The ongoing pandemic has caused disruption to all industries, and the supply chain hasn’t been immune. Businesses are constantly having to adapt to a rapidly changing environment where social distancing regulations are changing as new information becomes available, and consumer demand for products fluctuates as lockdown restrictions evolve.
Unsurprisingly, the UK lockdown that began in March caused a boom in online shopping, due to the restrictions placed on non-essential visits to brick-and-mortar shops and supermarkets. In fact, eCommerce businesses have reported a since April. We’re likely to see this increased demand for eCommerce expand even more through the second lockdown and as Christmas approaches – and supply chain businesses need to optimise their operations to cope.
Ensuring speed and productivity with enhanced technology
For supply chain organisations trying to stay profitable and maximise productivity, warehouse technology is crucial. One of the best ways to empower staff to stay productive is with handheld mobile devices. Whilst such devices are commonplace in the modern warehouse, substantial upgrades to the technology mean that they can now help businesses withstand the COVID-19 storm. The latest technology has moved beyond the much-maligned, green screen devices of the past towards sleeker, more streamlined designs that offer user-friendly interfaces.
By moving away from ruggedized Windows operating systems to a modern, touchscreen Android user experience, these devices are not only much simpler to use, but they can speed up the onboarding process for new employees. The fact these devices have a clearer user interface and better emulate the consumer mobile phones that staff will already be used to allows them to hit the ground running without being slowed down in lengthy training processes. This is especially important as increased numbers of new staff have been taken on this year to keep operations running smoothly. Employees on the warehouse floor are under immense pressure to meet heightened demand and a smooth onboarding process is key to unlocking greater productivity and efficiency.
Wearable devices that improve order picking have also benefited from innovation and upgrades. With wearable devices, employees are no longer hamstrung by slow, manual processes. Hands-free wearables, such as vision and voice-enabled solutions, allow pickers to benefit from increased accuracy and speed, which in turn enables them to complete more orders within the same timeframe. This level of increased productivity is top of mind for supply chain businesses as they approach the peak season of Christmas shopping.
Reducing errors by staying on top of inventory management
The increase in consumer demand experienced during the pandemic has also brought inventory management into the foreground as, earlier in the year, many businesses experienced stock shortages, which had a knock-on effect on customer satisfaction.
The first step is matching supply with demand – too much stock and too little demand is just as much of a hindrance to operations as the opposite. Not only does capacity become an issue but the bottom line will be impacted if retailers can’t shift stock fast enough. In order to mitigate this issue, supply chain businesses must track items throughout their journey to the consumer, ensure they keep appropriate stock levels based on predicted demand and that this information is communicated along the chain. With a connected Order Management System (OMS), an out of stock product can be quickly communicated and businesses can ensure it’s removed from the website as quickly as possible to avoid miscommunication with customers and a resulting hit to satisfaction, which would occur if people were to order an item they were later told is out of stock. There is simply no room for errors caused by manual inventory management in this new retail landscape.
Supply chain businesses can take error reduction and customer satisfaction one step further by investing in more accurate picking. With enhanced accuracy, fluctuating customer demand can be handled easily by fewer employees in the warehouse – as dictated by social distancing regulations. Furthermore, improved accuracy means that there will be a reduction in the number of times an item is handled, due to less errors occurring. Employees can also determine the most efficient route around the warehouse by using voice and vision-picking solutions which allow them to head straight to the location they need to, without unnecessary contact with colleagues or time wasted by taking a longer route than necessary.
Supply chain businesses are contending with a plethora of uncertainty brought on by the pandemic. Whilst the future remains unclear, making strategic technological investments that give businesses a competitive edge and safeguard against further economic doubts is key. It will be those companies that invest in technology such as handheld mobile devices and voice-picking solutions that will succeed in this challenging year by successfully optimising their operations to cope with unpredictable demand.