Innovation is key to supply chain success in 2019

Innovation is key to supply chain success in 2019

By Chris Tozer, Territory Manager for UK, Ireland and Italy, Ivanti Supply Chain

The demands of the consumer are central to the retail industry and so businesses must evolve in order to cater to changing preferences. In 2019, consumers will continue to shift away from the High Street, in favour of online shopping. 

According to the Office of National Statistics, online-only sales increased by 15.9% in 2017, meaning e-commerce retailers must cope with fulfilling rapidly increasing numbers of online orders. A smart e-commerce strategy can help to cope with this boom in online sales and ensure the customer experience is not negatively affected, but there are also other ways to adapt. 

Even though consumers are shying away from shopping on the High Street, bricks and mortar stores still hold value as a way to ensure customer service. Technology can be integrated into stores to minimise the gap between buying in-store and online. As well as this, sales assistants can be equipped with tablets that allow consumers to manage their accounts in-store or order products online to arrive at a later date.  

Another way to ensure customer service doesn’t fall by the wayside is to focus on providing the best delivery system. The ‘death’ of the High Street is predicted to continue into 2019 which opens up a new avenue of opportunity for e-commerce retailers: hyper-local warehouses. These are small distribution centres located in close proximity to large numbers of consumers, meaning delivery can happen much faster. 

With the introduction of schemes such as Amazon Prime Now, super-fast delivery is becoming the expectation of many consumers and retailers must innovate with schemes such as hyper-local warehouses if they want to remain competitive. 

Obviously, there is far more at work behind successful and timely delivery than proximity to the consumer. Warehouse automation has made strides in ensuring warehouses are as efficient as possible, allowing deliveries to leave the warehouse and make their way to customers smoothly. Collaborative automation has been a key trend for 2018, and will continue into the new year. 

Devices such as drones are being trailed in warehouses as they are currently deemed too much of a risk to be released onto the streets. Within warehouses, they can complete tasks such as transporting small items and surveying shelves. By integrating them with mobile scanning technology, as used by employees, drones could even sort items and identify stock outages. 

The uptake of collaborative robots (cobots) will also continue as a warehouse trend. Cobots can work safely alongside warehouse employees and take on menial, repetitive tasks so staff can be upskilled and undertake more rewarding, mindful work. 

The collaboration aspect of collaborative automation will be taken to a further level in 2019, with the ‘bionic worker’ becoming a more common reality. Heads-up technology, such as Google Glasses, will combine the benefits and efficiency of technology along with the experience of humans, proving that the uptake of automation doesn’t have to lead to unemployment. 

Legacy technology

With the increased levels of technology that will be seen in the retail supply chain during 2019, it is important not to forget that Windows Mobile End Of Life (EOL) is fast approaching. This will see supply chain technology migrate to an Android Operating System (OS) in order to remain cyber secure and efficient. 

Legacy technology, that has not been updated after Windows EOL, could affect warehouse efficiency and result in downtime that the retail industry cannot afford. With this in mind, 2019 will see many companies migrating to Android slowly for two reasons. Firstly, to spread the cost of the migration and make the process more cost efficient; and secondly, to enable workers to adjust to the new OS gradually and minimise wasted time. 

In addition to increasing productivity and customer service levels, the increased presence of technology in the retail supply chain can allow valuable interconnectivity and visibility throughout the chain. As well as mobile picking technology tracking the step each item makes, companies can implement back office systems such as an Order Management Solution (OMS). An OMS will allow valuable data recording to take place which can lead to more effective analysis and decision making across the business.

The supply chain will continue to evolve throughout 2019 with the help of technological innovation and encouraged by consumer demands. To remain successful and competitive in this landscape, businesses must be prepared and adopt smart strategies to deal with the adaptions they will inevitably face in the coming year. 

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US retail winners during 2018

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