enterprises that experience a peak season and struggle with the speed of training temporary employees. To speed-up new hire training, innovative mobile devices that are intuitive and require little to no training are the solution. Most respondents (77 percent) agreed that remaining competitive in this economy means modernizing processes, but many respondents also stated that they are slow to implement new technology.

Thankfully, transitioning to a more technologically advanced workspace isn’t an all-or-nothing overhaul approach. Instead, companies can incrementally implement new technologies so they can move at their own pace while also arming employees with the tools necessary to be successful in the fast-changing warehouse space. More than three-quarters (77 percent) of respondents agreed that augmenting workers with technology is the best way to introduce automation in the warehouse, showcasing the potential for technological innovation to improve productivity.

The future of warehouses looks bright, with about nine in 10 enterprises (87 percent) currently increasing or planning to expand the size of their warehouses by 2024, and 83 percent of respondents plan to increase their number of employees. Today’s consumer demands, like one-day shipping, mean enterprises must find ways to create more efficient work flows to fulfill these needs, and the latest technology is a key part of the solution.


Deploying Intuitive Technologies to Train the Next Generation Workforce

By Jeff Schmitz | 06/03/2019 | 9:10 AM

With summer quickly approaching and millions of new college graduates entering the job market, companies have the opportunity to recruit the next generation of employees. Training plays a pivotal role in onboarding these new hires to set them up for positive performance and long-term success.

U.S. companies spent an astounding $70 billion+ last year on learning and development. Today, many enterprises are exploring new strategies to train employees at a lower cost. With digital transformation, new technologies offer companies fresh ways to train their new talent.

Because Millennials and Generation Z are “digital natives,” they can easily adapt to new technologies. Better yet, many newer handheld devices and interfaces mimic the look and feel of technologies used outside the workplace, like their smartphones, making adoption more seamless.

One example is Zebra Technologies’ MC9300 Android enterprise mobile computer. Ideal for inventory management, receiving/put-away and much more in warehouses, manufacturing, logistics and back-of-store retail environments, this device was specifically designed to be highly intuitive for ease of use. Zebra’s proprietary Mobility DNA suite of end-user applications, application development tools and utilities transform this Android device into a worker productivity tool that reduces training and adoption time.

New technologies help streamline common pain points like training and day-to-day tasks for recent college graduates and other front-line workers. Deploying intuitive devices, operating systems and platforms allows employees of all ages and even those who are less tech-savvy to feel comfortable with learning new processes or skills. The more enterprises invest in training employees with new technology, the more streamlined the onboarding process will be in the future.

Whether in a busy warehouse or an active back-of-store area, spending hours or even days training new hires can be prevented using the right technology. Companies that embrace new tools will help ensure their employees are more productive in the long term.

Embracing New Expectations Around Mobility Across the Supply Chain

By Jeff Schmitz | 04/08/2019 | 7:35 AM


As the modern workplace continues to evolve into an intelligent, innovation-driven environment that connects the physical and digital worlds, front-line workers throughout the supply chain have experienced enormous change across their job functions, especially in recent years. From cycle counting and put away to replenishment and picking, their daily tasks have been modified by technology, resulting in increased efficiency and productivity as well as a greater level of data-driven operational visibility.


In many aspects, the emergence of the modern workplace goes hand-in-hand with the “on-demand economy.” Driven by shifting expectations, both from businesses and consumers, companies across the supply chain are closely evaluating processes and implementing new standards and practices around e-commerce and omnichannel fulfillment, inventory management, labor optimization, safety protocols and more.  


Meeting shoppers’ omnichannel product delivery and fulfillment expectations calls for a digital transformation of the supply chain that addresses key pain points. In today’s highly competitive and fast-paced marketplace, failure to adapt new productivity-enhancing technology can be very costly. By leveraging intuitive mobile technology, including rugged smartphones and tablets, scanners, printers and wearables, growing pains for manufacturers, warehouses, retailers and transportation and logistics (T&L) firms have been reduced. However, there are no signs that this rapid pace of innovation will let up anytime soon.


A New Age of Operations and Mobile Computing

Supply chain participants count on real-time data to improve productivity on the plant floor, accelerate collaboration across disparate teams and plan their next move (or react to unplanned events). As businesses adapt new workflows around order processing, materials handling, returns and other activities in the B2B2C era, they need to implement the right Internet of Things (IoT) technologies to capture and communicate data. Zebra’s new MC9300 mobile computer is an example of a connected device that empowers employees at the operational edge of the supply chain to share and act upon real-time insights, giving their business a performance edge over those who may be utilizing legacy data capture and mobile computing technologies.


