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How Technology is Unlocking Growth in Small and Mid-size Businesses

By Aik Jin, Tan, Vertical Solutions Lead, Zebra Technologies Asia Pacific

Asian consumers’ behaviors shifted significantly in 2020, launching manufacturers and supply chain organizations into a race toward a digital future. The pandemic forced a greater focus on safety and health[1] and altered consumers’ delivery preferences like no other singular event. Consumers turned to fast, contactless fulfillment choices such as buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS), and curbside delivery. Zebra’s 13th Annual Global Shopper Study found that seven in 10 shoppers in Asia Pacific (APAC) now prefer direct delivery of items rather than picking them up at a store.

Additionally, 52% of shoppers in APAC reported using smartphone-based digital wallets to pay for in-store purchases, which is more than double compared to other regions. With these digital technology utilization trends likely to persist as consumers continue to maintain social distancing and adhere to local COVID-19 preventive measures, retailers, warehouse operators and others involved in fulfillment must adapt quickly to remain relevant and retain customers’ loyalty.

However, the unprecedented increase in demand for e-commerce consumption and overwhelming deliveries has been particularly tough for small- and mid-size businesses (SMBs) in the supply chain industry. Many still rely heavily on manual processes to conduct operations, which hinders their ability to increase fulfillment speed without compromising accuracy. The pandemic has helped them realize the value of having the right technology and how it can help close gaps in their workflows. In APAC, findings reveal that nearly 69% of SMBs are accelerating their business digitalization, which is predicted to add between USD$2.6 to $3.1 trillion to APAC’s GDP by 2024[2].

Technology has become the great equalizer that allows SMBs in supply chains to operate just like their larger counterparts, which is crucial during such trying times. Here are three ways SMBs can set themselves up to be future-ready:

  1. Focus on Gaining Real-Time Visibility, Which Can Lead to Greater Inventory Accuracy  

In Zebra’s Warehousing Asia Pacific Vision Study, inventory management is cited as one of the top six existing operational challenges faced by decision-makers in industries such as manufacturing, transportation and logistics. As such, SMBs that need to boost fulfillment efficiencies should focus on wireless-enabled inventory management solutions that offer 24/7 real-time visibility into the exact count – and location – of everything they sell, from raw materials to finished goods.

This will empower teams to fulfil orders in the fastest and most cost-efficient manner possible – whether those items are still at the manufacturing facility, located in a micro-fulfilment centre at a giant warehouse, or sitting in a local store. It can also significantly reduce the amount of time and money wasted trying to resolve issues related to missing inventory or inefficient order shipments.

An accurate inventory management solution also allows warehouse operators to uncover trends in the ordering process that can aid them in shielding supply chain operations from unexpected disruptions. For example, they can quickly find out when a supplier is not meeting its delivery dates and shift orders accordingly. Just remember, any technology used for inventory management should aim to be intuitive. If operators are able to understand the technology quickly, it will help reduce onboarding time and enhance efficiency.

  • Optimizing Resource Commitment

Attracting and retaining good employees is a constant struggle and a huge cost for SMBs in the supply chain sector. IDC has identified ‘challenges in hiring and retaining talent’ as one of the top three challenges that APAC SMBs face[3]. Adding on to that pressure, the pandemic has also led to a startling gap of 81 million jobs in APAC[4], forcing many SMBs to seek solutions that offset labor shortages.   

With SMBs relying on lean teams to sustain their business growth, decision-makers need to find ways to enhance employees’ speed, accuracy, and productivity as order rates and inventory volumes increase. By deploying the right technology, SMBs can give employees the increased flexibility needed to cover more than one role when needed, without overwhelming them. SMBs need to innovate and expand their technology utilization plan to make it more desirable to work in a warehouse environment if they want to recruit and retain talent, as technology toolsets are quickly becoming a key differentiator for employers more easily.

  • Empowering and Upskilling Employees to Deliver Greater Results

Technology can also help increase employee efficiency and reduce time spent training new team members. Equipping front-line workers with wearable technologies, such as heads-up displays and ring scanners, can help improve pick time and overall productivity. These devices are also ideal for reducing training time and can make tasks easier for new employees being onboarded.   

The Takeaway

Given the challenges that manufacturers and their supply chain partners in APAC faced in 2020, it’s no surprise SMBs need to make significant changes – or that many are accelerating digital transformation to cope with rising demand[5].

Just note that not all digital technologies marketed for business use are built for warehouse use. And, even if the technologies are designed for warehouse applications, they must be strategically configured, implemented, and utilized before they can be fully effective. Therefore, it is crucial for SMBs to work with a trusted solution provider when developing and executing a technology-based growth and improvement strategy. The trusted advisor will help guide the selection of the right technologies and ensure proper implementation based on current challenges and desired goals. In turn, SMBs will be well-equipped to optimize workflows when needed to improve productivity, efficiency, and accuracy while simultaneously lowering costs.

For more information, please visit: Zebra’s Warehouse Modernization Solutions.


[1] Kadence International, 13 November 2020
[2] Cisco, 28 July 2020
[3] IDC, 30 September 2019
[4] International Labour Organization, 15 Dec 2020
[5] Cisco, 28 July 2020

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