By Rebecca Wyatt and Cam Elliott
KEEPING UP WITH THE (DELIVERY) JETSONS: Creative Order Fulfillment Strategies from the Pandemic
t first thought, order fulfilling robots and virtual reality lipstick try-on may conjure a mental image of something right out of The Jetsons. The long-running TV series portrayed a utopian future of three-day workweeks, aero cars, and even a robot maid called Rosie — a life simplified by all manner of technological advances, leaving plenty of time for leisure. While current trends in order fulfillment are driven by a need for customer satisfaction and cost savings, as opposed to more time for leisure, order fulfillment strategy has changed, and technologies in place today are a lot closer to The Jetsons than you may realize — and the urgency to embrace the trends of the future is very real. Let’s take a look at three trends you should not ignore. Micro-fulfillment It’s not difficult to understand why so many retailers, especially grocers and big box ones, began looking to create
smaller versions of their warehouses and distribution centers inside their less-populated (and sometimes closed) store spaces. At the heart of micro-fulfillment strategies is an increased desire to meet the customer where they’re at, a positive message during the pandemic. Micro-fulfillment often blends the power and efficiency of a shipper’s warehouses and/or distribution centers with the swiftness and personalization of regional fulfillment, sometimes even including last-mile delivery. Some see micro-fulfillment as a natural progression of another popular order-fulfillment strategy during the pandemic (BOPIS/ curbside pickup), the premise being that widespread investment and expansion of these programs lead to retailers naturally rethinking their retail spaces, along with reconsidering how they can best use all of their available resources to fulfill as quickly as possible to the consumer and out-maneuver pandemic-driven logistical concerns. Both Kroger and Target have notably invested heavily into micro-fulfillment in the last year,
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announcing their own highly specialized order fulfillment centers. Kroger believes its planned two dedicated order fulfillment centers will reduce the costs and increase the speed of online grocery delivery, and, while announcing their planned order fulfillment center, Target stated its belief that “shipping a package from a store rather than a fulfillment center is 40% cheaper”. Robotic Order Fulfillment While robots have been promised as a serious and innovative game-changer for shippers for some time now, their adoption has been slow as brands remained steadfast to carefully planned budgets. Then came the pandemic, which quickly threw those plans off course and gave shippers new reason to consider more long-term opportunities. According to a recent RetailWire survey, “73% of large retailers say the importance of using robotics in warehouses or distribution centers has increased due to factors that emerged during the pandemic.” Whether they’re facilitating order picking or packing, robots make great and fast additions to the socially-distanced warehouse. And not only are they speedier than their human counterparts, 100% of their activity data can be mined for greater network goals, like inventory management. But their benefits go beyond the warehouse; many brick-and-mortar retailers (especially grocers) have found use for robots in scanning product shelves for low stock, price verification, and more.
PARCEL September/October 2021