ORLANDO — With Black Friday sales now upon us, the holiday shopping season is in full gear mode. And the expectations are that this is going to be a very robust shopping season in the U.S.
The National Retail Federation projects that more than 165 million people will shop over the five-day Thanksgiving weekend alone, a very strong start, and then as the general holiday shopping season gets underway, NRF has forecast that sales will grow between 3.8 and 4.2%, providing a further boost to an already booming economy.
At the same time, those who choose to shop online and those who visit retail stores can expect something else: their e-Commerce orders and retail shopping experience is likely to get enhanced by technology.
How Has Amazon Changed the Expectations of Consumers?
A lot of the changes have to do with online marketplace Amazon.com, which has used technology to set a high bar for order fulfillment, particularly when it comes to those consumers who make purchases from their smartphone rather than in a store. Amazon has set a standard forrapid home delivery, with the new normal being same-day shipping and two-day shipping.
And it isn’t just Amazon. From eBay and Etsy to major retailers like Target and Wal-Mart with websites for online orders, e-Commerce has become far more important for everyone’s bottom lines. And that’s having an impact in those brick and mortar stores as well, since retailers have started to investing in emerging technologies designed to let their customers enjoy convenient e-Commerce purchases without hassles or delays
Amazon blazed a path for all this is another way, by merging automated warehouse robots alongside human employees to meet their fulfillment demand. Amazon uses robots to compile items for a customer’s order, which allows for literally tens of thousands of orders to be efficiently sent out. At the same time, humans still supervises this process and ensure everything flows smoothly and without glitches.
Welcome to the holiday shopping season 2019: technology now enables workers to fulfill orders using the most efficient and sophisticated methods available, and to maintain a high track record for assured deliveries.
So let’s take a look at some of the technologies being used to enhance order fulfillment in December.
What is Vision and Imaging Technology?
Fulfilling hundreds of thousands of online orders is a complex process, but technology has enabled retailers to streamline the process from point of sale to delivery. Again, Amazon showed it was possible, demonstrating high levels of efficiency in their warehouses through vision and imaging technologies.
That includes handheld image-based barcode readers, also used by many retailers. Their cameras, sensors and imagers help maximize productivity. it works like this: image and vision technology gives workers access to information they need more quickly, and with more accuracy. Vision technology has improved the checkout experience, since a vision system can identify a product without the need to scan its barcode. it’s become a proven way for retail warehouses to operate at peak performance and rapidly get products shipped.
What is Inventory Management Software Doing for Sales?
According to many studies, the availability of products they want is the second highest concern for customers, after price. It’s a major factor in their buying decisions, so e-commerce retailers need to be certain they have the right items in stock if the price matches what consumers are willing to pay.
But retailers also tend to struggle with inventory spreadsheets. Technology has made the process of inventory management much easier, because if retailers need to get products to customers through multiple channels and fulfillment options, new software can integrate their channels, locations and order processes using a single management platform.
Welcome to the world of inventory management software. Retailers can now track inventory by serial numbers and instantly know when it’s time to replenish supply, ensuring they’re carrying the right amount of stock to meet customer demand. This software also let’s them quickly locate items at different locations and at the right place in the supply chain.
Using a Warehouse Management System is a smart way to coordinate warehousing and distribution activities, while managing inventory and the flow of product. it serves another purpose as well, allowing retailers to expand their base of suppliers using onboarding programs that matches them with new vendors when products are needed.
How Will Retailers Meet 2-Day Shipping Expectations This Season?
Amazon truly set the standard by meeting customer expectations with same day shipping, so today customers expect it and put their loyalty with their businesses that can also demonstrate the ability to meet quick delivery times. Offering same-day shipping on a product page gives your customers more reason to shop with you.
But retailers have options today for doing that. Those options include:
- Offering two-day shipping through UPS or FedEx;
- Using Shopify with its DHL express option for international carriers, offering customers lower shipping rates;
- Asking suppliers to meet e-commerce orders on the retailer’s behalf
- Fulfilling orders through a retail store closest to where your customers are;
- And opening distribution centers in cities that get the most orders.
Technology also allows retailers to communicate with their customers while a package is in route using systems like Globegistics, which improves communications between retailers and customers during shipping. Carrier integration software can be used to share shipment updates and send a status notification from the carrier to the customer, and to notify the customer if there’s a delay in shipping.
Are you ready to Start Shopping This December?
There’s no question that e-Commerce sales are expanding rapidly, and December is going to be a busy holiday shopping season across the nation. The good news for buyers — and for retailers hoping to boost sales — is that handling e-Commerce fulfillment in a timely and cost efficient manner has become more sophisticated — and easier.
Emerging order fulfillment technology and software is helping warehouse staff to quickly ship out orders and become more productive and to cut down on errors.
No surprise then that for many shoppers, it’s getting harder to recall a time when shopping was about getting catalogs in the mail and using mail order forms. E-commerce has radically changed how customers shop, and technology is being used to meet their needs and demands when it comes to order fulfillment.
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright, and author of the book When I Woke Up, You Were All Dead. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com.