But technologies new and old alike are only as effective as employees are confident in their ability to utilize those technologies.  Employee training has been a pain point for manufacturers and distributors for a long time, in particular for those with sizeable seasonal staff and high turnover. Supply chains can’t afford operational slowdowns or errors caused by technologies that aren’t intuitive, so new employees need to be onboarded in a timely, effective manner and trained how to leverage these tools within their workflow on “day one.” Intuitive mobile computers like the MC9300 offer an avenue to support this best practice by reducing the learning curve and adoption time by leveraging the Android operating system and enhancing it for key tasks across the supply chain. For example, essential information regarding inventory management, shipment status, quality control and more can be easily accessed on-the-go, helping to improve worker productivity by as much as 10 percent over legacy solutions. Furthermore, as tech-savvy millennials join the workforce, technology that mimics the experience of a smartphone helps expedite training without compromising the unique environmental and ergonomic requirements of an industrial enterprise setting


As Microsoft prepares to end support for existing Windows Embedded Handheld and CE 7 devices in 2020 and 2021 respectively, decision-makers are relying on their enterprise devices to offer features that facilitate a seamless migration to Android. Building on its extensive supply chain experience, Zebra offers enterprise leaders a clear path to Android operating system migration with the MC9300 through extended lifecycle support. It also includes innovation like a Terminal Emulation (TE) application designed to take advantage of the graphical capabilities of the device while easily supporting traditional “green screen” usage.


As companies continue modifying their operations to better accommodate and advance best practices relevant to the on-demand economy, they will need the right tools to do so. Seeking out and deploying next-generation solutions – designed with front-line workers in mind – is a critical first step toward embracing mobility and maintaining a competitive edge.

Why IoT and Mobility Investments Will Continue to Rise in the On-Demand Economy

By Jeff Schmitz | 02/22/2019 | 9:53 AM

2018 was a year of impressive growth for many manufacturers, transporters, 3PLs and warehouse operators: a strong on-demand economy led consumers to embrace the omnichannel retail model for everything from cars to clothes, big-ticket technology items to everyday grocery essentials. That generated increasing demands on manufacturing, warehousing, distribution and delivery services. It also placed renewed pressure on many organizations to invest in technology solutions that would enable them to meet new compliance, efficiency and cost standards enforced by industry regulators, partners and customers alike while simultaneously addressing a capacity shortage from both the warehousing and transportation perspectives.

In the last 12 months, many manufacturers took meaningful strides toward modernizing technology infrastructures in their factories and implementing fully paperless workflows. Warehouses began their migration from Windows Mobile and CE operating to Android-based mobile computers, and T&L leaders continued to upgrade their scanners and mobile computers to more advanced, reliable rugged technology platforms that can provide real-time guidance for drivers and loading dock crews. The goal is to keep things moving without delay, and these fundamental technology investments are mission-critical for companies that want to keep up with growing consumer expectations without compromising operational efficiency or precision.

But it is no longer enough to simply give workers a mobile device in lieu of paper-based forms or checklists. Manufacturers, retailers and their T&L industry partners have become highly co-dependent on one another to meet the expedited production and delivery deadlines dictated by the “on-demand economy.” There is a shared accountability to deliver what customers want, when they want it – and that requires supply chain organizations to deliver what their industry partners need, when they need it. Yes, using mobile technologies to collaboratively track and trace raw materials or finished goods, increase picking and packing speeds, conduct thorough quality inspections and manage real-time order changes is now mandatory. But so is continued innovation.

If anything is clear as we look ahead in 2019, it’s that mobile technology utilization is ripe for expansion, and many supply chains are well-primed to implement more advanced Internet of Things (IoT) solutions throughout their production, warehousing, and distribution operations. Real-time data accessibility – and a clear understanding of that data – have become essential to the improvement of supply chain performance and central to meeting consumers’ growing expectations.


Data Delivered Faster

Manufacturers, T&L providers and warehouse/DC operators require up-to-the-minute asset data to identify inventory locations, understand customer preferences, manage change orders, improve utilization and more. It is real-time data that empowers them to relieve congestion on warehouse floors, alert team members when materials have arrived, flag issues to managers and remain agile during periods of market volatility.

