Retail operations, specifically those touching upon fulfillment, have been forever changed by the disruptions to daily life over the past almost-two-years. A rapid acceleration in digital behaviors has driven e-commerce growth to new heights, and ushered in a brand new era of shopper expectations around product order fulfillment as well as the overall delivery experience. The retail industry has changed more in the past three years than it has over the previous thirty. To keep pace with evolving consumer behaviors, and to efficiently handle the ever-increasing volume of online orders being placed across a host of channels, including mobile, social media, websites, and even chat, retailers are finding that their future success lies in meeting this new breed of customers’ needs and expectations for delivery convenience, flexibility, and self-service.
It is becoming apparent that shoppers now want the flexibility of determining what products, goods, and services they want, when they want them, as well as how they want them delivered or returned. In response to this, retailers are designing flexible fulfillment solutions to better serve a growing audience of digital-first shoppers; deploying operational efficiencies like grouped orders to compress shipping time, and turning to machine learning and artificial intelligence-powered solutions to alleviate supply chain bottlenecks as surging demand overloads existing fulfillment systems. From automated last-mile warehouses and driver-less delivery solutions, to more streamlined order picking through augmented reality tools and AI-generated sorting system and delivery routes, next-generation solutions and technologies are enabling an exciting variety of impactful and innovative hybrid efficiencies within fulfillment operations.
As fulfillment operations begin to handle everything from online shopping mainstays like fashion and apparel products, to perishables like groceries and produce, finding ways to get closer to the consumer increasingly offers an advantage by enabling fulfillment center operators to boost efficiency and speed up deliveries. New solutions like programmed pickup and 24/7 supply are providing this benefit and increasingly driving shopper retention and brand loyalty by helping retailers solve different needs for different customer segments.
To help our members better understand and activate against the next generation of best practices in operational fulfillment, the PSFK research team has identified seven key trends reshaping the future shopper experience by optimizing retailer capabilities to unlock necessary omnichannel value through fulfillment speed and efficacy.
To keep pace with consumer expectations for on-demand delivery and efficiently handle the increasing volume of online orders being placed across a host of channels - mobile, social media, websites, chat - retailers are redesigning the warehouse for the autonomous age. From microfullment operations to robot-powered warehouses and designated eCommerce fulfillment centers, autonomous technology coupled with AI and machine learning is being layered into these environments to support human employees and streamline order picking, ultimately enabling fulfillment-center operators to boost efficiency and speed up deliveries.Pre-Programmed Efficiencies
As retailers look to expedite deliveries, offload fulfillment costs and improve their carbon footprint, they are leveraging their logistical resources and software services to better anticipate consumer demand, move product closer to consumers and even partner on shipment costs. To build a more flexible delivery model, logistics technology is being used to intercept packages mid-flight or while in transit in the case of shutdown facilities, allowing items to be rerouted in real-time. Meanwhile, delivery software providers are testing engines that optimize routes based on real-time traffic data, and predictive analytics to proactively position products within warehouse locations based on demographics, geography and purchase data.Streamlined Order Picking
In response to today’s mass adoption of both eCommerce and BOPIS channels, today’s retail employees are taking on new responsibilities when it comes to fulfillment, both within warehouses and the physical store. To better support their associates, retailers are investing in new tools and features to streamline the process of locating, selecting and ultimately fulfilling orders. From AR enabled, hands-free wearables to introducing features for customers to proactively select backup options, retailers are taking steps to improve not only their employees’ experiences but their consumers’ as well.
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