Omni-Channel Fulfillment Trends to Look for in 2017
If we look back at trade articles discussing the key trends in omni-channel fulfillment from the start of the decade, the list looks eerily similar to what the same article would show today. Businesses have been grappling with how to best serve their customers in the fast paced migration from traditional shopping to an ever-growing expectation of instant consumer gratification. Older generations are becoming more comfortable ordering online, and millennials—born with smartphones in their hands—are pushing the boundaries of where purchases can be made.
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The field of logistics has been scrambling to keep up with changes in how people consume. While the framework may not have changed, it is repeatedly refined as the path towards order fulfillment becomes more and more complex. The main areas for logistics improvements in omni-channel fulfillment are:
Software responsibilities are blurring.
The lines between which software executes which tasks is blurring. WMS, WES, WCS, LMS, etc. are all loosely used names for business software these days. Each of these monikers claims to be able to do everything from labor management to order management and inventory control. Labor management systems, for example, have seen a steep decline as other software packages have greatly increased their visibility and functionality to manage labor.
Distribution centers are simply more focused on having a single software package to rule as much as possible. This helps teams report on operations to find inefficiencies, and make sure they can support the overall business trends of more, faster, and better.
Order profiles are changing.
Just as companies continue to coordinate order fulfillment from different softwares into a single solution, the order profile has adjusted as well. According to Modern Materials Handling, over 33% of companies surveyed anticipate smaller, but more frequent, orders.
Mobile devices and in-app purchases are the fastest growing methods of purchasing, having increased to over 10% of all orders, and continuously push the speed of order fulfillment. This allows firms to supply single item orders from retail stores more than ever.
Customers expect seamless returns.
If your company wants to provide an omni-channel shopping experience, it also has to provide an omni-channel returns experience. Returns can play havoc in a distribution center, and consumers are returning more than ever before. Returns now account for more than 8.1% of sales per Inbound Logistics, and customers want to be able to return an item as easily as they bought it. This means being able to accept e-commerce items returned to a store as quickly as the item was purchased. Many retailers are partnering with UPS and 3PL companies to help ease this heavy burden.
Wearable technology improves efficiency.
Warehouse automation is occurring more and more every year. However, companies are not just investing in automated storage and retrieval and conveyor systems anymore. Wearable technology continues to grow at a fast pace, allowing workers to focus on speedier transactions with fewer mistakes. Companies are just starting to look into wearable glasses to compliment ring scanners and other RF devices. Wearable glasses can help a picker find an item via heads up display (HUD) making their productivity grow.
Bringing It All Together
Technology is one of the world’s double-edged swords, both creating problems that didn’t exist in the past and then solving those and other problems. We see this in effect in omni-channel order fulfillment, an industry that has undergone radical change since the advent of internet shopping and mobile ordering.
New issues—changes in order profile and customer expectations—are counteracted by increased efficiencies created by using wearable technology and more comprehensive software. These challenges and advantages will both continue to shape omni-channel fulfillment for years to come.