Openly sharing data with internal teams and industry partners via IoT technologies, wearables, rugged scanners or rugged mobile devices – such as handheld, tablet, and vehicle-mounted computers – can increase collaboration and help identify spot areas for improvement throughout the supply chain. In fact, sharing and acting on real-time data will likely differentiate enterprises over the next year, giving users of real-time data a performance edge over those lagging in their deployment of real-time data collection and distribution solutions.


Direct-To-Consumer Shipments

 The prioritization of convenience for consumers reinforces the need for manufacturers and T&L leaders to invest in enterprise-grade IoT and mobility solutions. Business to consumer (B2C) and business to business (B2B) operations have traditionally been separate within these industries. However, with the growing popularity of e-commerce, there is more pressure for companies to accommodate a B2B2C business model. Drop shipping and direct-to-consumer shipments, or sending goods from warehouses directly to consumers, will continue to gain traction over the course of the next year. Successfully executing these two delivery models will require manufacturers and their supply chain partners to embrace digital technology architectures that facilitate the faster movement – and improve the management – of goods as they change hands from the factory through the last mile. IoT technologies are central to these architectures as they are uniquely capable of providing deep visibility into business processes and supporting increased transit speeds. They also keep customers continuously informed about the movement of their purchases, which keeps them happy and minimizes the burden on your team to field order status inquiries. But IoT is not just beneficial for asset tracking; though it certainly excels at that job.

Just consider the expansive capabilities of Zebra’s Savanna™ data intelligence platform. You have massive volumes of data flowing through your organization every second, but it is useless unless you have a way to quickly collect this data from your devices and sensors in real-time and then analyze that raw data to gain an accurate picture of your current business – and supply chain – performance.  Savanna encompasses building blocks such as IoT, artificial intelligence and machine learning. The platform powers next-gen applications and solutions, allowing them to transform seemingly disparate nuggets of data into digestible, and actionable, insights that are accessible across a host of mobile computing devices that are already in the hands of workers, supply chain partners and customers. These intelligent edge solutions create the data-powered environments and provide the real-time guidance needed to replace “best guesses” with fully-informed decisions.


Ultimately, more enterprises will rely on technology-agnostic platforms such as Savanna to reveal the best path forward for their digital transformation. More manufacturers and T&L providers will be empowered to progressively innovate in a way that delivers fully digital workflows, increases efficiency, and makes business more profitable and productive, without being disruptive or wasteful.

What It Means to Be an Intelligent Enterprise in 2019

By Jeff Schmitz | 01/02/2019 | 12:25 PM

Today, more than ever, transportation & logistics (T&L) and manufacturing companies are leveraging mobility, cloud and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies to transform their business and better serve their customers in the on-demand economy. Based on Zebra Technologies’ second annual Intelligent Enterprise Index, 82 percent of surveyed companies across both industries are sharing information from their IoT solutions with employees more than once a day. This is up from 70 percent in 2017. And approximately two-thirds of these share it in real- or near-real time to help prevent and address disruptions or mishaps. Leading companies are making the transition to Industry 4.0 – collecting and analyzing data during every step of their processes – to maximize their efficiency. Ultimately, this has resulted in the adoption of more “intelligent” business practices.

However, it is no easy feat to quantify how intelligent an enterprise is or how much the T&L and manufacturing space is changing to adopt IoT solutions. How “intelligent” an enterprise is cannot simply be determined by which technology solutions a company utilizes. It also depends on how they analyze and use the data they collect, their plans for change management and solution adoption, IoT security and infrastructure, and more. Each of these activities help enterprises empower their employees to excel at their jobs and provide an exceptional customer experience.

For the past two years, Zebra has tracked the progress of intelligent enterprises through our Intelligent Enterprise Index, an end-user survey designed to understand where companies are on the path to becoming a truly intelligent enterprise. This global survey reveals that more companies than ever are adopting IoT solutions to make smarter business decisions. The number of companies meeting the criteria that define today’s intelligent enterprise has doubled to 10 percent this year, highlighting new momentum around IoT deployments. The criteria include business engagement and the use of technology solution partners among others.

