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A Robust Supply Chain is the Key for Retailers to Deliver Essential Goods

A Robust Supply Chain is the Key for Retailers to Deliver Essential Goods

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

The retail industry in the Asia Pacific has undergone massive disruptions over the last few years, due to the unprecedented growth of e-commerce that has significantly changed our shopping habits. With the ongoing pandemic, retailers are finding it even more challenging to meet the needs of the on-demand economy. The rapidly increasing and sudden demand for everyday goods, such as flour, eggs and even toilet paper, has created substantial worldwide shortages.

In Singapore, the demand for online grocery and food delivery has skyrocketed in just a matter of months. This unprecedented demand saw RedMart, an online supermarket site, exceeding its orders by 300 percent of its usual weekly average[1], and express delivery business Ninja Van’s parcel volume tripling in February alone, compared to a month before[2].

Forward-thinking retailers and their supply chains are usually prepared for consumption peaks during holidays and sales periods, but this pandemic situation has presented new challenges and increased pressure on order fulfilment.

While the pressure mounts on retailers, it is the warehouse staff who are key to that flexibility. This includes the time it takes for these staff to be quickly onboarded with the tools they will use to be productive. AndroidTM mobile computers can help to speed up the training and onboarding of new warehouse workers. With a familiar user interface, mobile computer users can quickly get up to speed to do their jobs. This gives retailers and logistics companies increased agility to adapt to the ongoing customer needs for essential goods.

This begs the question, what role can technology play in establishing a robust supply chain?

As warehouse operators look to drive more productivity in their processes, they are likely to use different technologies such as mobile devices, augmented reality (AR) apps, head-mounted displays and other wearables that can quickly guide them directly to confirmed item locations.

Android-based mobile computers give workers the intelligence needed to speed through tasks accurately – crucial in today’s fast-moving warehousing environment. Devices are typically used 24/7/365 by shift workers in fast-paced warehouses where ‘seconds matter’. Mobile devices today must have bigger batteries than traditional enterprise-grade devices as they need to run for much longer before a hot-swap or recharge is required. Each second of downtime can impact the flow of just-in-time fulfilment operations and reduce the pick rate. Devices must also be able to facilitate very fast data capture without compromising information accuracy, which is why mobile computers’ scanning capabilities are crucial to improve productivity and efficiency.

However, many mobile computers today cannot read barcodes from long distances. This can quickly become an issue for warehouse workers who scan barcodes from up to 70 feet away and close-up items, while forklift drivers may need to be able to do this from an aisle or bin location from their vehicles.

Additionally, not all enterprise-grade or ‘rugged’ devices are built to withstand constant or prolonged exposure to cold-chain freezing temperatures. This is where using the right device is key, such as a freezer-friendly model that includes a heated scanner exit window and a freezer-rated battery. However, these aren’t the only types of warehouse environments or applications. For example, a Class 1 Division 2 (C1D2) non-incendive model will be used in hazardous environments.

The use of mobile devices reaches far beyond scanning, with growing numbers implementing artificial intelligence (AI) and augmented reality (AR). Currently, these technologies are relegated to smaller use-cases, most widely used on mobile computers and tablets. However, people are increasingly looking at how enterprise-class, head-mounted displays can be integrated. By using smart glasses, workers can navigate warehouses, manage stock levels and quickly define tasks, all completely hands-free to select products and physically place them on carts.

Once products are picked, sorted and packed at the warehouse, the next challenge is to facilitate customer delivery or collection. Increasingly, we see delivery as a preferred fulfilment method for shoppers in Singapore. Mobile technologies that enable seamless delivery experiences are critical to ensure customers obtain the things they need, at the right place and right time while getting them in a way that limits personal contact, which is a key factor during this ongoing pandemic. Through empowering front-line workers with the right solutions, it will improve their operational efficiency and workflow to help them stay ahead of the competition.

For more information: visit Zebra warehouse solutions.

[1] Channel News Asia, 19 Feb 2020

[2] CNBC, 28 February 2020