According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, 55 per cent of people in Southeast Asia shop online at least once a month. This almost-habitual behaviour toward online shopping has consequentially left physical retailers to compete neck and neck. There is one aspect of online shopping however that can never compete with physical stores – time. In the age of ‘instancy’, the e-commerce market is seriously lacking in speed.
The minimum time it takes for a product to reach consumers is a couple of hours, if not, days, with express shipping. According to the same study, a majority (60 per cent) of people in Southeast Asia revealed that they were willing to pay extra charges for same-day deliveries, with 34 per cent saying that they were willing to pay additional for 60-minute deliveries. With demand for speedy deliveries clearly evident, e-commerce retailers must start offering faster deliveries as a means to stay competitive in this market.
Leveraging on Automation
While most companies are fixated on supply chain innovation, few realise the potential for packaging innovation as a means to improve efficiency. Optimising assembly plays a huge role in increasing efficiency and shipment speed. The deployment of automated technology solution is a long-term solution to meeting the increasing demand for quick delivery of online goods.
Automation serves to eliminate traditionally manual processes that are often the slowest part of e-commerce fulfillment. These are labour intensive processes: shaping the carton, sealing it, placing the orders into the carton, preparing the correct documentation necessary, conducting quality checks, and finally sealing the carton for shipment.
Automation technology has the potential to dramatically shorten this process, maximise labour efficiency and hold down costs in operations. Here are three ways retailers can speed up the process:
1. Automated Fulfillment Systems
Automated fulfillment systems come in handy for packages that require a corrugated box for shipment. These systems are designed to take accurate measurements of the products and the appropriate corresponding corrugated box. This is done before the process of shaping, sealing and placing the product is automated. Retailers should not overlook the importance of having right-sized packaging as it helps the business reduce dimensional weight shipping costs and unnecessary wastage of fill material.
Automated fulfillment systems have achieved great results, with some systems reducing packaging time by as much as 35 per cent and dimensional weight by 20 per cent. This solution more accurately and efficiently meets the increasing demand for e-commerce without having to rely on additional manpower resources.
2. On-demand Inflatables
Smaller boxes do not mean lesser protection – not with the right technologies at least. Nor are loose fills smart; it comes in giant bags that take up precious storage space and not to mention, are expensive. Inflatable air cushioning or void fill systems, on the other hand, can provide superior damage protection.
The machine injects air into wraps of plastic, which inflates to customisable shapes and sizes to fit. Engineered on-demand, it produces only as much packaging material as needed, only when needed. This reduces the warehouse space needed to store packaging material by up to 40:1. More importantly, it can improve the speed of packing fulfillment by up to 50 per cent.
3. Rethinking the Box
Now not every product requires a box, not when a shipping mailer will do. Boxes can be bulky, time-consuming to construct and with its growing demand and limited supply, increasingly costly. This could contribute to time and resource inefficiencies in the packaging fulfillment chain. In contrast, a polyethylene mailer is quick, affordable and easy to use – the perfect solution for apparel and other soft goods.
Automation is possible even with polyethylene mailers. Just like the automated fulfillment system for the corrugated box, an automated mailer system also expedites the process of sorting, application of labels and scanning. However, mailer packs can also be customised to the dimensions of the product, cut and sealed to precision. This allows for lightning speed delivery while cutting down the unnecessary dimensional weight cost from a bulky box, improving profit margins for your business and remaining price-competitive for customers.
In light of consumers’ need for speed in this competitive market, packaging automation is the sustainable long-term solution for any business in this space. Smart businesses will couple automation with the right sized packaging and appropriate product protection so that their customers will find their orders arriving in good time and in good condition; while they themselves reap greater order fulfillment throughput, velocity and profit margins as they gradually improve their pack processes to be as nimble as possible.
Though initial investments in automation are inevitably required, taking that leap of faith will prove worthwhile especially as the Southeast Asian e-commerce market grows to a projected $88bn by 2025.
About the Author
Pasi Pesonen, Vice President, Product Care, Asia Pacific Region, Sealed Air
Pasi has been with the organisation for 26 years. He first joined the company in Finland and has since lived in six different countries, successfully serving in several local clusters in Marketing, Supply Chain/Logistics, Sales and General Management roles. He has an extensive professional and leadership track record with broad business experience.