The survey also shows there is now less resistance to the adoption of IoT solutions as they become more prevalent. This year’s report shows 50 percent of companies are not expecting or experiencing resistance to IoT adoption moving forward. In last year’s survey, only a quarter of survey respondents reported a lack of resistance. In addition, 84 percent of companies anticipate it will take two years or less to complete implementation of their IoT solutions, showing a positive trend toward quicker execution compared to the prior year (79 percent).

As new technologies continue to digitally transform the front lines of business, it’s critical for manufacturers and T&L firms to adopt IoT solutions. Companies across the globe are demonstrating a greater reliance on a solution ecosystem with many relying on a strategic partner or vendor to manage their IoT solutions. Our survey findings reveal that more than half of companies have established an IoT vision and are executing on their IoT plans. With the right vision, technology and partner, the results of our survey indicate becoming a truly intelligent enterprise is more attainable than ever.

Next-Generation Mobility Solutions Offer the Best in Form and Function

By Jeff Schmitz | 10/11/2018 | 10:34 AM

Intelligent enterprises are increasingly investing in platforms that can maximize workforce productivity and their return on investment (ROI) in the ever-evolving, on-demand economy. Mobility solutions are crucial for businesses to stay competitive and better support a workforce that relies on mobile technology to produce higher levels of visibility, reliability and accuracy. These devices must be functional, secure and compact for ease-of-use for today’s workers in multiple industries including retail, manufacturing, and transportation and logistics.

Designed to improve operations on the front-line of the workforce, mobile devices are ideal for a variety of uses both inside and outside of the warehouse. These devices are crucial to help in-store staff, direct store delivery (DSD) drivers, field service workers and first responders stay connected to their teams and make smart decisions in real time. Mobility solution devices also have an extensive range of benefits that can improve key day-to-day activities like inventory management, price/audit changes, click and collect, last mile delivery, DSD and route optimization.  

Zebra Technologies recently launched its TC5x and TC7x mobile touch computers, our most advanced enterprise-grade mobile computer platform along with enhanced mobility software tools. These new devices feature the latest advancements in positioning, connectivity and security to deliver superior workforce performance and customer service. With a new front-facing camera, the latest Wi-Fi and Bluetooth enhancements, and an ultra-powerful processor, this newest generation of devices enables front-line workers to communicate efficiently and maximize their productivity.

For today’s workforce, what’s on the outside of a device is as important as what’s on the inside. Warehouse employees are best served by devices that can pack a punch in terms of capabilities but are as contemporary and easy to use as their personal smartphones. Zebra’s new handheld mobile touch computers run on the Android™ operating system, which is user-friendly and can be shared freely across other product families and future generations of Android™.

Thanks to easy system integration, these devices are future-proofed and can help organizations lower their total cost of ownership in the long run. Best of all, these mobile touch computers have an ultra-rugged construction and drop-resistant features which means they are perfect for warehouse and fleet management applications. From product picking/put-away to driver logging, these devices can hold up to the most rigorous activities in and around the warehouse.

Mobility solutions have the potential to maximize workforce productivity and help enterprises rise above the competition and differentiate themselves within their markets. As businesses look for reliable, durable, and modern mobile solutions to support their front-line workers, the ever-evolving enterprise touch computing industry can provide support and create a seamless, enjoyable experience that delivers a performance edge. By investing in advanced technology like Zebra’s new mobile devices, businesses can empower their workers to do their jobs with more efficiency now and in the future.

Addressing What’s Next in the On-Demand Economy with Intelligence at the Edge

By Jeff Schmitz | 08/28/2018 | 9:26 AM

We live in a world where the line is blurring between the digital and the physical, and instantaneous service delivery is becoming ubiquitous. In an age of hyper personalization, convenience and information, customers expect what they want exactly when, where, and how they want it. Immediate gratification is the new norm. This on-demand economy continues to push what it means for enterprises to be “customer-driven,” and they must digitize operations to remain relevant and compete. Early attempts to address these needs sparked innovation at the core of the enterprise, but today innovation is exploding at “the edge” of business.

The edge is where we create seamless and frictionless customer experiences. From sales associates who delight shoppers with the items they want without leaving their side, warehouse workers who pick inventory so that the right things get to the right customers at the right time, and truck drivers who take the most direct and efficient route to get packages to recipients sooner.

Where we used to centralize operations, forward-thinking companies are now pushing resources and intelligence to the edge. For example, instead of sending all information to the cloud, now some of it can be transmitted nearby where it’s created. Think about how traditionally, inventory has been stored in warehouses, but as retailers gain better visibility into stock, ecommerce inventory can now be pulled from the local retail stores. Rather than waiting for a package to arrive, shoppers now have the option to pick up a purchase at a local brick-and-mortar location when and where it’s convenient.

In these demonstrations of smart environments at the edge, the employees making real-time decisions and interacting with the products and people they serve become even more critical to enhancing the customer experience. In today’s customer-centric business environment, front-line workers must be armed with the tools and data-driven insights to drive successful outcomes.

Within the supply chain, empowering employees with the latest technology and real-time insights helps companies gain a critical performance edge. Nearly all supply chain professionals we recently surveyed said that by 2020, they will use handheld mobile computers with barcode scanners to attain omnichannel logistics capabilities to meet customer expectations for speed, quality and performance.

In an era in which 78 percent of logistics companies expect to provide same-day delivery, finding ways to digitally transform operations and empower employees with intelligence at the edge has never been more important.

Innovation is happening in front of our eyes, but forward-thinking companies are looking ahead to what’s next in the on-demand economy and creating flawless customer experiences at the edge. Those who don’t will be left behind.

Real-Time Location Intelligence Drives the Smart Factory

By Jeff Schmitz | 08/07/2018 | 6:39 AM

The on-demand economy and unprecedented customer expectations are fueling a shift toward the smart factory. In fact, our Manufacturing Vision Study found the number of fully-connected factories is expected to double by 2022, showing industry leaders are poised for significant progress over the next few years. While shifting to the smart factory model may be daunting to some, when you look at some of the technologies involved that can provide near-term ROI, it’s easy to see the path to growth. One example is location solutions.

When you don't know the location or condition of your most critical assets, it’s nearly impossible to maintain control over your operations. The only way to ensure quality, speed, efficiency and performance levels that meet today’s customer demands is to achieve 100 percent visibility within your factory and connect previously siloed operations. As the Internet of Things (IoT) impacts the evolution of the enterprise and fuels the connected factory, many manufacturers are looking to real-time location tracking for increased visibility into their business operations.

Location information drives operational intelligence in accelerating digital transformation. With a solid understanding of the exact location of assets, goods and people, manufacturers can determine if their operations are working as expected and make decisions based on real-time data to course-correct when things go wrong. By linking asset location, status and motion/flows, companies can increase control, minimize downtime and maximize performance.

Location solutions such as Zebra MotionWorks™ can automatically sense the location of assets and inventory, streamlining production lines and delivering actionable insights to increase productivity and efficiency. This facilitates the continuous flow of goods between transportation systems, distribution centers and manufacturing plants, ensuring the right tools arrive at the right work station at the right time. For an automotive manufacturer, location visibility translates into less on-hand inventory from local suppliers due to improved accuracy along with significantly reduced inventory-carrying costs and improved labor productivity.

In addition to streamlining workflows and boosting performance and efficiency, location solutions help ensure the safety of employees. On plant floors where workers are constantly surrounded by hazards, adopting solutions to reduce human error and keep the workforce safe is critical. With the added visibility that location solutions provide, plant floor managers can increase connectivity, enhance compliance processes and ensure work is handled according to safety requirements.

While helping protect the workforce, location solutions can also equip factory employees with accurate, real-time edge data. According to Zebra’s Intelligent Enterprise Index, 70 percent of companies already share information from their IoT solutions with their employees more than once a day. Interestingly, two-thirds of these companies share this data in real or near-real time.

Ultimately, location solutions and the intelligence provided by them empower front-line workers with a performance edge as they have the real-time guidance to execute tasks and make strategic business decisions to advance operations.

What Happens When Enterprises Take a Page from the NFL’s Playbook?

By Jeff Schmitz | 06/01/2018 | 10:31 AM

The NFL may be in the offseason, but it’s primetime for warehouses and distribution centers

Over the past few years, the NFL has adopted its own strategy to generate and analyze data and insights. By planting coin-sized RFID chips in players’ shoulder pads—and the footballs—the NFL has access to unprecedented data about speed, distance traveled, acceleration and more. This technology turns a football field into a series of data points. For example, NFL coaches can quantify and analyze quarterback accuracy or running back durability over the course of a game.

This collective information creates what we call a ‘digital diary’ of what’s happening at every moment of the game. The data is used to enhance the fan experience with never-before-seen, real-time player statistics. It also offers important insights about athlete performance to inform coaches’ strategies and enhance player safety. In addition to fan-friendly stats—for example, Jacksonville Jaguars rookie running back Leonard Fournette recorded the fastest ball carries of the season—coaches can analyze wide receiver route efficiency, and team trainers can monitor fatigue patterns to preempt injuries.

By now you’re probably wondering why I’m talking about football strategy in a publication read by logistics and supply chain managers and executives. Worlds apart at first glance, both those on the front line of a football field, and on the front line of a warehouse or retail store, look to RFID technology and sensors to gain a performance edge. In fact, enterprises can learn a lot from the NFL.

Much like how a football field becomes a grid of data points and connections for fans, a plant floor can do the same for administrators, providing actionable insights to dictate the next best action. The same technology that captures “Next Gen Stats” about football games and player performance, also generates next-gen stats in manufacturing—from inventory stock to field route optimization to load monitoring and management—and everything in between.

While coaches and fans track a football’s journey to the end zone, logistics executives track a parcel’s path from fulfillment through delivery to a shopper’s door. Even more, with the visibility and insights generated from tracking technology, a fleet manager has the power to adjust and optimize a truck driver’s route based on real-time information. A trailer operator can load the vehicle safely and efficiently without excess space. Even in the healthcare environment, a hospital can guarantee it’s connecting the right patient to the right care and medicine at the right time.

From football players to hospital patients to key assets in a warehouse, data-powered environments offer real-time insights and visibility needed to capture performance edge and reach higher levels of productivity, growth and service.

Navigating the New Fulfillment Model Starts with Collaboration

By Jeff Schmitz | 04/17/2018 | 4:03 PM

The ‘always-connected’ consumer has higher expectations than ever before. These include the latest in buying and shipping options, faster delivery and a seamless online experience. The same digital transformations that continue to fuel this on-demand economy are now challenging manufacturers, retailers and logistics firms to navigate a new fulfillment landscape. With ecommerce expected to generate $4.479 trillion in retail sales by 2021, investing in new technologies and implementing digital, automated processes is no longer enough to keep pace. That’s why retailers and manufacturers alike are redefining their roles, exploring new business strategies and increasing collaboration as they transition to a more robust omnichannel strategy.

Retailers, for example, are focusing on the new “ship from store” strategy, leveraging their store locations to double as online fulfillment centers for shipments and ecommerce returns. Zebra’s Future of Fulfillment Vision Study - a global body of research analyzing how manufacturerstransportation and logistics (T&L) firms, and retailers are preparing to meet the growing needs of the on-demand economy - found 76 percent of retailers currently use store inventory to fill online orders. Further, six out of 10 expect that number to continue to grow and it’s anticipated that 96 percent of retailers will have dedicated fulfillment centers for online orders by 2028. With rising customer expectations for same-day and even two-hour delivery, fulfilling digital orders from brick-and-mortar store locations is one strategy key players are beginning to use, and it will soon become a requirement to succeed.

While both speed and accuracy are essential for developing a successful omnichannel strategy, only 39 percent of the survey respondents across manufacturing, retail and T&L believe they’re currently operating at the level necessary to meet today’s expectations. So how can these key players speed up the process to achieving improved visibility and accuracy while surpassing consumer expectations? The answer is simple: collaboration.

A growing number of retailers currently rely on dropshipping, in which manufacturers themselves are responsible for delivering products directly to the consumers, bypassing the retailer’s inventory altogether. Expanding beyond these capabilities, retailers have also started to leverage strategies including curbside and warehouse pickup as well as third-party locations like parcel shops and lockers. As for logistics companies, 78 percent of those surveyed expect to provide same-day delivery by 2023, and 40 percent anticipate delivery within a two-hour window by 2028.

Through the collaboration of these key players to meet consumer delivery expectations, the future of fulfillment will also be characterized by new shipping options. New technologies such as autonomous ground vehicles, drones and droids will see significant growth between now and 2028, according to our study. The new landscape will also give rise to unconventional shipping methods such as bicycle couriers and crowdsourced delivery, a method in which a network of drivers can choose to complete a specific delivery order.

So what’s next for adopting the new fulfillment model? As this model continues to evolve, it will be essential for industry leaders to come together and empower their frontline employees to drive their performance edge, ultimately improving the customer experience. This means embracing the digital transformation permeating the supply chain, proactively adopting new solutions to support the next generation omnichannel strategy, empowering employees and fostering collaboration amongst all key players.

Why Supply Chains and Manufacturers Can’t Ignore the Retail Revolution

By Jeff Schmitz | 02/20/2018 | 8:13 AM

Over the past year, the news cycle has been saturated with stories of struggling brick-and-mortar retailers fighting to keep up in an increasingly digital world. But the reality is that we saw more retail store openings than closures in 2017.  

The outlook is strong and retail technology spending is expected to rise three percent over the next three years among retailers with greater than 50 stores. It’s undeniable that we’re in the midst of a retail revolution. Here are four of the resulting trends most likely to impact supply chain managers and manufacturers:  

1.       Retail Stores Blur with Distribution Centers

The rise in alternative fulfillment options, like buy online, pick up in store (BOPIS), is driving a holistic integration of e-commerce and in-store operations. This end-to-end visibility model means retail stores should now be equipped to double as distribution centers.

New ways to place orders continue to emerge. For example, shoppers are growing increasingly comfortable with digital voice assistants. A recent study from SAP Hybris found 38 percent of voice assistant owners would consider using their assistants for holiday shopping in 2017. Furthermore, consumers may soon order coffee from their car’s infotainment system, or groceries from their flights. As these trends continue to proliferate, so will the corresponding fulfillment models. 


2.       As Shopper Expectations Continue to Climb, Supply Chains Must Rise to the Occasion

Our recent Global Shopper Study found 66 percent of shoppers prefer next- or same-day delivery. Meanwhile, more than half of online shoppers are not satisfied with the returns/exchange process.

Heightened fulfillment expectations are shifting retailers’ focus to providing online customers the immediacy of what you historically get in store. Adjusting to today’s demands will require major shifts to streamline operations, rethinking supply chains and improving transportation efficiency.

3.       Mobile Devices Give Life to a ‘New’ Store Associate

Store associates are typically available near the front of the store to best serve customers and answer any questions. At this year’s NRF: Retail’s Big Show, one trend that could not be ignored is the explosion of mobile devices – from the backend to the retail floor.

Associates armed with advanced, user-friendly mobile devices are suddenly able to take on backend or warehouse tasks without ever leaving the customer’s side, giving life to a new type of associate.

A popular demonstration at Zebra’s NRF booth highlighted the real-time visibility into stock and inventory that the right enterprise mobile device can provide. In fact, associates can identify an item’s exact location, see if an item is out of stock, and even help a customer place an online order – all right there in the moment.

4.       Renewed Focus on Quality Creates Opportunity

It was clear at NRF that quality is top of mind for retailers, even those who aren’t in the luxury business. Whether it’s recycled and environmentally-friendly materials, or custom-made, today’s consumers increasingly ask for a new standard in quality.

Achieving better quality is now more attainable and affordable than ever thanks to advancements in technology and automation. In a connected supply chain, every physical asset has a digital profile, giving manufacturers greater visibility into what is happening every step of the way. Manufacturers use these profiles to track real-time location, material allocation and condition of assets. The data can also be used to improve the overall manufacturing process, eliminate bottlenecks and communicate with suppliers.

Multiple checkpoints and real-time monitoring along the production line allow them to easily identify a point-of-failure or reconcile the bill of material, ensuring the best quality from conception to the store shelves.

The retail industry’s revolution continues to accelerate. And as the industry transforms, the integration of ecommerce and store operations, rising shopper expectations, mobile device explosion and increased focus on quality will offer tangible business opportunities for manufacturers and supply chain managers.

The opinions expressed herein are those solely of the participants, and do not necessarily represent the views of Agile Business Media, LLC., its properties or its employees.

About Jeff Schmitz

Jeff Schmitz

Jeff Schmitz is senior vice president and chief marketing officer at Zebra. Mr. Schmitz most recently served as executive vice president for multiple business units and sales at Spirent Communications where he had previously also held several senior leadership roles including chief marketing officer and vice president of networks & applications. Prior to joining Spirent, Mr. Schmitz held senior marketing positions at Rivulet Communications, Visual Networks and Tellabs Inc. Mr. Schmitz holds a B.S. degree in electrical engineering from Marquette University and a Master of Science degree in computer science from the Illinois Institute of Technology.


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